The episode of Black Mirror: Playtest is a horror story that deals with the idea and impact of augmented and hyperreality has effect on our lives. At the beginning we see the main character, Cooper sneak out of his home with a bag and a passport and abandon his mother. Immediately upon entering the car, he gets a call from his mother but decides to decline her call. Right away we have an example of augmented reality. Cooper can control who reaches him or not via his phone. The fact that he is carrying a cell phone with him is augmenting his reality. We see Cooper on the airplane and we see the first hint of three different levels of reality all at once. The three states are his real experience being in the plane that is going through turbulence, him playing a game fairly pixelated looking on his phone a more of augmented reality, and him watching a movie where a giant spider is demolishing a building a more realistic rendering of hyper reality.
Cooper travels the world, but what we see of his travels are his social media posts. He is constantly presented as holding his phone and posing for pictures on his phone and not really being present in the moment. Not living in reality fully but in the augmented reality bubble. We see him avoiding calls to his mother again on the phone. We see him finding a love interest on the phone also. Lastly, when his credit card is hacked see him finding an odd job for testing a game on his phone.
As he enters the building where the game is tested at the Saito Games we see another look at a spider and a clue about future horror events. A person walking wears a t-shirt with a giant spider on it. The theme of arachnophobia really plays into the episode. Next Cooper is lead to a white room where they put an implant into the base of his skull, called a mushroom. He is to play a horror game and see how much fear he can experience. What we see next seems like it’s reality but it’s actually hyperreality we are seeing as the game has already begun. Cooper is lead by Katie into a house where he is able to talk to Katie through an ear bud. Soon after his stay at the house, Cooper sees a large spider. The is afraid of it and decides to smash it. However, there is no body of the spider underneath his feet. Next, he seeing more of what seems like augmented reality were he sees a creepy frozen person that resembles a high school bully. Cooper is able to put his hands through the animated figure and hence realize that this is only augmented reality. Then again he sees a spider. This time the spider is giant spider that has somewhat human like looking hairy flesh, and a face of the high school bully. Cooper once again reassures himself that this is just augmented reality and that the spider is not real.
What we think is augmented reality is actually hyperreality. His love interest, Sonja stops by the house and ends up stabbing him with a knife which he can actually feel. He is assured by the voice of Katie that he cannot feel anything it’s just audio visual, not sensational experience. Cooper is so scared that he obediently listens to anything Katie orders him to do just to make the game stop. He climbs the stairs into a room and starts feeling like he is experiencing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, a disease his father has died from. Katie tell him that there is no exit point and that they were breaking him down until he fully obeys instruction without question. He tries to cut the “mushroom” out of his scull at which point he is stopped by the guards. We are tricked into believing that this is the end of the hyperreality.
Cooper never wakes up from the hyper reality. Cooper goes home only to find his mother also is experiencing Alzheimer’s and cannot recognize him. However, Cooper is still in the game, in another level of hyperreality. In actual reality, his phone is ringing as his mother is calling him, and this interference with the implant in his head fries his brain and he dies, never awaking to actual reality.
It is interesting to see that the main character never fully lived his life. His life was always altered and hindered by his cell phone and then by another device, a brain implant game his life was destroyed. This episode begs the question are we destroying our lives with the devices we are using constantly even when we sleep? How is our reality affected by the screens we daily use? We might assume that our reality is only augmented but we too might be living in hyperreality. For example, look at the photos on Instagram. Influencers spend hours photoshoping their own photos in order to present this hyperreality to us. Sadly, we like Cooper believe that it is real. Many young women struggle with poor self-image, and self-hatred because they believe that they need to look like photos on Instagram. People go to places only to take photos and not enjoy being there. A friend who visited a tea shop the other day told me how two women stopped by and order tea in fancy cups and some scones. They took photos and 15 minutes later they left. They left their tea, the crumples, everything, forgetting the reality and only taking the hyperreality with them, the photos. This need to live in the hyperreality is completely destroying our lives.