I have a confession: I haven't played P.T. I did watch Patrick's Quick Look (and I did have a real-life cockroach crawl up my leg during it) though, and I think that I've seen all I need to see to make the argument I'm going to make. But, there's always the chance that, having not played the game myself, I'm missing something. I really do hope I'm missing something, because P.T. has made me pissed off about its fan's inability to see it for what it is (remember: Patrick called it "brilliant"): a really confusing, shit puzzle game.
Some of you may have played the infrequently excellent Silent Hill: Shattered Memories by Climax Studios (a game I did actually play through myself), a Wii almost-exclusive that had to be ported over to the PS2 to break even. That game, despite its flaws, was legitimately innovative. It tracked what the player did throughout the game, and the ending you received was based on your interactions with the game world. Spend too much time in the bar? Well, turns out you were an alcoholic and fucked up your kid. The endings weren't always the happiest, but they yearned to show the player that the game is watching you; it knows what you're doing. This kind of message worked beautifully in the Silent Hill universe, because Silent Hill is supposed to be the player character's own nightmare. What better way to fuck with this narrative trope than by making elements of it your nightmare too?
At the end of the day, the implementation of reactive gaming in Shattered Memories was pretty weak. Though there were elements in the actual game world that changed based on what you did, and the ending was dependent on your actions, it felt like a skin and bones effort. I honestly don't know if I would have realized what the game was doing if it hadn't been mentioned at preview events. The best way to put it is, though the world was, in some trivial way, reacting to what I was doing, I never felt like the game was watching me; it was never a presence in my gaming experience.
So, what the hell do I even want then? Well, maybe I'm asking for too much. Maybe all I'm going to get from a new horror game is what Shattered Memories already did: fill out a database of the shit I picked up or looked at and slightly alter my gaming experience accordingly. If that's the case, I'll be sad, but I won't be angry. So, what is so terrible about P.T. that is making me angry?
I was lying in bed, thinking of P.T. and how Patrick constantly didn't know what to do, and wondered "why is the game designed like that"? You could tell that Patrick was pulled out of the experience every time he had to think about triggering the world in a particular way so that he could progress to another sequence of the game. My problem is that, the game is built like a fucking game, like a game that could've been made 10 years ago. I could see, and I think Patrick could see, how fake it all really was.
In P.T. you spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out what the developers want you to do, as if you're solving some obtuse puzzle that barely follows any rules, and gives you scraps for clues, all the while glaringly pointing out the simple, simple gears that is making itself tick. Honestly, think back to the fast walking sequence, where Patrick accidentally doesn't look through the gross bathroom peep hole for long enough. First of all, how is he supposed to know how long that scene is? Second, why the fuck does he have to watch exactly the entire scene before the game realizes it's time to move on?! Oh, I know why, because, video games. Because for as long as I can remember, designers have taken the easy way out and just created triggers in the world and made the player find where these are: make the player respond to them. Unfortunately, this can work for a game like Little Big Planet, and it worked for the original Resident Evil, and even Resident Evil 4, but this kind of game design has worn out its welcome (despite the cries from some corners pf the internet about "curated" or "hand-crafted" experiences. For the record, I think a game world can be both reactive and hand-crafted). This kind of game design hubris, where designers think that players should be reactive to what they've created instead of the other way around, is what's got me so mad.
What we should all be asking for is a game that feels seamless. A game where you don't have to trigger some cutscene by running in a circle five times and then clicking on a phone after the 3rd ring (or after some bells chime), but where, no matter what you do, something is going to happen. I want the game to watch how I'm playing, and if I take an interest in the radio in the first 5 minutes, I want that to be important and I want that to trigger some event. If I try to go into the bathroom, I don't want the cutscene to only play out when it's convenient for Kojima, I want it to play out regardless of how long I've been playing or what else I've accomplished. And there's precedent. Left 4 Dead has an AI Director that changes the experience every time you play, and it's mostly seamless. At no point are you worried about triggering the next horde, or making sure you've completely a bunch of steps before you can move on to the next area. All you care about is survival, and the game is trying to make that extremely difficult for you.
The reason I'm angry is because P.T. suggests that Silent Hills is going to be more of this same "if...then" drudgery. And it also suggests that Hideo Kojima, who people put on a pedestal for his ability to combine games and story, is a dinosaur who is helping to hold the game industry back. In a time where No Man's Sky exists, a procedurally generated monolith of a universe, and Day Z exists, hell, where Minecraft exists, how is it that our most beloved franchises are being helmed by guys with such antiquated sensibilities?
Edit: A lot of awesome, and sometimes exasperated(?), conversation has been happening on this post. A bunch of people pointed out, rightfully, that P.T. is not, as it said at the end, directly related to Silent Hills. I've changed my view after a lot of back and forth about this. My latest post on page 3 has a decent summary. Basically, please don't just read this and respond. There's a lot more that's happened since it went up.