Push to Smart Water Cooler: How P.T. is Brilliant

This week, we take a better look at P.T., the stealth Silent Hills demo from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro. We consider how it scares us, how it could scare us even more, and how it might fit into the Silent Hill mythos.

Transcript

STACEY: So in our Gamescom episode we talked about a new indie horror game called P.T. that turned out not to be a new indie horror game called P.T. but actually a demo for Silent Hills—the new Silent Hill game from Hideo Kojima, Guillermo Del Toro, and starring Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead. We were super-duper excited, and we just want to talk about it some more because there’s still some stuff that we’re still learning about it—that we’re still discovering. Especially since I still have not finished the final puzzle yet. So let’s talk about it some more.

JAYLEE: So, in our Gamescom episode, I mentioned how I played about three minutes and quit because it was terrifying—which it is.

STACEY: Yes, it is.

JAYLEE: And since then I’ve played more, and it’s still terrifying—but even more so, because it gets more fucked up and weird.

STACEY: Which is awesome.

JAYLEE: But one of the things that I have to say, this is one of greatest, like, marketing ideas.

STACEY: Mmhmm.

JAYLEE: Because this is such a high quality, little snippet of a game, they could have sold this, and made money off of it as, like, a five dollar indie game or something.

STACEY: Yeah, and I’m getting several hours out of it, even though it’s mostly because I’m stuck.

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: But… carry on.

JAYLEE: But, you know, people are still picking it apart. People are still finding new things, and there is a lot to unpack here. And nobody knows which parts are going to actually, you know, point towards the new Silent Hill game, and which things are just red herrings—and that’s what I think is really cool. But, yeah, you’re in the game, you’re basically just going through a hallway. A hallway, it’s almost midnight… and yeah. There’s a bathroom, there’s a doorway that looks like it’s, like, an entryway that leads—who knows, because you can’t open the door. There’s also a doorway that will help you, kind of, repeat the cycle. And, as you kind of do these tasks that you—nobody really knows which tasks are going to move you on to the next position—things get weirder and weirder.

STACEY: Yeah, and we should specify that the tasks in this game are literally just looking, which is such a cool mechanic, and such a good twist on the idea of the politics of the gaze that is so central to horror. And, um, one of the things they talk about a lot in film theory about horror movies is the idea that there are certain people that can look and certain people that are punished for looking. And in this game, you are both rewarded with progression and also punished with having the crap scared out of you by looking. And it’s this really great… kind of, dynamic that happens. And it reminded me a lot of—there’s this chapter in a book called Screenplay by Tanya Krzywinska called “Hands on Horror,” and it kind of talks about how the key tension in horror games is the tension between doing and not doing. And in this game, it’s like, technically, I’m sure a lot of, you know, ludologist purists if those still exist would say that you’re not really doing anything—you’re just looking. But there is this tension, especially because the hallway—there’s a corner in it. And I remember on time, I think I texted you because I was like, “oh my god I don’t want to turn this corner!” because I could almost see around it there was a woman standing there. And there’s this real tension between “I know I need to go forward to progress but I don’t know if I want to go forward and see-and have this woman jump me or whatever is going to happen when I see her.”

JAYLEE: Exacly.

STACEY: And because games don’t have that kind of—we kind of talked about this in a Walking Dead episode—but they don’t have that kind of, um, temporal control to have traditional suspense, that becomes the cite of suspense—that will I or won’t I. And the fact that they boiled it down to those key elements for this demo and polished it so well is… it makes me so happy, and it scares me, and I love it.

JAYLEE: And really the series hasn’t tackled the first person and the gaze that much other than, kind of, the black sheep of the series, which was Silent Hill 4: The Room, which had first person perspective while you were in your apartment before you went into Silent Hill. And much like in P.T., as time goes on, the weirder and weirder it gets.

STACEY: And there are holes in the bathroom (laughs)

JAYLEE: There are holes in the bathroom, there’s holes in the wall. You can spy on your neighbor Eileen. And it just did so much with looking and eyes…

STACEY: Especially with the idea of who can look and who can’t. Because Eileen, arguably, is… she’s the only neighbor who seems to be trying to look and see what’s going on with Henry—the main character. You see her sometimes when you go to the peephole in your door—she’s looking back, trying to figure out what’s going on. And then she’s arguably punished for looking by being attacked by the serial killer—spoilers. Whereas Henry is allowed to look out the peephole at everyone in the hallway… He’s allowed to look through a weird, creepy peephole that goes directly into Eileen’s apartment—which, after she’s attacked, you know, you have that Robbie the Rabbit doll that is looking straight at you and I think he’s even pointing if I remember correctly. It’s been awhile since I’ve played. But there’s this real tension between, you know, you’re looking, whether or not you should be looking even though you have to in order to trigger things and to progress, and also really implicating you. Like, the game’s like, “this is wrong,” you know? “You know you’re not supposed to be peeping on her.”

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: And there is that sense here, too. Even though it’s just this single hallway, there’s that since that you’re not supposed to be here. You’re going to be punished. But at the same time, that’s what you have to do. And I think—we talked about this in the Gamescom episode—I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot like Silent Hill 4 in the sense that, it’s going to be—some parts are first person, and some parts are third. I think Hideo Kojima has since come out in an interview and said that he’s toying with the idea of first person in the actual game, but like I said in our previous episode, you know, I don’t think they’d pay for Norman Reedus and not show him unless it’s just a hallway of mirrors after hallway of mirrors.

JAYLEE: Which could be terrifying.

STACEY: Yeah! That could be terrifying too.

