"This Black Mirror episode gave me nightmares, but not for the reason I expected."

For several months now, I’ve been having issues with my dreams.

They’re terrifying.

I experience several ‘false awakenings’ where I think I’ve woken up, before something shocking happens (like I jump to my death off a building, or a close family member dies in a horrific way) and I realise I’m still asleep. Except it happens over and over again, like there are multiple layers and I feel like I become more and more stuck in this limbo state of consciousness where I couldn’t actually wake up if I tried.

I convince myself that this is how it ends: I get trapped in my own mind and can’t get out – and I never return to reality. I then wake up covered in sweat, vowing to never sleep again.

It’s highly distressing, so during the day I try my best to avoid thinking about it at all costs.

And that’s precisely why the Black Mirror episode Playtest was so disturbing — it got to the core of my biggest, deepest fear, and played it out on screen.

At first glance, Playtest is something I would never choose to watch. “A thrill-seeking globetrotter tests a video game that is terrifyingly advanced,” reads the synopsis. Eugh.

Image via Netflix.

I really, really don't care about video games. But my sister told me this episode was scary, and wouldn't tell me anything else, so I knew I needed to watch it.

The main character, Cooper, is an American travelling around the world who keeps ignoring calls from his mother. Later, it's revealed his father recently passed away from Alzheimer's and he hasn't been able to come to terms with it.

His last stop is London, where he meets a woman named Sonja on Tinder. They meet up, hook up, and as much as Cooper is meant to be an annoying, overly-confident American, he's incredibly likable.

He shows Sonja an app - 'Oddjobs' - that he's been using around the world to make some quick cash. It turns out a highly reputable technology company needs people to test their products, and Cooper is willing to do it.

This is where Playtest turns into a psychological horror.

Listen: If you haven't watched the show yet, The Binge podcast has an explainer. 


I'm not going to spoil the ending for you - because in order to feel the full power of this story, you need to experience it for yourself.

But from the moment the researcher injects something into the back of Cooper's neck ("It's no more invasive than a piercing," she says) everything feels like a dream. One of my dreams, that is.

Image via Netflix.

There's no way to tell what's real and what's not, and the layers emerge - the 'false awakenings' I know so well.

But it's the final one that terrified me so much that I've had nightmares for weeks. It encapsulates everything I'm scared of when it comes to reality and consciousness, but hadn't said out loud.

I fear the unknown when it comes to my mind. I don't know what it is or where it's going or what it's capable of. I fear losing control of it, even though I don't think I have control of it in the first place. I fear losing my grasp of what's real.

I think that's why Alzheimer's is brought up in Playtest, because for many of us, losing our minds is a fear unlike anything else.

I know Black Mirror is meant to examine the consequences of technology on modern life, and I know that the harrowing ending of Playtest was actually a tongue-in-cheek response to a funny tweet Mallory Ortberg wrote about the series.

But to me, none of that mattered. To me, the power of the episode was in how it appealed to my deepest, darkest fear - one that I avoided facing at all costs.

I'm scared of the disconnect between my mind and my body.

In my dreams I'm lucid dreaming, so I'm aware I'm in a dream that I keep 'waking up' from. The problem is that once I decide to wake up, I can't. I'm trapped and I start to panic. I think my fear is that I'm dead and my mind is continuing to function, but I'll never live in the real world again.

I feel sick even writing it, but it's fascinating that a sci-fi show was the only thing that could represent how I feel. Hopefully now, I can start to challenge it.

Does anyone else have a fear of being trapped in your sleep?