P.t._cover_final

Joel Couture basically won't shut up about games, writing about all sorts of them for Siliconera, Gamasutra, Warp Door, Indiegames.com, and CG Magazine. If you have games, please talk to him. He has become a bottomless maw for games and we are no longer sure if we can keep him under control.

Despite being a wimpy baby who is scared to look in the bathroom mirror in the dark, he is obsessed with horror games, seeking any way he can frighten himself with a controller. And he'd kind of like to know why that is.

P.T. - A Video Game Ghost Story by Joel Couture

In August of 2014, a demo innocently appeared on the PlayStation Store. It had a spooky old tombstone with P.T. painted on it, sitting silently in a wooded area. Playing this demo would take players to a rather ordinary hallway, one that would lead to one of the most terrifying horror games ever made.

And now you can't get it any more.

Even just as a short demo, P.T. created a powerful atmosphere of terror, dragging the player into its ordinary environments and steadily filling them with dread. Through its steady erosion of reality, striking visuals, cryptic completion criteria, and the chilling ghost, Lisa, it creates a fear that can sicken in its intensity, leaving players begging for the ghost to just appear and end it all.

It was to show what Hideo Kojima, the man behind Metal Gear, could do with horror and the Silent Hill series. It was to set a new bar for horror. Then, not even a year later, it was gone, pulled from the store for nebulous reasons as relations between its creator and Konami broke down.

P.T.: A Video Game Ghost Story is an unofficial investigation into the strange history behind this lost horror game, how players came to solve its complex puzzles, and what makes it so effective at scaring its players. Featuring interviews with the first player to complete it, the Let's Players who broke its mysteries, P.T. speedrunners, video game historians, and Konami staff, it looks to shine a light on what made the experience so compelling, why we subject ourselves to these horrors, and what will happen as this fearful experience fades from memory to become its own real-world ghost story.

CURATOR'S NOTE

Some fascinating analysis of the haunting Hideo Kojima-themed game demo - never to become a full game - that was crushed in the fallout between Konami & Kojima. – Simon Carless

 
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Why would I willingly do this to myself?

Something about this emotion felt important. Something about this experience felt important. Whatever happened, I needed to see this through. Why, though?

P.T. brings up many questions in me through my stubbornness to play it, even when it's making it hard to just go to the stupid bathroom in the night. Why would I willingly subject myself to this? What was it about this particular setup and atmosphere that made me wish to stay and keep playing? What would it tell me about myself and the draw of fear? And why was something so unreal so able to frighten me?

Kojima, working in tandem with director Guillermo Del Toro, actor Norman Reedus, and horror manga artist Junji Ito, was set to create something chilling with Silent Hills, but I wonder if it could have ever surpassed what was done in such a short time with P.T. While there are many elements here that made for sickening horror, could these have worked in a full-length game? Could players have endured these mysteries and fears for eight hours? Six? Four?

I have my doubts, but after Konami's decision to scour P.T. from the PlayStation Store in April of 2015, seemingly on the tail of some extremely bad blood between the publisher and Kojima over a split between the two we would only find out about a while later, we will never know. Konami's decision to cancel Silent Hills means we may never have any idea what the game could have become.

Not only this, but now, many wouldn't even be able to see its earliest glimmers with the removal of P.T. Without being able to download it any more, this meant that the only copies in existence were already out and about in finite supply for those who'd managed to grab a copy while it was still live. Now, almost four years later, how many hard drives have been wiped, consoles konked out, and accounts tampered with? How many of those copies of P.T. still remain? How many will continue to exist in five years? Ten? Twenty?

This piece of horror history is disappearing, taking with it the most chilling experience in interactive fear. It is our history fading away, and yet, somehow, I cannot think of a more fitting end for the game.

For what better end can there be for such a powerful horror experience than to be found, languishing, on some used console in a pawn shop, waiting for some unsuspecting player to find it? Than for people to forget all about it, only to stumble across it like some spectre from a ghost story?

"I bought this old PS4 from a yard sale, and it had this creepy game on it called P.T…."

Can you imagine it? Stumbling across this game that no one knows about and with no copies in existence you could ever hope to find? Seeking information only to find a select handful of people still plagued by its horrors? Perhaps with some of them meeting discomforting ends? It's the stuff of campfire stories and whispered tales, of the crackling of the fire as someone tells you about this fearful thing you pray isn't real.

Only P.T. is real, isn't it? Bleeding steadily into reality in its decline, we see a game that redefines horror – one that sends its frightening tendrils into the real world in its own way.

P.T., in its terrifying power and sudden disappearance and death, is a video game ghost story. So, won't you sit closer and let me talk to you about it for a while? Don't mind the noises in the night, though. They don't mean you any harm.

For now.

LONG - My experience with P.T. was of a game that could paralyze me with fear, leaving me snivelling in a digital corner while praying that Lisa would just go away. With the sun down and the lights off, I attempted to walk through those repeating halls, my confidence high from years and years of horror games. I'd learned to shrug off Fatal Frame, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Outlast, Clock Tower, Rule of Rose, Kuon, Haunting Ground, Siren, Hell Night, Sweet Home, and just about any other horror game I could put my hands on. If it was scary in any conceivable way and released on a console, I had played it.

