“Has that banana always been there?” I ask myself. I’m looking at a pile of trash on an end table near a locked front door. I’m pretty sure I want out of that door, but I have no idea how to open it. Or where it leads. All I know is that I am frightened and I really, really would prefer not to be in this hallway again. Tired and unnerved, I turn, walk down a flight of stairs, and go through the only unlocked door in the house. I open it back to the same hallway I came from. My stomach sinks a little.
This was a moment that occurred during the time I spent with P.T. last night, a brief horror game that made me so crazy that I was scrutinizing textures of banana peels in the background for clues. Announced and put up for download during Sony’s Gamescom press conference, P.T., stands for “Playable Teaser”, and as has been widely publicized at this point, it ends with the reveal that the property it’s teasing is a new Silent Hill game helmed by Metal Gear developer and Jake’s favorite video game person Hideo Kojima (!) alongside Guillermo del Toro (!!), starring Norman Reedus (???). It’s a short puzzle-horror game designed as a sort of interactive teaser trailer, conveying mood and concept and rewarding players with the tiniest bit of information on the game it’s teasing. It’s an ingenious marketing move, and it’s one of the most novel gaming experiences I’ve had this year.
When P.T. was announced by Sony, it was a mystery, billed as a teaser for a new IP from an unheard-of development studio. This was an elaborate lie, because Hideo Kojima apparently cannot announce a new game these days without performance art (the fifth Metal Gear Solid was announced similarly, the first trailer lacking the Metal Gear name and credited to a made-up Norwegian studio). A few hours later, someone beat the game for the first time, while streaming on Twitch, and was rewarded with the reveal of the Silent Hills title and the names of the people actually responsible for the game.
I’m not one to gush about marketing, but this is brilliant. It reminds me of one of those old-school ARGs, where persistence and digging would lead the internet toward a solution for some abiding mystery which almost always secretly had something to do with an existing property. And the very idea of a playable teaser is an exciting one to me, because video game trailers are terrible. Film and video games, despite sharing a lot, are not the same thing, and a video clip, no matter how excellent, will never tell you anything useful about a video game. P.T. probably bears little mechanical resemblance to Silent Hills, but at least it’s a game, with the ability to convey an experience and a presence the way games do.
Given all of this, I knew I had to spend some time with P.T. The only problem is, I’m a huge wimp. So, yesterday evening as of this writing, in the daylight, on Twitch, I sat down to play P.T. I screamed, I jumped, I felt disempowered and unsettled.
The game is a master class in minimal game design: you play from a first person perspective with no means of interaction except to move, look, and focus your gaze. You can open unlocked doors by leaning into them, but the doors are usually locked. The setting is confined to a L-shaped hallway with two tables four doors, one of which leads out of the house you’re stuck in. When you begin, only one door is open, a door that loops you back to the start of the room. Through your interaction and over time, things from the small to the large change in the hallway, and you have to figure out how to orchestrate the changes needed to escape the house. Or if you can. It’s not entirely clear how much of the game is based on factors like random triggers or duration played, and how much is actually based on your actions, which further sells a sense of total helplessness in the face of purgatorial horror, a sense bolstered with the expected surreal and grotesque imagery.
I won’t say too much more about the experience of playing P.T.—I want you to experience it for yourself if you can, it’s free on the PS4—but I will say that no one really knows how to beat it. Some people have solved the final puzzle, but everyone I’ve read or seen online so far have all given conflicting reports about how they did it. It might be random. It might be the result of looking at the right things and standing in the right places at the exact proper time. Most people seem convinced it has to do with the phone on one of the hallway’s two tables, and with the sound of a baby laughing. Hideo Kojima, when discussing the game, always advises people to play it streaming on Twitch, ostensibly to ameliorate the terror, which has some people speculating that maybe something about streaming, or speaking into a microphone, is connected to solving the final puzzle. Kojima also said that he was shocked when someone beat the game only hours after it came out: he expected it to take a week or so before anyone had a solution.
For my part, I have so far failed to finish the game. I did, however, spend a whole evening trying, which, for a free promotional game, is pretty remarkable. And I don’t even like horror games.
Jake Muncy is a freelance writer, editor, and poet living in Austin, TX. In addition to function as Loser City’s Games Editor, his writing appears on Ovrld and anywhere else he can convince people to post it. You can contact him by email or twitter, where he tweets regularly about video games, the Mountain Goats, and sandwiches. He has very strong feelings about Kanye West.