Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Limits, Secrets, and Community of 'P.T.'

"On second thought, let's go out for lunch."
Welcome to October, everyone. Let’s get spooky and let’s start with P.T..

I had been meaning to play P.T. for some time now and was afraid that I had missed the opportunity to play it before the collective Internet hive mind had cracked open all its secrets. It’s rare that any sort of video game mystery can remain unsolved for a week, let alone a month. Fortunately for me, enough is known that I could see the entire story but there are still plenty of obscured details.

Obscurity is simultaneously the best and most frustrating thing about P.T.. An experience that doesn’t overload you with tutorialization or shove an obvious plot at your face is a rare treat. I defy Kojima to stick with this minimalism with Silent Hills, but I suppose weirder things can happen. In any case, the game’s opacity means you have to be especially attuned to everything that is going on: What exactly are these buttons doing? Do these sound effects have mechanical significance? Is that garbage in the corner set dressing or a crucial clue? The game’s mechanics aren’t all that complex, but the subtlety of the feedback demands your attention.

At the same time, this obscurity can be extremely annoying to the point of feeling unfair. I doubt that any one person can finish the game without either consulting a guide or simply lucking into it. You could argue that this is purposeful, that in this age of the streaming and hyper-dedicated fan bases the single player game is actually a meta-multiplayer it is completely legitimate to require players collectively work on a single player experience. I’m willing to indulge P.T. on this, thanks in no small part to the sheer audacity of attempting such a trick. It’s a gutsy line to walk and I admire that.

All this makes it easy to forget that P.T is also “playable teaser” for another game. The developer freely admins that Silent Hills may bear little resemblance to P.T., but the fact that they were willing to put out something so experimental gives me great hope for whatever they’re working on next. Seeing Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to anything is exciting, but seeing that they’re apparently willing to take risks. Silent Hills has quickly become one of the primary considerations of when to upgrade to the current generation of consoles.

I’ve gotten this far without talking about how P.T. succeeds as a horror game, but that’s what the column on PopMatters is about. P.T.’s creative choices, especially the way it embraces the tactic of limiting the player, make for an exciting experience that both isolate players in the moment while inspiring them to connect in hopes of unraveling the complete mystery. How long this will take (or if it will ever happen) might be the game’s greatest and creepiest trick.

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