Black Mirror Episode "Playtest" Is a Reference-Packed Look into the Future of Horror and VR Gaming

Episode 2 of Black Mirror's newest season is written by gamers, for gamers. And it's horrifying.

[Warning: This article contains light spoilers of Netflix's Black Mirror episode, "Playtest"]

British cult TV show Black Mirror is all about technology and the dangers that come with it. Its third season premiered last week with six new episodes, all of which are full of twists and shocking moments. But all you gamers out there might be particularly interested in the second episode, "Playtest". This episode is a thrilling, horrific tale about video games, psychological horror, cutting-edge VR, and our worst enemies -- ourselves. 

Bonus: It's packed with video game references to boot. 

Imagining The Next Level of Virtual Reality

The main character in "Playtest" is Cooper Redfield (notice the Resident Evil reference), an American that leaves his home to travel the world and find himself. After visiting many countries, he ends up in London -- where he meets games journalist Sonja through a Tinder-like app. After a hot one-night stand, Cooper's credit card gets cloned and he is left without money. 

In order to get out of the country and make it back home to the US, he uses an Odd Jobs app to land a beta gig at a well-known game company, SaitoGemu. He's supposed to playtest a revolutionary technology -- an augmented reality chip that gets implanted in your neck, probes your mind for your worst fears, and brings those nightmares to life in an unprecedented psychological horror experience. What follows next is a steady, mind-bending descend into Cooper's psyche and his deepest fears.

References. References, Everywhere.

This is the first time Black Mirror has dedicated an episode to video games -- a surprising fact taking into account that its creator, Charlie Brooker, is a former games journalist (he worked for the British magazine PC Zone) and an avid gamer.

He started playing arcade games when he was just a child, and his favorite game is Doom. You can find tweets about video games in his Twitter account, and both his wife and son love playing with him.

Brooker isn't the only gamer in the making of "Playtest". Dan Trachtenberg, director of the episode (who also directed 10 Cloverfield Lane), is the former co-host of the video games web series The Totally Rad Show and maker of the short-film Portal: No Escape

Both of them are responsible for "Playtest" geekiness, filling the episode with video games references -- starting with the name of the protagonist, who is interpreted by Wyat Russel (son of Kurt Russel and Goldie Hawn).

Beside the direct mention of games like Street Fighter, there are tons of easter eggs thoughout the episode, some subtler than others. The device implanted in Cooper is called The Mushroom and it takes heavy inspiration from the Microsoft Hololens. The character of Shou (the genius behind SaitoGamu) has an uncanny resemblance to Hideo Kojima. And the phrase "Would you kindly open the door?" is a direct quote from BioShock.

We can see Cooper blowing on his debit card as if it was an NES cartridge. Even the atmosphere and themes of the episode are reminiscent of psychological games like Amnesia or Silent Hill.

In a time where video games are starting to get better movie translations, it's really nice to see a show go beyond simple story adaptations and propose inteligent premises about the not-so-distant future of video games. 

Who knows if this is not exacty where we will end up when the likes of Sony or Microsoft continue to develop VR devices? There's no limit to our potential, even if our drive to innovate ends harming us in the process.

Black Mirror season three is currently available for streaming on Netflix.


Graduate in Bilingual Journalism & Media Studies in San Pablo CEU University, Madrid. Aspiring video game journalist. My dream is to work for IGN.

Published Oct. 24th 2016

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