Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Everyone likes to imagine, given the circumstances, that heroism is somehow within their grasp. We all like to think that, when push comes to shove, we’d put it all on the line for a friend, stand in solidarity with our allies, and resolutely and majestically Get The Job Done. Certainly, I used to enjoy imagining that. Then I played Phasmophobia, the new co-operative ghost-hunting game that’s burning up the Steam Early Access charts, and now I know that I’m actually the rat bastard in the horror movie who slams the door in the face of his fleeing buddies, because that’s one more piece of bait to draw the monster away from him.
Here are some of the lies I’ve told my friends in the middle of one of Phasmophobia’s ghost hunts, in order to justify retreating from the haunted house we’re supposed to be investigating in favor of the bright, well-lit safety of our cool, non-haunted ghost-hunting truck:
- “Someone’s got to check the cameras for ghost orbs!” (There are no ghost orbs.)
- “Whoops, left my flashlight back there!” (I’m already carrying two.)
- “Maybe we need a second EMF reader in order to get extra-good readings from it. (This is not how ghost detection works.)
But sometimes, I don’t even bother to lie; sometimes I just hold down the walkie-talkie button, inform my pals with a succinct and scientific “Okay, fuck this,” and bail for safety. Here’s a crazy thing about this co-op ghost-hunting game that I’m extremely scared to play but keep playing because I’m an idiot: I’ve never even seen a fucking ghost. I’m gone too soon, bailing on the haunted farmhouse or school or whatever, running immediately for my hiding spaces and waiting for one of my friends to make themselves a better target for a lethal haunting. If Phasmophobia hopes to replicate the vibe of a horror movie, then I’m in an altogether classier one than the one my friends are trapped in; they’re staring down bloody corpses and getting gruesomely murdered all day, while I’m watching from around the corner, hearing their voices go dead on the radio, and never quite managing to get there in time to snap a picture of a spook. I literally don’t know what dying in this game even looks like, because you know who never gets his neck snapped by a ghost? Shaggy from Scooby-Doo! Shaggy’s out the second things start to go pear-shaped, and his example is the one I cling to. (Although I will come back in to snap a picture of a friend’s dead body; that’s evidence, and evidence pays the bills.)
Luckily, Phasmophobia’s co-op nature means that my rat-bastard-American DNA can still be of some use to the team. There really is value in watching the cameras sometimes, and my need to get the fuck out before the ghost gets aggressive makes me a real go-getter when it comes to the initial minutes of the hunt. Still, it didn’t take long for a dynamic to emerge within my play group that I can’t help but describe as “cyber-bullying,” as my friends rapidly (and accurately) assessed that I was about as reliable in a pinch as a plastic crucifix. By the time my buddies were trying to lure me back into a darkened house occupied by what they kept describing as “a dead old lady with a scythe”—ostensibly so that I could take a picture of dirty water in a sink, one of our optional objectives—I knew they were explicitly lying to try to get me to stick my neck out even a little more than the single iota I was willing to offer. I take that as a sign that the game has brought out some true, honest cowardice in me, enough to lend some genuine contempt to my pals’ efforts to lead me to my death. From the moment I heard it, I could smell a rat; it takes one to know one, after all.