One thing that I have always admired is how far some developers and creative directors will go to establish and build upon the worlds of their games. I greatly enjoy engaging with a game’s lore and unearthing the secrets that are left behind. At best, these are the masterpieces that we all know and love and, at worst, they’re still a fine effort. Some of the greatest video game creators of all time craft a world that they understand so intimately that the lore bleeds into the environment seamlessly. Certain details are quite easily missed by the untrained eye, yet they can often inform the story better than any dialogue or plot developments the player experiences.
This is something that can be explored in many different ways and I hope to, during my time writing for Be Informed Gaming, share some of the most excellent examples of this that I have seen in both video game ‘classics’ and cult hits. In this series of features, I am going to take you on a journey deeper into the lore of some of the most complex releases to date by examining what the developers have created within their games to unearth the hidden lore in video games, starting today with radio messages in Hideo Kojima’s P.T.
What in the world does ‘P.T.’ mean?
Originally given an enigmatic release for free on the PlayStation Store under the guise of being a demo for 7780s Studios, P.T. was a first-person psychological horror game that took the internet by storm. While only lasting an hour or two, it managed to hook and terrify gamers across the world within a few days of its release. The gameplay consisted of walking through a loop of an L-shaped hallway while attempting to solve extremely strange and confusing puzzles. Those who managed to make it to the end were rewarded with the truth in the form of a trailer for Konami’s upcoming entry in the Silent Hill franchise. After dropping the ‘7780s Studios’ pseudonym, it was revealed that Kojima Productions was going to be behind the game, called Silent Hills, which would star Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame.
Sadly, following Hideo Kojima’s departure from Konami, Silent Hills and all its related properties were canceled and P.T. was pulled from the PlayStation Store, locking away much of the truth behind the game, its story and Kojima’s ideas forever. That said, we at least learned what P.T.’s name means. It is supposedly an acronym for “playable teaser”, and is the first of many hints that Kojima had some revolutionary ideas that he wanted to share with the entire gaming community. Despite being quite a niche horror game on the surface, P.T. was a clear example of how Kojima’s methods had the potential to take the internet by storm and bring widespread change to many gamers’ and even developers’ outlooks. Although the game was pulled by Konami, it has recently been recreated by fans on PC and is still playable if you never deleted it. I never deleted it from my PS4 hard drive, so it is still at my disposable when I feel like jumping into a world that I can’t, and never will, truly understand.
What’s so special about the radio?
To attempt to completely explain what P.T. is about would be impossible even without acknowledging how much info we’ll never get as a result of Konami’s cancellation of Silent Hills. However, I would like to turn your attention to very particular detail in the plot and hopefully inspire you to go off and learn more about the game and its story afterwards. The radio has two primary functions in the game. The first is to relay information about the plot, which can easily be ignored, while the second serves as a means to scare or guide the player. What I want to focus in on is the broadcast that the radio announcer gives throughout the game.
This starts as simple, understandable world building. A news story depicting three familicides. One is from December of the previous year, the second shortly thereafter, likely in January, and the last about a month or so after the second. The news story is strange and eerie, adding a layer to the horror if the player is paying attention. Even if they’re not, the way that the story is told by the creepy voice of an old-fashioned radio broadcaster is certainly scary enough. But what the stories on the radio do is start to reveal part of the plot by showing the player how these three cases are all connected to one another as part of a disturbing trend, and how they are connected to the game. These types of cases are tragedies and very real horror, but their inclusion in this game demonstrates a greater meaning. The cases are somehow tied to the plot.
So let’s examine how this is explored. In chronological order, the three cases are: the murder of an entire family with a rifle and a meat cleaver, another family shot dead and the stabbing of a pregnant woman and her son in the kitchen and then the murder of her daughter with a rifle. There’s implicit evidence that the family who once lived in the house consisted of a man, a pregnant woman and their son. There’s also a segment in which the gruesome murder of the mother with some kind of knife is depicted in the bathroom. These two pieces of evidence draw us to one conclusion, that the family this game is about is either the victims of the first murder-suicide or an undocumented fourth. All this is derived from the game’s use of the radio to help us connect the dots. The weapons detailed are a meat cleaver, a knife and a rifle. The layout of the killings isn’t detailed where irrelevant, just like a real news broadcast, adding authenticity to the audio. Location is only mentioned in the case where the father had to go from the kitchen to hunt down and shoot his daughter. From these small details about the weapons and the locations, we can compare the information told through the radio broadcasts to what we know from actual gameplay to come to this conclusion that links the horrifying stories on the radio to the resident family.
This is a prime example of how effective the use of diegetic, meaning within the narrative of the game, exposition dumps can be. The bodies and weapons could be in the house still, we could be shown a ghost sequence of what happened or the gruesome details of the crime could be written in blood on the walls or even spelled out in the son’s monologue. Instead, we’re left to piece everything together from implicit information on a radio broadcast and the harrowing echoes of the mother’s murder. Even then, the answers aren’t clear. I cannot deduce with 100% certainty whether or not the killing is the first in the string of murders on the radio or a new fourth case. And this causes us to dig deeper. The radio opens up a whole new side to the game and its community, one oft present in Kojima’s games, in which players keep looking for answers and reveal hidden secrets before ultimately going too far.
Notice, also, how the radio and the depiction of the murder are auditory. Horror is very much about the senses and the imagination. By combining those two, Kojima creates these horrifying images in your mind and unsettles you with terrifying sounds, engaging you in a way that suits the genre. After all, critics often argue that horror is a genre that relies heavily on holding one’s hand close to the chest and never revealing too much. In this sense, Kojima’s use of the radio is genius. He tells a story, three scary stories, and creates a narrative thread that brings them together and ties them to the game, evoking a sense of unease and layering the horror with a plot that only gets better the more you probe it.