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How “P.T.” Taught Me I’m Done With Hardcore Horror Games

How “P.T.” Taught Me I’m Done With Hardcore Horror Games

Konami just announced that Silent Hills has been cancelled. After playing P.T., the demo promoting the title, maybe they were worried about a rash of heart failures among their players.


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Self-knowledge is important, and sometimes it takes a video game to teach you.

Horror has been a staple since that deranged kid Mary Shelley inflicted Frankenstein on us in 1823. It’s been a go-to genre in books, plays, films, and of course, games. I’ve seen the movies, read the books, and played lots of the games.

But I think I’m done. I recently played the free downloadable mini-horror-game PT on my PS3 and yeah, I think I’m done.

I believe the culprit is technology. It’s one thing to play the original Alone in the Dark, with its low-resolution, pixilated graphics and blocky characters. The Dark Eye really got under my skin with its puppet-like characters pulling me through several of Edgar Allen Poe’s more disturbing stories.

But these days, games create worlds that have a video-like fidelity. Sound is 3D and HD. It’s not VR yet, but it might as well be. And because of this, the experience of some of the more gruesome horror games just becomes too much for me to take.

I had a great time playing Resident Evil 4, and sure, it was plenty scary with its deranged infected coming at me from all directions. But it still felt like a scary action/adventure, which meant I had enough distance from it to be able to play it. Still, I had to take breaks to calm down between play sessions.

I adored all eleven episodes of Tell Tale Games’ The Walking Dead games, but they still gave me trouble. Even with their stylized, animated-comic-book style visuals, the storylines were so disturbing and horrific that the games really upset me.

So… What was I thinking when I downloaded P.T., the short, free miniature game that serves as a calling card for the upcoming release Silent Hills? Who knows.

P.T. takes place in an L-shaped hallway and a couple of rooms in an apartment. You play in the first person. At first, there doesn’t seem to be much there. You progress through the short distance of the hallway, go through the door at the end, and ….wait a minute….you’re back where you started!

Yes, you’re stuck in a loop and only by solving the hallway’s mysteries and living through its terrors can you escape.

I’m not going to go into detail about the content of the puzzles and the story that is suggested by the artifacts in the apartment. I’m not even going to mention the thing that was crying in the bathroom sink.

But the whole thing filled me with so much dread that it was oppressive. I should have stopped playing, but I wanted to solve the damn thing.

It’s like roller coasters. To many people, me included, the terrors these thrill rides provide are the source of cathartic glee. For others, they are simply trauma. I learned this lesson the hard way on a recent trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in California. There were about six of us, and one of our friends – let’s call him Sparky – announced that he hated roller coasters. We laughed. He insisted that he really, really didn’t like roller coasters. We bullied him and peer-pressured him into joining us on The Ghostrider – Knott’s excellent wooden coaster.

What a mistake. What a mean, insensitive mistake. Sparky howled in agony the entire ride. He was truly horrified and frightened. After the two minute ride, poor Sparky was crouched in a near-fetal position at the bottom of the coaster car, wailing, utterly traumatized. He was beside himself. We scraped him out of the car and spent the next half-hour helping him recover. We felt like absolute dicks. I continue to apologize to him about the incident to this day.

Back to P.T.

The game has one great, nasty jump-out-at-you moment that provided my epiphany about my relationship to games like this. When it happened I bit my tongue. Hard. (It took days to heal.) And I yelled so loudly I was surprised my neighbors didn’t come running and bang on my door.

Horror games are supposed to be fun. And clearly there’s a market for this type of thing. I’m not saying games like this shouldn’t be made. I just think that, in the interest of the continued operation of my one and only heart, I probably need to steer clear of them. They are my roller coasters. I would wish Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro luck with their upcoming Silent Hills game – the project that P.T. was promoting – but this week Konami announced that the title has been cancelled. Maybe they were worried about a rash of heart failures among their players.

[By the way, in case you were wondering, it turns out P.T. stands for “Playable Teaser.”]

Ray Ivey

Ray Ivey

A gaming freakazoid, Ray enjoys games on all platforms. Also loves board games, mind games, and all puzzles. Co-wrote the Entertainment Tonight trivia game and designed puzzles for two Law & Order PC games. Also a movie freak, bookworm, and travel bug. Thinks games of all kinds are a highly underappreciated force for social good, not to mention mental and psychological health.   Ray's favorite adventures include the "Broken Sword" and "Journeyman Project" franchises, "The Dark Eye," "The Feeble Files," "Sanitarium," "Limbo," "Machinarium," "Riven," "The Neverhood," and "Azrael's Tear." His favorite non-adventures include the "Thief," "Uncharted," and "Ratchet & Clank" franchises, all of the Bioware RPGs, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy XII.   Ray writes about the movies for the Bryan/College Station Daily Eagle, which is the old-fashioned thing called a "newspaper." He's been on eight game shows. He's taught in seven countries and has visited twenty-one. His favorite classic movie star is Barbara Stanwyck and his favorite novel is "The Hotel New Hampshire" by John Irving.

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