With only three viewers in their audience, one player, Soapy Warpig, quietly discovers P.T. is Silent Hills, the next game from Hideo Kojima, opening a vacuum in imaginary space buttressed by an atmosphere of mystery and anticipation for the future. If this is just a playable teaser—Warpig’s discovery urged everyone to wonder—then just imagine how the real game will be.
Soon thereafter, Silent Hills was cancelled and P.T. made unavailable, Metal Gear Solid V was released with significant cut content, then Kojima departed from Konami after a rumored falling out. But a sensation of all that never was yet could have been still radiates from that 2014 live stream like a dull pain along a phantom nerve. Individuals and online communities have since harnessed a conspiratorial drive to speculate and analyze every detail surrounding Kojima’s post-Konami work, to occupy that never-filled space with imagined versions of Silent Hills which don’t exist and can never be played. Immaterial, but of a real matter to some.
Games scholar Olli Leino theorizes that digital games are unique because they possess a tangible materiality based in code and procedure, unalterable in the ways traditional games like Monopoly can be reinterpreted when subject to house rules. Digital materiality helps to draw interpretations of games based on the immutable elements that comprise them apart from subjective interpretations that hinge on player psychology, distinguishing the material game from an immaterial one. Yet one is no less real than the other, and games researchers must be willing to apprehend both. The positivity of digital materiality should not be overvalued when it is in immaterial and subjective qualities that the phenomenology of games as experienced emanates.
For the millions who never played P.T. directly, theirs is primarily an immaterial experience formed within a whirling spectacle of press materials, leaks, critical commentary and fan-made video content. Amid a confluence of paratexts wholly separate from a game’s materiality the construction of our immaterial games often begins, founded on sparkling impressions of the material just out of reach. The cancellation of Silent Hills contributes to the spectacle surrounding, and partly created by Hideo Kojima in the lead up to his next game, Death Stranding; a new game of a new type, a strand game, he calls it, something never seen or played before. All our immaterial games are ur-strand games.
This November, when the world’s first strand game is made material and the vacuum of possibility around it collapses, some may be compelled to say 'I know a strand game when I see one, Kojima, and this is no strand game.' These immaterial games have sheltered the imaginations of people for years and cannot be easily abandoned; they contain lived in phenomenological experience more precious, perhaps, than anything the material Death Stranding could offer. How can Hideo Kojima, players, researchers, historians and critics reconcile the material Death Stranding with all those immaterial strand games?
Leino, Olli Tapio. “Death Loop as a Feature.” Gamestudies, vol. 12, no. 2, Dec. 2012, www.gamestudies.org/1202/articles/death_loop_as_a_feature.