In The Phantom Pain (2015), a radio flatly broadcasts a report about a murder. You might not even notice it at first, but if you choose to stop and listen to it, things turn more sinister. The signal breaks, and a voice barks threats and a numeric sequence before ominously uttering: “LOOK BEHIND YOU.”
This is a (chilling) easter egg, a nod to P.T. (2014), the now-inaccessible demo for the aborted Silent Hill chapter that Konami assigned to Kojima. Besides being a reminder for Kojima’s followers of a (possibly) great game that never was, LOOK BEHIND YOU is a mood-affecting, loaded expression in itself: a crucible of affective and cultural values across various media, and in real life. For example, Wes Craven famously played with it in Scream, as we all probably did at some point as movie spectators.
Now put this significance aside (that surely Kojima, notoroius film-buff, enjoyed), and consider how the crude LOOK BEHIND YOU-setup of an in-game threatening voice reaches us as players of two games (P.T. and TPP), that both pivot around the logics of survival via exploration and exploitation of the avatar’s surroundings – a trademark of Kojima as game developer and world-maker. The same input engenders quite different experiences.
In P.T., constructed in first-person perspective, complying with LOOK BEHIND YOU will make your avatar die a horrendous, supernatural death (and treat you to a perfectly timed jump-scare). The trick to survive is not turning around when told so. Reject the challenge, relinquish control over the game’s world: choose to be vulnerable.
In TPP, mostly built in third-person perspective, you can LOOK BEHIND YOU by turning the camera around your avatar. Not only this is a less embodied form of peeking, but also, and more crucially, it is a display of the essence of a succesful playing of TPP: to vigilantly exercise perceptual mastery over, and proactivity toward, the game’s world.
So, to deal with LOOK BEHIND YOU, Kojima gave us in these games two different possibilities in terms of camera movement: hence, two different experiences of space, and then two distinct ways to pursue survival.
I claim this suggests that his worldmaking is only accidentally about survival by the means of avoidance of ghosts or militias, as genre classifications would have it. Instead, the core of Kojima’s artistry lies in his awareness and playful toying with the workings of our perceptual access to (his) worlds: the challenges they pose us are about learning how to be in them, how to inhabit them.