Homes Made of Hallways

Emily Cheng 

As the player traverses the endlessly looping hallways of P.T. Silent Hill, it is frighteningly easy to become desensitized to one of the first moments of the “uncanny” that the game presents us: our character limps. Players who are familiar with first-person games may be accustomed to a relatively steady camera, one that simultaneously contains enough movement to suggest a character’s embodied experience, but is specifically designed to be unobtrusive. Often, the camera only becomes noticeably unsteady when your character is severely harmed and you are potentially on the brink of dying. So, when the first steps you take in P.T. Silent Hill seem to lurch forward and the camera almost mimics the viewpoint of someone staggering, the player is immediately filled with a multilayered sense of unease. Through its camera work, P.T. is able to foster a sense of soft rejection—the player cannot effortlessly slide into immersion since the perspective they are inhabiting is a jarring reminder of the character’s own distinct body and identity. This furthers the environmental sense of the “uncanny” that we were discussing in class. 

In my presentation, I tried to draw attention to two ways in which the spatial design of P.T. created a sense of the “uncanny.” I initially outlined how the infinitely looping hallways structure of P.T. perverts what the player would recognize as a home into endless liminal space. This reconfigures the players’ associations with the home as a safe space of dwelling, or residing, and transforms it into a hostile, transitional space. A second form of the “uncanny” that I thought P.T. was engaged with was a distortion of linear time into frozen, or endlessly repeating time. On this point, the class conversation seemed more divided and some people critiqued whether elements of time manipulation were actually salient in the gameplay of P.T. One comment that particularly stood out to me was made by Wes. He pointed out that although he was aware that diegetically time was at a standstill, his experience of time as a player remained quite linear, as he still experienced the passage of time as linear during each traversal of the loop. I found his comment interesting to consider in relation to Gazzard’s piece, Mazes in Videogames. Gazzard’s conception of time does seem to be space and player-centric. This idea comes up in her discussion of the loop-along, “The loop-along, however, is more cunning. It too acts as a spatio-temporal delay device, although this time it is mixed with some slight confusion on the part of the walker/player as he emerges from the delayed journey further along the original path” (54). In her argument, her references to time imply that the player’s perception of how long it takes to traverse space, which is influenced by how complex it is to navigate, becomes the basis of how time flow is experienced. This seems to resonate with Wes’ comment that his played experience of traversing the space was not fundamentally jeopardized or changed by the narrative implication that time has been distorted. However, others in class pushed back on Wes’ view and described that the looping nature of the hallway did foster a sense of being temporally “stuck” or that the game was able to effectively communicate the character’s own experience of being frozen in or forced to re-live a particular moment. 

Personally, I was interested in how the conversation returned to themes of the character’s perspective and thinking about how this concept in P.T. Silent Hill functioned differently from the role of perspective in nana825763’s horror short film, My house-walkthrough. The basic premise of nana825763’s film is strikingly similar to P.T. Silent Hill. The audience is taken along on a narrated “tour” of the endlessly looping corridors of someone’s dilapidated Japanese-style home. Narration is delivered in the form of subtitles, with certain phrases eerily repeating, mimicking the looped nature of the visuals. Similar to P.T., the house slowly undergoes changes as the narrator continues to walk through the hallways and deliver the story of the house and his family. 

Despite these similarities, the presence of this informed narrator and the medium of film makes the experience of watching this piece of media considerably different from the experience of playing P.T. Part of what is unsettling about nana825763’s narrator is his calm and undisturbed commentary and his way of navigating through the house. His intense familiarity with the space becomes juxtaposed with our discomfort and confusion. The film dramatizes the narrator’s own uncanniness by having him interact with the space as if it is normal, and thus, in the same way the limp causes us to be initially separated from the character’s perspective in P.T., we almost viscerally reject identifying with and immersing ourselves into the narrator’s perspective, despite the film being similar to an extended point of view shot. While players are able to acclimatize to the movement of the camera in P.T. and eventually immerse themselves into the perspective of the character they are playing as, the narrator of My house-walkthrough continuously maintains this divide. Our medium-specific lack of control over the camera movement and the rate at which the house is explored in My house-walkthrough presents new obstacles for our identification with the narrator. 

Finally, to tie in our discussion of “sympathetic” identification in horror films, I find that My house-walkthrough cleverly subverts and reverses the concept that the audience can identify with a perspective while knowing more about the space than the characters do. Despite the film being framed as a “house tour,” the lighting in the film, the rapid pans, and the obstructed views that characterize the footage give the impression that the house is being shown without actually allowing the viewer to visually take in the space. Thus, the narrator walks us through the space as if we understand what we are seeing, but even after multiple loops, we remain helplessly disoriented and the space persists as an unknown and unmappable entity. Suspense is generated despite us knowing, and intensely feeling that we know, next to nothing about this house compared to the narrator. It is precisely because of this dissonance between being shown, but never really seeing, between being addressed as if we are also gaining familiarity, but never really understanding, that we are deeply unsettled and feel resistant to identifying the perspective presented by the point of view shot. While both P.T. Silent Hill and My house-walkthrough use infinitely looping hallways to transform the home into non-Euclidian spaces, the difference in medium and the perspectives in the two pieces generate ultimately different experiences of the uncanny.

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