Gaming: P.T. Just Set The Bar Way Too High

Resident gaming pro, J.G. Barnes, discusses the nightmarish experience of P.T..

"Doorway to the most
terrifying hallway ever."
P.T. is a masterpiece. There are maybe five games ever that I could say are legitimately astounding. Bioshock is one of them. P.T. could be next. Hands down it is by a very long shot the most engrossing horror game experience I've ever had in my life. It is merely a teaser of a much larger release we are surely now getting from one of the most genius game designers who has ever lived. But there is one major apprehension I have about the game's final release. Because of its nature as a mere teaser of a far grander experience, I fear that when the game is completed it will lose what has made it nearly universally acclaimed as a work of genius.

The reason why P.T. is so damn effective is because its instruction on how to progress is almost non-existent. P.T. circumvents customary game design to the point of all but ignoring it. We need this. The gaming industry needs this. The core of what makes something truly terrifying is the unknown. In P.T., the player is placed in a situation with no barometer for why, how, or when (to name a few). The only explicit hint you ever receive in the entirety of the teaser is that of a button to press—and you might even overlook that! It doesn't tell you what this command does, where to use it, or when. You just have to figure it out. In fact, I missed this clue my first time through the game. The only reason I figured out how to do anything is because I curled my fingers around my controller into a mushy chokehold until one of the buttons did something. Aha! I can look at things!

Most horror games rely heavily on contrived design philosophies that bottleneck the gameplay into predictable patterns, leading you to the same repeated scares. P.T. doesn't do this. For instance, Outlast relies on unrealistically pitch black environments, rendering your field of view to that of having a street cone for eyes. What the designers think is fear, is merely the compounded frustration these impractical limitations impose upon the player. All I want to do is not be in this stupid f*cking courtyard anymore. The anxiety I'm feeling has nothing to do with fear. It's the shear nuisance of having yet another giant white monster dude with chains chasing me in circles in what might as well be the void of outer space with some fences and tombstones to run into. Most of the time, you can see quite clearly in P.T. Even when it's dark, it feels like how my actual human eyes would see in the dark. There is no leaning on contrivances and impracticality to sell itself.

"The most terrifying hallway EVER!"
Every scare in P.T. is part of the story–and I use the term "scare" lightly—because, conventionally speaking, there aren't too many pointed scares in P.T. It's the sum of its parts. It's not remembered for its moments, which it does have. It's remembered for its scenes. The story is built, layer by layer, detail by detail, through a persistent cycle of needing to know and fearing to find out. Games like Outlast don't even begin to scratch this surface. The genuine fear—what little there is in games like Outlast—is entirely separate from the story. The scares don't add anything to your experience except to just give you a cheap thrill. Then you climb through a window, run through a door, and you're onto the next cheap thrill. Oh, what's gonna chase me this time until I hide in another conveniently available locker that my pursuer magically doesn't ever look in? Look, a note. That's going to tell me stuff about the story. The scare-factor and the narrative are two entirely separate entities.

The fear and the narrative are intrinsic to each other in P.T. There is never one without the other. Unfortunately, I have to be that guy. Not that I doubt the developers' brilliance—I absolutely do not—I fear what the game industry will make them adhere to. I strongly fear that when the full game releases, your character will run around with a bluetooth headset on while some hot secretary in a run-down office, working well past her shift, chimes in to explain to you everything you need to know. Thanks, unreasonably-sexy-twenty-something-with-black-framed-glasses, now I know where that blood splatter came from and that I have to press circle to collect a sample that you're going to fully analyze in five whole seconds over the internet.

Screw that.

I want a finely tuned 16+ hours more of what I played in P.T. I've already put in more than half of that time into just that one frickin' hallway alone! I want to be inundated with esoteric secrets and idiosyncrasies that will expand that 16 hours into 40. I will happily, and dreadfully crawl into every intersecting polygon of that world and devour every possible nuance I can discover even if I can't sleep afterward. I will let this game punish me.

This is a piece of art that refuses to hold your hand, but presents you with something so horrifyingly intriguing
"The most terrifying banana
in the most terrifying
hallway EVER!!!!"
that you can't fight the urge to amble through and solve its mysteries no matter how badly your knees are shaking. I hope the brains behind this are paying attention to the massive positive reaction this teaser has received. The evidence is all over the internet. I hope they know that there is no need to adhere to convention to have a monumental hit on their hands. It already is one. I hope they know they struck gold here and will remember that we absolutely want this drip feed. We want to be able to theorize online with friends and peers over what it all means and how to decipher it. We want to be left to our own devices. We want to solve the puzzles without an impatient prompt reminding us we have to press this button or move this object. We want to be frightened to the core not by jump scares and cheap gimmicks. We want the incessant dread and mystification. We want to be truly disturbed. We have always wanted what you have now given us with P.T. We have been waiting for it. There's no way we can play another horror game now. Don't touch that dial. Don't change what you have here. It's pure magic. Know this. Deliver precisely this, but more of it, and you will have erected a new benchmark in not only horror games, but video games period.

-J.G. Barnes