No turning back now

Audra 

My discussion animation drew from the terminology Alison Gazzard outlined in Mazes in Videogames: Meaning, Metaphor and Design to ask two questions about PT. 

Question 1: Is PT a maze?

Alison Gazzard immediately differentiates between real-world mazes and video game mazes, stating that real world mazes are pathways of experience while video game mazes are pathways to completing an objective (42). PT does not seem to fit into either of these categories; its paths do not stand alone as entertainment because you solve puzzles within them, but the final objective is never explicitly defined. The game just starts from a first-person POV waking up on the floor of a dark room and you are able to walk through a door. 

Gazzard developed a “morphology of paths” that defines set path structures. While PT’s path aligns with the defined structures, “maze-emes”, there are not enough maze-emes present for PT to be considered a maze. The relevant definitions are as follows:

  1. Core path = “any path that has no other use than to guide us between the other parts of the path”, can also contain keys or rewards
  2. Blind turn = “it is a breaking of the direction of the path, while the same path still continues”
  3. Loop-back = “starts to take the walker/player somewhere new, and then continues back on itself”

PT is made up of one core path with a blind turn in the middle. There is a “start door” and “end door”. The end door, when unlocked, opens up to the view of coming out of the start door. The end door to start door travel represents a loop-back, but is physically missing the connection path. See the image below for a representation:

The missing loop-back path and single core path with a bathroom constitute the entirety of PT’s world. Kendrick argued in class that PT is strictly a game of solving puzzles within a space. He said it was not a maze, but a series of puzzles. Building off of this, PT is a single path, not multiple. Gazzard defines video game mazes as pathways to completing an objective. PT does not have pathways, which removes the confirmation of interaction that is present in video game mazes with paths to choose from. PT players do not get to choose their path. 

In class, Ben suggested that if PT is not a maze, it could be a labyrinth: a single, non-branching path that leads to a center. Gazzard discusses two types of labyrinths in video games: spaces of illusion and tracks. There are many video games that exist on a unicursal path like PT, but the game designers have chosen to make the area feel expansive and explorable to give players a sense of freedom. These are called spaces of illusion, which PT clearly does not fit into as it was designed to feel repetitive and claustrophobic. Additionally, spaces of illusion incorporate obstacles to movement that subconsciously direct the player to move along the single path, rather than exploring the false expanse. PT does not have any specific obstacles to movement because the entire space acts as the obstacle. PT is most similar to the space of illusion labyrinth in that “the path is not restricted once it has been walked” (67). This is a superficial similarity, however, because retracing your path in a space of illusion does not benefit the player, while in PT solving the puzzles is dependent on the player re-walking the path. For example, you need to dash between the radio and the phone to trigger the first baby laugh. The second type of video game labyrinth is the track, where the player cannot choose where to go on the single path. The player can control the speed of the avatar or initiate certain actions, but ultimately they do not control the player’s movement through space. PT does not fall into this category because, as discussed earlier, complete freedom of movement and control over the only action, focusing, is imperative to solving the puzzles.

From class discussion, PT does not seem to align with any of Gazzard’s video game maze or labyrinth definitions. It may align with an entirely different video game category, and its similarity to an escape room could be explored further.

Question 2: Can an entire game be a dead end?

A dead end is a closed path with no way through, requiring the player to retread their steps if they want to continue their journey (62). Before discussing if PT overall is a dead end, a potential dead end within the game is the “end door”.

The PT end door can be categorized as both a gate and a dead end, at times simultaneously. A gate hides the path beyond it and forces the player to wait for it to open onto the next section of the path. After the end door is unlocked early in the game, the door is a gate because it allows the player to pass through it while hiding the path beyond it. However, upon failing to solve a puzzle, like the “Hello!” puzzle, the end door remains a gate because the player can pass through it, but brings you back to the exact same path. It makes the player double-back while physically moving forward. Gazzard describes video game dead ends as paradoxical because they prompt movement through the denial of movement (62). In PT, the denial of movement is denying progression towards the end goal, like resetting the “Hello!” puzzle. The end door may not be a physical dead end, but it serves the same purpose.

In class, we discussed two ways in which PT could be classified as a dead end overall. PT is a game of puzzles that must be solved with a specific methodology, none of which are told to the player. PT forces the player to retrace their steps until they solve each puzzle. We experienced this ourselves in our class attempt, where we tried upwards of ten times to get the second baby laugh at the end of the game. We never knew if we had failed the attempt or just needed to wait a little longer. Each time we had to choose a time to double back and start again. In this way, PT is a game of doubling back until something in the limited space changes, a continuous dead end. Additionally, my classmates explored how PT could be a metaphorical dead end. PT is a playthrough teaser-trailer for a Silent Hill video game that was never released. Therefore, the final objective of PT, drawing players to a new complete video game, is left unaccomplished, making PT a dead end.

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