If you are planning to play P.T. and don’t know anything about it, I recommend you turn away now. It is best experienced with an unsullied perspective.
This past weekend I played P.T., a demo/teaser released by Kojima Studios as a means of marketing the upcoming game Silent Hills. This teaser is only available for download on PlayStation 4, and does not cost any money. The game released very enigmatically, with little information within the game itself that indicates what it exactly is. You simply begin, without even a start menu.
This post will not be getting into what happens in P.T., because I think it is best experienced knowing as little as possible about what occurs. However, I would like to share my experience with this little piece of gaming.
As I’ve touched upon before, I’ve grown up with the horror genre, thanks much in part to my father’s love of horror movies. This extended into gaming, with a lot of my younger years spent playing the Resident Evil series, Eternal Darkness, and later on games like Dead Space and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I’ve long thought myself to be pretty desensitized to the experience of horror. While I still love and appreciate the genre, I’m never really get scared in any substantial way.
This is what threw me off so hard about P.T.
I heard about it this past Saturday from my older brother, who has a PS4 and had already played it. He told me little, other than that it was a playable teaser for a horror game. The next day I was at my friend’s house and happened to mention it, and it just so happened he had it downloaded. With all this suddenly established, we dove right in, with myself at the helm holding the controller.
It was a slow build, but as the experience progressed I began to feel genuine terror build within me. For context, understand that this is terror contrasted with the technical definition of horror. Something “horror” or horrific is more objectively in front of you — a grotesque monster, violent images, gore. Terror, on the other hand, is all about feeling, atmosphere, and suspense. Terror is not knowing what is around the corner, but feeling that something threatening is there. It is hearing a strange noise and not knowing where it is coming from. It is feeling like you’re being watched.
P.T., slowly but surely, made me feel genuine terror. I was actually shocked. It made me so uncomfortable at its highest point that I contemplated handing the controller to my friend, simply having had enough. My fascination with the experience and desire to continue on my own, however, prevented that. There were many convoluted puzzles to solve, forcing me to become deeply familiar with an environment I was already becoming deeply unsettled by.
This is what I feel the experience pulled off so expertly. Speaking in terms of the genre, what makes good horror is not necessarily how much gore and violence there is, but how the subject matter takes something familiar and makes it unfamiliar. It is the perversion of the familiar that gets under our skin and can make the experience harrowing. It was the forceful familiarity that was ever-changing and twisting in P.T. that made it so terrifying, which made it more impactful when I was suddenly confronted with something horrifying.
I have heard some dismiss the game as a marketing gimmick, but I strongly disagree with this. I don’t necessarily believe my experience with P.T. will at all be an accurate representation of what the experience of Silent Hills will be like, but it left an impression that made me interested where I was simply indifferent before.
Regardless, I don’t see P.T. as simply a gimmick, but a brilliant little anomaly in gaming that gave me an experience I hadn’t felt in a long time playing any other game, doing something with the genre that I don’t feel any other medium could. I didn’t feel like I was playing a horror story, but that I was playing a nightmare, which requires my direct interaction to truly capture the feeling.