The Many Game Easter Eggs Of Black Mirror’s “Playtest”
If you’re in the mood for a bleak exploration of the ways technology can lead to dystopia, look no further than Black Mirror. The show has transitioned to become a Netflix Original for its third season, and those newly crafted episodes have recently hit the popular streaming service.
While most of Black Mirror’s episodes explore some aspect of technology as seen through the lens of a potential dark future, the second episode of season three should be of particular interest to the gaming public. “Playtest” is filled with carefully placed nods to the world of gaming; viewers with a background in games are likely to catch a bunch of subtle cues the show’s creators have thrown in.
Here are some of the scenes, references, and details that made us smile as we made our way through the episode.
NOTE: THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES SPOILERS ABOUT THE BLACK MIRROR EPISODE ENTITLED “PLAYTEST.” GO WATCH THE EPISODE AND COME BACK TO SEE WHAT YOU MISSED!
It’s not hard to find people around the world with an enthusiasm for games, but Black Mirror’s creator, Charlie Brooker, and this episode’s director, Dan Trachtenberg, are both men who have more than a passing interest in video games. Brooker was previously a games journalist for the now-shuttered PC Zone, and Dan Trachtenberg was previously one of the hosts of The Totally Rad Show, which included evaluations of video games. Their expertise and knowledge of industry culture is apparent throughout the episode.
Even one of the lead actresses of this episode has a direct tie to the gaming world. Hannah John-Kamen (Sonja) previously provided character voices in both Dark Souls and Dark Souls II.
Help From The Props Department
Keen-eyed observers will note numerous real-world gaming elements sprinkled throughout the “Playtest” episode.
Early in the episode, Cooper pauses to admire Sonja’s game collection, which includes numerous games that have thematic ties to story elements throughout the episode, as well as a few others that are clearly just favorites for someone on the crew. The shelf includes copies of Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Manhunt, Silent Hill: Homecoming, BioShock 2, Dead Space 2, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Resident Evil Revelations, Dark Souls II, Until Dawn, Portal 2, Thief, The Lego Movie Videogame, Heavy Rain, Gran Turismo 6, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and more.
Cut to later in the episode, and Cooper meanders past a shelf at the game studio, and we see a great collection of old gaming consoles on the shelf, including a PlayStation, Game Boy, GameCube, Xbox, PS2, Xbox 360, and PS3, among others.
In another brief-but-fun nod that's simply part of the background scenery, we see a massive wall mural of the original Pac-Man during Cooper’s wanderings around London.
In addition, the Black Mirror team clearly had a little help from British video game magazine, Edge, as numerous fictional covers for the magazine are peppered throughout the episode.
It’s All In The Dialogue
The characters throughout the “Playtest” episode happily reference video games several times.
Sonja playfully flirts with Cooper in her apartment regarding his surprise at her game collection: “A girl never beat you at Street Fighter?” she asks him.
Cooper offers his own nod to Street Fighter a few minutes later, as he notes the game studio security guard’s likeness to an end-of-level boss, and shouts out a joking “Hadouken!”
To cover his discomfort at the impending medical insertion of the neural net interface, Cooper remarks on the oddly named Mushroom device: “Like Mario Bros.?” Afterwards, he proceeds into a gleeful game of Whack-A-Mole.
Video game fans won’t have any trouble recognizing the less overt elements of gaming culture on display in the episode. The game developer named Shou Saito has more than a passing similarity to the mannerisms and enigmatic nature of Hideo Kojima. The mansion referenced in the game seems to be a clear nod to the original Resident Evil house. And the central device being test on Cooper riffs off of recent innovations in the gaming industry related to augmented and virtual reality, like the Oculus Rift and HoloLens.
“Would you kindly?”
The best gaming nod in the whole episode comes near the conclusion, as a distraught Cooper hurriedly follows orders from the voice in his earpiece, charging him to run deeper into the terrifying house. As Cooper furiously refuses to go into a door, suspecting something terrible waiting for him there, his operator says: “Would you kindly open the door?”
The reference is an homage to the same phrase used in BioShock, and it even leads to the same conclusion. The woman’s motive to make Cooper enter the room is the same as the remarkable scene in BioShock, in which the player discovers that the use of “would you kindly” is all about whether you’re willing to follow instructions blindly without question, as so many games force you to do.
A Last Clever Homage
The episode goes to great pains to only provide Cooper’s first name throughout most of the events of the story. But in the final scene we see Katie type details of the game crash into a QA report, and we see that Cooper’s last name is Redfield, just like the famous siblings from the Resident Evil survivor/horror games – Chris and Claire Redfield.
Outside of games
While "Playtest" has plenty of game-focused easter eggs to watch for, it’s also chock full of fun references to itself, and the source of Cooper’s many virtual nightmares. From the moment that he spies the movie Face/Off on a shelf (suggesting the later terror fight scene) and Cooper’s friend Sonja slams a knife into the butter (alluding to the later knife attack), to the outfit on a game developer’s screen that would later show up on Cooper’s childhood bully, and the numerous appearances of spider imagery in advance of the spider creatures, there’s a lot to make the viewer question what is real and what isn’t, and offer a reason for why Cooper sees the things he sees.
What Easter eggs did we miss? Let us know in the comments below. And enjoy the rest of this season’s Black Mirror episodes!