What makes PT an effective horror game?

PT is a first person psychological survival horror game which was created by both Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro for the Playstation 4. It was released on 12th August 2014 and removed on 29th April 2015.

The game itself starts you in a concrete room which only has one door, in which you pass through and enter a corridor. The corridor loops itself and subtly changes itself every time you complete the corridor only to start back again at the beginning. Over the course of the game, you encounter many scares such as being approached by “Lisa” or being spoken to by an under developed featus. The player is able to collect torn pieces of a photo and assemble it within the frame, if the player manages to do this they are able to leave the building.

There are several factors within PT which make the game successful. Firstly, the game itself focuses on a “less of more” approach to horror allowing the player to expect the unexpected, not knowing when something was going to happen. It allows the trigger and release to work amazingly, as when the player expects something to happen with all the symbolism suggesting so, the player is made to leave and re-enter the hallway feeling a panic because nothing happened. The game does this by using a dreamscape setting, set in an environment which is familiar to everybody, praying on fears that most of us have felt while staying at home alone. Plenty of times have I been alone in my dark house thinking that a silhouette from a house hold object was an individual stood at the end of the hallway.


The game prays on fears that we are unable to understand or rationalise. For example, within the game some doors will open and close of their own accord. We try to rationalise this with the idea of a haunting because then we are able to understand what we are facing and are able to destroy it with an exorcism. This is something we see typically within horror films and is just the general solution to this problem. However, PT puts you in a household hallway in the exact situation you have been in at home, so realistically an exorcism isn’t a thought nor is it available to you anyway so you must face the entity on your own by approaching the door despite your brain is telling you to turn away. There is also the fact we are unsure what is opening and closing the door until later on in the game in which we become face to face with Lisa who screams and shuts the door.


There are no “rules” within this game so the player is never sure what to expect. This means that’s people sometimes have a different play through, some experiencing all the horrors within the house and others only getting a select few. Although, this entices the players urge of exploration as the majority of PT focuses on puzzles in order to better understand the environment. Taboo subjects within this game make the player uncomfortable such as a crying featus in a sink or the crying child sound coming from the bleeding fridge.  These are things that are too unbearable for us to think could exist in a video game as they make the player feel extremely uncomfortable as they are only children. When experiencing this game, it made me feel that they managed to think out of the box when developing the demo to offer something which makes us uncomfortable but isn’t cliché.

The game is interesting as it breaks the 4th wall meaning that the game acknowledges the player. It does this by the use of the radio and how it says things such as “Look behind you” and “nows the time! Do it!”. Another example is a talking bloody bag which delivers a short monolog warning the player “The only me is me, are you sure the only you is you?”. Breaking the 4th wall in this way begins to blur the line of reality and fantasy meaning that during this point within the demo the player will have reached a state of flow, and now that they are so immersed within the game it becomes a personal experience with the spooks within the game becoming more real than before. Once you complete the demo, you feel like the game itself isn’t over and you are left feeling uncomfortable within your own house.

There have been a few games inspired by PT and how it approaches creating atmosphere then using that to scare the audience in ways that haven’t been done as effectively within games before. Researching into this, I discovered that the game The Park which I had found influential within my games development used PT as influence within their project. Within my project I will aim to use what makes PT effective within my FMP to help invoke a feeling of fear in order to create good atmosphere and a great experience for the player. I will keep the controls within the game simplistic so that all players of any experience are able to partake and it also allows the player to reach a state of flow quicker as the controls make it easy to navigate through the environment.

The fear of the uncanny

Researching into the further into the Uncanny, I went to look at Freud’s lecture notes on “The Uncanny”


Within this, he links the uncanny as the aesthetics of a subject. He goes on to mention it has something to do with a certain kind of feeling alongside some emotional impulses as the subject is so frightening that it invokes fear into those who observe it. He defines the term as “uncanny as the class of frightening things that leads us back to what is known and familiar.” He talks about that many have only chosen to observe the beauty within things yet the focus on what makes the uncanny has yet to be investigated fully.

He breaks down Heimlich (Canny) and Unheimlich (Uncanny) each into two parts.

Canny 1 – known, familiar

Uncanny 1 – Unknown, unfamiliar

Canny 2 – Secret, Unknown

Uncanny 2 – Revealed, uncovered

The Uncanny.png

An example of something being uncanny would be flickering lights within a level as these make the player feel uncomfortable as it is something not expected from the environment. If a light was off at the end of the hall, this would also cause the player to feel uncomfortable as makes the player feel as if something is wrong. Having something like this make the player feel uncomfortable, they naturally begin to explore the environment more to find other things which may be “out of place”. In order for the uncanny to be effective it must be good enough for it to be plausible in the real world rather than disregarded as fantasy.

dark room

Silent Hill series is another set of games/film which is able to grasp the uncanny rather well by flicking between two different versions of the world. The “Fog” world is an almost exact copy of the “Real” world but that barely anyone resides there and it’s coated in dark fog. Within the fog world there are monsters and almost all of the city seems in disrepair.  The fog world is uncanny because it resembles the real world but it is unsettling as even talking to people within the fog world makes you feel uneasy as they are unsettling.

silent hill

Tension and release allows the uncanny to world well as the uncanny helps create the tension which is then released giving the player the shock of their experience. Tension and release is important in story telling as it’s that expectation that something is going to happen, and when it happens you feel as sense of emotion. Defeating an enemy is a form of tension and release as on a game such as Devil May Cry, when you are attacked by a monster you build the tension, and when the monster is defeated that tension is released. Some games prefer to build tension slowly so when the player is faced with their final challenge, they are now equip with more knowledge and experiences to aid them in defeating the obstacle and allowing themselves the release of what they had just been through in order to get to that moment. Within horror games, the player is able to face small doses of cognitive tension in order to get an understanding of what is around them or what they are facing, although with horror games they enjoy this being a continuous experience. The uncanny allows the player to build up tension in a way that it can be stretched for large periods of time until the right moment in which the player is given the payoff.

An example of this in a horror would be the film The Village (2004), within the film you learn about a small village that has been isolated and live in fear of creatures that live outside of the woods. One of the villages leave in order to collect medical supplies, before she leaves she is informed that in fact the monsters are not real. When she gets out of the woods she meets a park ranger who informs her that it’s actually the modern era and not the 19th century. She discovered within that moment that her whole life had been a lie. The uncanny is as Freud explains as “The unknown/secret” is now “revealed/uncovered” now allows the viewer to feel an emotional connection to the people within the village who had been lied too for their whole lives. The director manages to carry the plot twist right until the end in which the payoff is given giving the audience a sense of release.

I am unsure how I will explore tension and release within my FMP at this current point, but it is something that I wish to do especially if I want to continue my game idea to the very end. I feel that in order for it to work effectively I need to know the full story behind my game in order to plan how I will subtly implement this well.