Season 3, Episode 2
Playtest
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Written by Charlie Brooker

It is amazing that it took this long for Black Mirror to have a video games episode. If you follow Charlie Brooker on Twitter or have watched his TV show Game Wipe, you know that he is an avid gamer, and gaming is the kind of technology Black Mirror likes as games become more and more immersive, and beginning to bleed out of our living rooms and into our real life.

2016 was the year that brought us Pokemon Go! a video game that you played everywhere and that used the world around you as a level and obstacle. If you walked in real life, you walked in the game, and landmarks in your city would usually yield cool things. Virtual reality is now becoming more commonplace with a lot of phone companies giving out VR headsets with new phones and galleries and museums offering VR experiences. It used to be we wanted better graphics, now we want to simply live in the game.

Playtest, in the best Black Mirror fashion, takes that to the extreme. Cooper (Wyatt Russell) is an American in London, traveling the world to avoid his family obligations. When he runs out of money he volunteers for a beta test of a new gaming system made by a company that makes Resident Evil and Silent Hill type games. What then follows is a spend the night in a haunted house style plot that very quickly begins to warp what is real, what is the game, and what can hurt you. Dan Trachtenberg, director of the great-until-its-ending 10 Cloverfield Lane, at first uses CGI and jump scares to get your heart racing, and then the story begins to pile on the paranoia and twists and false endings. Brooker establishes rules for the game and then breaks them to keep you on your toes. There are supernatural scares and scares that play on Cooper’s phobias before the game becomes even more immersive and reality begins to become unreliable.

If I had to gripe about this episode I would have to say that the ending is perhaps one twist too far. It’s like Brooker had a bunch of endings in mind and then decided to use them all. Its cool to see a clever writer keep you unbalanced but in the end the multiple endings became frustrating, probably because I was happy with one of the endings and didn’t need another one to counteract it. I think this episode suffers mainly from being the ninth Black Mirror episode. If this had been in the first season I think it would have been more shocking and felt more innovative. This far down the line though we are getting an idea of the kind of plot Brooker likes and we’ve seen things much more shocking than this.

Nosedive | Playtest | Shut Up and Dance | San Junipero | Men Against Fire | Hated in the Nation

Featured Image: Netflix