The release of the Silent Hills Playable Teaser (PT herein) is probably the closest I have come in quite some time to childhood excitement levels for any kind of media. I would liken the excitement I felt for my friend to bring over her PS4 so we could play it to be closest matched with when I was a young girl set loose in a video store with (what felt like) an unlimited cash flow. Those afternoons are ones I hold dearly, and ones I mourned along with the death of renting culture. I would spend hours selecting games and movies, planning an evening for myself to the minute. It’s an experience I still try to emulate to this day with very little luck.
PT was an experience I’ve never had before with video games, not only in the sense that my friends and I could only able to play for a collective 20 minutes because of the level of scares we were experiencing. PT melded together everything I love in my literature – the themes of family conflict, mystery, nostalgia, vengeful spirits; you know, that old chestnut. And while I’ve come to expect video games to trade literary merit for 360 no scopes, PT held itself in a league of its own.
And it’s with that nostalgia, I think, that we tap into something very interesting with PT. Throughout the available gameplay, we aren’t necessarily given a definitive timeline for when this is happening. We know it’s suburban America, we see the imagery of a young married couple with the stylings of the late 50s to early 60s. This provides commentary on the death of the American Dream. For me personally, I enjoyed this destruction of the American Dream and the suburban fantasy land, much in the same way I enjoyed the commentary provided by The Great Gatsby. PT was deeper than just a shoot-em-up. It had heart, that it ripped out of the player character’s chest, and then ate.
I think that half of the appeal of PT was that it tapped into something so familiar to people from all backgrounds, regardless of timeline. We have all been to this house; we have all met this couple. We have all had to navigate an unfamiliar setting in the dead of night to get a glass of water, feeling our hearts pounding in our chests, convinced we’re about to get got by something. We have walked that hallway before – not just in the game, but in our lives.
Immediately following PT’s release, eventual removal, and disappointing cancellation, the effects of the demo were apparent in gaming culture. Countless games are paying homage to what could have been: from Layers of Fear (2016) to Resident Evil 7 (2017). But I don’t necessarily find this to be a crime of bandwagon culture in gaming per say. While I am the first to call out bandwagon culture in any media field, this isn’t the case here – at least to my view.
Rather, the horror genre in video games has been given a dramatic facelift, and it stuck! No longer do we need our (often straight white male) characters to be armed to the teeth. Developers essentially said to players, “good luck dickhead, all you get is a lantern and puzzle solving skills.”
And I thank Hideo Kojima for this.
Our avatars are no longer invulnerable bullet sponges, they are reduced to a basic human level. We are forced to think instead of just wildly shooting at enemies and hoping for the best. The greatest gift of all is that we’re drawn into a narrative and an experience more often now, where in the past quite often the key fun of the game was loading lead into the skull of a “monster”. The changes PT has put into motion have been necessary ones, and while I hesitate to use the L word when talking about games, PT has edged the horror genre further from being basic cheap thrills, and closer to being what one could almost consider legitimate literature.
Look, do yourself a favour: don’t eat dairy right before bed, life is full of mains so don’t fill up on entrees, and if you haven’t yet, check out PT.
Image Credit: https://www.gamewatcher.com/news/2017-13-11-hideo-kojima-s-famous-silent-hills-playable-teaser-p-t-is-being-recreated-by-a-youtuber-and-it-looks-fantastic
Note: This video is Silent Hills Playable Teaser without gamer commentary – essentially, it is more of a “film”. PT is quite frightening and can be quite confronting to viewers. I would advise against watching the film if you are quite sensitive to graphic subject matter, and horror in general.