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