This was something beyond all of what I'd played before. This wasn't just something that made me jump every once in a while or that creeped me out in general. This made me sick and fearful and brought my mind to halt. I could not bear to face down what I was dealing with, and the game brought me to my knees within a handful of screens. It was that scary to me, which was completely fascinating.

I had never gotten such a physical reaction from a horror game – a churning of the guts and a paralysis of the mind. I don't know if I'd ever been that scared of anything in my life before, let alone some made-up images on a screen that wasn't actually occurring in any way. Horror was good to get a little jolt of fear, drumming up a powerful feeling of that emotion within a relatively safe environment, but that had been it. It was exciting, but I was safe at home.

But this game was so much more than that. P.T. pushed me so much harder, and while I sat in a corner staring at the wall, praying I wouldn't have to look at what was hovering just behind my shoulder, I wanted nothing more than to shut off the game and be free. I could have clicked a few buttons and escaped this crushing fear any time I wanted to.

But could I ever fully get away? For many horror games, the fear fades when the game is off. Hitting those buttons closes that world off, freeing you from it. However, the more powerful experiences, such as Fatal Frame, can leave a kind of fearful scar upon the player that they remember when the game is off.

When I played Fatal Frame years ago, I started getting the sense that something was coming up behind me during the days I played it. It was awful at night, as even though the bathroom was only across the hall from my room, it made for a tense move across the dark hallway to make it there. There would be moments when the dark corridor yawned wide on either side of me, hiding unseen horrors that lurked, clutching, at someone who wasn't within the light. I could dismiss this logically, but in the background of my mind, I felt it so keenly that I ached. I'd leap across the hall, hands clawing at the light switch in the bathroom to give myself safety.

This feeling persisted until I beat the game, something I remember clearly. I had this sense that the ghosts in the game could feel that I had not finished my task and banished them, and could creep free of the game. I was almost twenty at this time, I'd like to add. Well beyond these kinds of scares. And I was, to an extent, but I could still FEEL that fear, no matter how much my logical mind felt it could dismiss it.

And this was for a game that didn't scare me that bad as I played it – more making me a bit jumpy (although my brother was kind enough to always play it with me).

P.T. brought me back to those days when I looked in my mirror in the bathroom at night. Now in my thirties, I would laugh at myself, forcing the sound to bubble up as I looked down at the sink while washing up in the cloying gloom. I would be laughing, but my eyes refused to rise to look in the mirror, fearful of finding myself staring into the grimy surface and seeing something standing behind me.

Why would I willingly do this to myself?

Something about this emotion felt important. Something about this experience felt important. Whatever happened, I needed to see this through. Why, though?

P.T. brings up many questions in me through my stubbornness to play it, even when it's making it hard to just go to the stupid bathroom in the night. Why would I willingly subject myself to this? What was it about this particular setup and atmosphere that made me wish to stay and keep playing? What would it tell me about myself and the draw of fear? And why was something so unreal so able to frighten me?

Kojima, working in tandem with director Guillermo Del Toro, actor Norman Reedus, and horror manga artist Junji Ito, was set to create something chilling with Silent Hills, but I wonder if it could have ever surpassed what was done in such a short time with P.T. While there are many elements here that made for sickening horror, could these have worked in a full-length game? Could players have endured these mysteries and fears for eight hours? Six? Four?

I have my doubts, but after Konami's decision to scour P.T. from the PlayStation Store in April of 2015, seemingly on the tail of some extremely bad blood between the publisher and Kojima over a split between the two we would only find out about a while later, we will never know. Konami's decision to cancel Silent Hills means we may never have any idea what the game could have become.

Not only this, but now, many wouldn't even be able to see its earliest glimmers with the removal of P.T. Without being able to download it any more, this meant that the only copies in existence were already out and about in finite supply for those who'd managed to grab a copy while it was still live. Now, almost four years later, how many hard drives have been wiped, consoles konked out, and accounts tampered with? How many of those copies of P.T. still remain? How many will continue to exist in five years? Ten? Twenty?

This piece of horror history is disappearing, taking with it the most chilling experience in interactive fear. It is our history fading away, and yet, somehow, I cannot think of a more fitting end for the game.

For what better end can there be for such a powerful horror experience than to be found, languishing, on some used console in a pawn shop, waiting for some unsuspecting player to find it? Than for people to forget all about it, only to stumble across it like some spectre from a ghost story?

"I bought this old PS4 from a yard sale, and it had this creepy game on it called P.T…."

Can you imagine it? Stumbling across this game that no one knows about and with no copies in existence you could ever hope to find? Seeking information only to find a select handful of people still plagued by its horrors? Perhaps with some of them meeting discomforting ends? It's the stuff of campfire stories and whispered tales, of the crackling of the fire as someone tells you about this fearful thing you pray isn't real.

Only P.T. is real, isn't it? Bleeding steadily into reality in its decline, we see a game that redefines horror – one that sends its frightening tendrils into the real world in its own way.

P.T., in its terrifying power and sudden disappearance and death, is a video game ghost story. So, won't you sit closer and let me talk to you about it for a while? Don't mind the noises in the night, though. They don't mean you any harm.

For now.