Curator's Note

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. 


Hey Gianni, this is a super interesting analysis. Perceptual access in/to games is something I am going to try and pay greater attention to moving forward, as I am sure there are many interesting things occurring in a lot of the games I play that I just do not notice because I'm not trained to look. LOOK BEHIND YOU is a great link to demonstrate a real difference between games, so nice work on apprehending its significance. 

I have been playing Red Dead Redemption 2 this summer, since I have some time, and the amount of modes of perspective that game offers, like everything else, is excessive: third-person, cinematic, second-person at times, and first-person. Overall I assume the game is generally a third-person game, yet there is so much that you are only likely to notice in any of the other perspectives, namely first-person, kinds of experiences that affirm that sense of inhabitance within the game. And sometimes it's just really jarring instead. 

Do you have any suggested reading or viewing, relating to games or film, for me to look up? And just because this is so interesting, what game(s) deal with perspective in ways that most excite you? 

You've sent me thinking (playing DOOM only in automap, Screencheat! and DUSTNET.) Thanks for the awesome and inspiring post, Gianni!

First thing -- did not know DUSTNET, and it looks like a total mindf***, but in the good sense of the word, you know? Thank you for bringing it up and letting me know about it -- between its concept and its cross-platform feature there is plenty to unpack for future critical work.

This being said...I am sure that in the future the direction that you say has been pursued by Red Dead Redemption 2 would become more and more the norm for larger-than-life, blockbuster-y games. It makes sense that bombastic games will go for the embrassment of riches solution, rather than focusing on a particular setup (where focusing almost comes to coincide with limiting).

Still, I do not think we will soon see the end of the two major trends in constructing perceptual access to worlds in video games: 1st vs 3rd person perspective. These two formats are not mutually exclusive (again, see RDR2), but they do allow for idiosyncratic and meaningful relationships with the gaming space, and I am certain that some game developers will only care about, and work with, one of those.

My text was basically a perception-invested reading of how Kojima played with these two traditions in two different games (and, of course, why he did what he did was also influlenced by other variables, but I focused on what I usually look at, especially coming as I do from cinema studies). A key word that I liked from your comment is inhabitance: I do not usually employ it, because I find it a tad too rooted in real-life discussion of being-in-the-world, but clearly it is something that I was addressing, although in its possible videogame-playing sense.

In any case, my recommendation for a study of perception from a grounded, being-in-the-world perspective is Alva Noe's Action in Perception (and Noe's work on perception in general). I am using it to think about moving audioimages, but on the top of my head I cannot remember reading anything that worked on similar ways about videogames (re: films you can find something similar in Anderson's The Reality of Illusion, or in the film-dedicated chapter of J.J. Gibson's The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, and maybe some stuff in phenomenological film studies, of course).

As for games themselves... While waiting for Death Stranding, which should have lots to say about this, based on what one can gather from trailers thus far, I am re-playing these days Mirror's Edge. There is something odd about it, in relation to this approach to perception as a matter of inhabitance, that up to now I cannot quite put my finger on. But I'll find it.


Great post! I am totally not biased for the P.T. content. It made me think that a recurring theme in Kojima's interpretation of survival gaming is based on his filmic interests. The Resident Evil franchise is laoded with filmic design and reference, but the survival gameplay is more focussed on micromanaging inventory screens and meticulously counting bullets. Kojima's survival elements feel more inspired by his love of film and tend to involve seeing or not being seen. What are your thoughts?

I agree with you - Kojima's rules for survival begins with, and are shaped by, the the seeing/not being seen relationship (and one obvious cinematic reference might very well be John Carpenter, especially Escape from New York. But I am sure there is more than this, especially if we also enlarge our focus and move toward Kojima, the "melodramatic director").

But when I first learned more about P.T., and its role as premonition of Silent Hills, I was not surprised that somebody like Kojima was considered for the reimagination of what is perhaps the saga of survival horror by definition. Resident Evil, in some ways, has often seemed to me more connected to shooter games than it would try to show. I thought the same even with a more Silent Hill-oriented game such as The Evil Within, created by Mikami (original RE) as a return to form of survival horror. But then ultimately this is all a bit too unstable, as all discussions of genres always seem to me. But the fact that Kojima's idea of survival is a precise one and that works as you describe it is out of doubt for me.

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