JAYLEE: And, you know, just… since we’re talking about Silent Hill 4: The Room, I know that I’ve talked to you a lot about how much I liked that game—in spite of so many flaws. It has one of the most, I think, solid stories of the games in Silent Hill. It just has the worst gameplay. (laughs)

STACEY: But it has a lot of really good ideas in there. Like, I love the idea of the ghosts, and the enemies that you can’t beat.

JAYLEE: They’re so annoying! (laughter) I would have liked them more if there were more of the swords to pin them down. (more laughter)

STACEY: Yeah. I also really liked, this is getting away from it, but I really liked the idea that that game, it kind of finished off, like, the Konami—the Japanese development team working on this game. Akira Yamaoka produced it. And I liked the idea that it kind of pulled back from Silent Hill a little bit. Where, like, Silent Hill 3 was all about the cult and resolving that, now we have this guy from the outside that just sounds increasingly exasperated the more you get through the game. And I kind of liked that idea of ending it like that, like, ‘Silent Hill, what is wrong with that place, man?’ (laughs) I’m trying to think… oh! There’s been a couple new things that people have discovered in the demo since we first talked about it that might be worth talking about. For instance there’s a lot of stuff in other languages that pops up. There’s, like, the words that pop up when you find the pieces of the photograph, and someone found a Swedish broadcast that comes over the radio, and apparently it’s referencing War of the Worlds.

JAYLEE: It’s so weird! Because Silent Hill has always had the UFO ending.

STACEY: I was just thinking, “It’s canon!” (laughs)
JAYLEE: But they’ve never been serious!

STACEY: Maybe that’s the big twist. It was the UFO ending all the time.

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: I’m trying to think—One time, when I was trying to solve that final puzzle, I got the backwards voice, which, I’m not sure what it says. It’s just this slow, backwards voice—male voice—that comes on, and I’ve only had it once. There’s just so many little things, and it’s hard to tell what is, like you said, the red herrings and just there to scare you, because—as we discussed in our last episode, abject horror means the system breaks down, so it makes sense to have this stuff that you can not wrap your brain around. And then, how much of it is clues to what Silent Hills will be about. Which… I don’t know. Have you discovered anything while playing?

JAYLEE: No.

STACEY: Ok (laughter).

JAYLEE: I tried to discover as little as possible, because I was, you know, I was playing it and I was like, “Ok, I’m making progress.” And then one time, literally all I did is… I went through the door, I’m back in the hallway again, and I accidentally pressed the back button. And the ghost killed me! I was like, “What?!” (laughter) And, you know, it just comes out of nowhere and it’s terrifying.

STACEY: Yeah. Apparently there’s also a ghost that appears in, like, the balcony above the doorway. As soon as I noticed there was a balcony up there, I was like, “there’s going to be a ghost there. I’m just going to keep my head down and not look.” And sure enough someone found one, which makes me wonder whatever stuff is just hidden there. Yeah, I just really like this demo. Even when I’m frustrated, like I can’t get the baby to laugh twice—I got it to laugh twice once and then I moved while the controller was rumbling and I can not reproduce it.

JAYLEE: And then there’s that code that gets repeated

STACEY: Yeah.

JAYLEE: 204863 and there are all these different theories and I just… I have no idea. And it’s so interesting.

STACEY: I love being able to—even though I’m frustrated, I get on the internet like, “how do I solve this?!” And, like, my faith is renewed when I see all the different threads and the comment sections of people just, like, comparing notes. It’s like, this is a frustrating game, but it’s a good game. I love this water cooler discussion that’s happening among the entire internet.

JAYLEE: Yeah it’s really… It’s kind of fostering this community of people that kind of have to think critically about things—I mean, you know…

STACEY: Not that they wouldn’t do that anyway, but it’s kind of uniting us on top of one thing, so we can all come together and talk about it. Which is really cool.

JAYLEE: And then, randomly on tumblr, people have been bringing up how Hideo Kojima and Japanese, basically legendary horror manga writer Junji Ito kind of know each other.

STACEY: Yes!

JAYLEE: And if Junji Ito go involved…

STACEY: We’d be screwed.

JAYLEE: I’d have to wear a diaper. (laughter) I’d be screwed, yeah.

STACEY: Game over!

JAYLEE: His work is terrifying. I mean, he’s done Uzumaki, and Tomie, and Gyo, and those are just all very kind of important—I mean, if you have Junji Ito and Guillermo Del Toro doing a game, it’s just kind of like, I’m going to support it, but I’m not sure if I’m ever going to take it out of its wrapping.

STACEY: Right (laughs). I can’t remember being this excited about a game.

JAYLEE: Yeah, same here. So how would you feel if they kind of rewrote the history, and instead of it being Alessa Gillespie, it was aliens.

STACEY: I’m not one of those people that—I love the games, but I’m not married to the canon in any way, so I would think it was hilarious, but I’m sure there’d be some people where that would just—that would make them so angry. And they would never, ever forgive them. And I don’t know if it’s worth that. (laughs)

JAYLEE: Yeah.

STACEY: But I would think it was funny, and yeah. But I wonder what else it could be. You know, they always say on those shows about alien abductions, like, you know, back in the day, people thought they were being possessed by the devil, now the aliens are kind of our modern reference. So maybe that’s just saying like, this is what people…People are saying ‘aliens’ but that’s just to explain the weird stuff that’s happening Silent Hill, that is just the result of Silent Hill being an evil, horrible place. So… I don’t know.

JAYLEE: I don’t know, but I cannot wait to find out.

STACEY: Me too! (laughs)

So there you have it! Some of our extended thoughts on P.T.. We’d love to hear your theories, your sure-fire solutions for that final puzzle—please, oh my god—if you want to leave those in the comments, we’d love to hear them. And don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date with our latest discussions.

HENRY: I’m going to Silent Hill and I’m gonna bust some heads!
CHERYL: Oh, dad! You’re the coolest!

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