Some Select Recordings
Let’s Plays have had a presence on the internet since the mid 2000s, pioneered by slowbeef and his compatriots on the Something Awful forums, who’d later go on to create Mystery Science Theatre style watch throughs of low quality examples of the genre – an example of how quickly online media can become meta. The appeal of the Let’s Play, to outsiders, is perhaps somewhat of a mystery – watching someone else play a game. But they can be a useful resource for people interested in a game who can’t afford the game or the system it’s on, wouldn’t enjoy the difficulty, or enjoy the personality of the Let’s Player.
Another popular related genre on Youtube involves showcasing games that are unfinished, or unreleased. Obsession over lost levels and games is strongly rooted in the late 90s and early 2000s Internet culture where information about Sonic 2 Beta and the Unreleased Sonic Xtreme were dug up. The fifth generation of consoles, and to a lesser extent, sixth, would see a lot of games being shown in magazines with small screenshots and preambles, that would never see the light of day.
There was a sort of mystique attached to the idea of owning a rare edition of something, of being the one to dig up some Prototype build of a game containing a wealth of never seen before content – like having a little window into an alternate world, what could have been. This is likely what gave rise to the video game creepypasta genre – finding a cart or CD that is in some way bizarre or even haunted.
You Can(‘t) Go Back In Time
Petscop is one of those windows into another world – and in particular, into a game that in our world, does not seem to exist. Petscop is presented roughly in the traditional slowbeefian Let’s Play format, albeit with some added twists. It follows Paul as he explores a mysterious prototype of a PS1 game he found in his mother’s things – called, of course, Petscop, published by an unheard of company named Garalina.
Petscop starts off ordinary enough. What’s impressive about the series is that a whole video game prototype seems to have been made just for the series, and one which seems very accurate to PS1 hardware(at least visually – more on that later). The game looks and feels like something that could have actually existed in the 90s. It riffs a lot of games of the era – particularly Pokèmon, though the gameplay mechanics are quite different and resemble a collect-em-up adventure game with added puzzles. The game itself draws heavily on nostalgia so may not resonate to the same extent for those not alive during the PS1/N64/Saturn era, but the concept of nostalgia itself is a theme within the work, making it all somewhat meta.
That’s a Dead Kid!
Things take a darker and more mysterious turn when Paul enters a code that came with the CD, and accesses a doorway to the “Newmaker Plane” and the hidden layers beneath it. It is here that the series transforms from a fictionalised Let’s Play, into a fully fledged mystery with horror elements. And yet, the world above never becomes completely disconnected – rather the themes of tricking, capturing and collecting animals becomes intertwined with similar themes involving children – and there are several “as above, so below” puzzles to reflect that.
Though there is little in terms of explicit violent or visually disturbing content – Petscop is nonetheless an emotionally and psychologically taxing series that touches on issues of abuse and references real life cases of child endangerment, that for some may have to be approached at a distance. I took my time poking at the series – choosing to investigate it first through the Lens of Loey Lane and others. As I dug deeper, however, I found the excellent channels of Nightmare Masterclass, who does a very extensive job exploring the themes and mysteries associated with it, and sock muppet, who looks at the more technical aspects of the game – but in a way that forwards, rather than obstructs the central sense of mystery.
Do You Remember Being Born?
One of the other major recurring themes of the game is the concept of “Rebirthing” or attachment therapy, a real life practise widely shunned by the medical community, designed to rebuild a child’s sense of identity particularly upon adoption. The “Newmaker” plane alludes to the tragic real life case of Candace Newmaker, though the narrative of Petscop is by no means beholden to it, and it’s even somewhat ambiguous if there’s some fantastical element to the Rebirthing in the Petscop universe, in true creepypasta fashion.
What’s quite unique as compared to this genre, however, is that the game itself mostly alludes to, rather than containing, this potentially supernatural or otherwise unsettling phenomenon – though as alluded to earlier(such as the apparent presence of other players, and AI that predicts Paul’s movement), there are some things that happen that can’t be explained for a PS1 game, or in general.
As the series goes on, Paul becomes further entangled with the game’s lore that draws from real events in his world, reporting back to a friend via phone who seems to also be connected with it, encountering characters from his family’s past such as Marvin, Belle, and others. As in keeping with the theme of Nostalgia, it appears that some characters are fixated strongly on past events, and both Paul and the viewer try to piece together the motivations of the characters and the past events that drive them.
That Was An Experience
While exploring Petscop does answer some questions – it also raises others. There are theories on Petscop that touch on everything from the metaphysical, to brainwashing, to gender dysphoria. If you want to jump in yourself – I recommend trying one of the Primer videos on youtube to get a feel for what it’s about. The series itself is finished – though perhaps a little intimidating as some of the episodes can be on the longer side for a series of it’s type.
Finally, you can’t talk about Petscop without talking about it’s fantastic soundtrack. There are some truly iconic and memorable themes in there, that sound as if they just MUST be from a real 90s game, and some interesting and haunting examples of simple yet effective sound design. When you see that one scene with the Windmill – you won’t forget it.
Petscop manages to achieve a dark atmosphere not through traditional horror tropes but the emotional impact of trauma, paranoia and loss of control and identity. It is, in other words, something of a psychological horror, and is in some ways darker than most youtube horror series. Yet – there is an overarching sense of mystery and almost wonder for the sense of worldbuilding, and something resembling a hopeful streak as a certain character repeats one of Paul’s opening lines to him; “We can investigate this, together.”