I heard about Petscop from a Game Theory video. The subtitle for the video was, "The Scariest Game You'll Never Play." And I thought instantly, that's bullshit, click-bait. I've deleted tons of crappy emails or scrolled while rolling my eyes past tons of comments of what they call "creepy pasta," that is, cut-and-pasted, internet-circulated horror stories, often having to do with urban legends about haunted video games.
But Game Theory does not let me down. Petscop is not just another pointless creepy pasta. What I witnessed is basically a new kind of storytelling, involving a blending of the arts of film-making and game design. Petscop may seem random, pointless, and kind of baffling, but the creator of the game is clearly making an artistic statement, using the game to prompt discussion and raise awareness on an issue that is obviously very important to him.
So what IS Petscop?
Petscop is a game, for the first PlayStation, and also a series of YouTube videos (10 so far, as of this writing). What's neat is that the development company isn't real, and the person making the gameplay videos claims he "found" the game. But the video maker, who gave himself the name "Paul" in the game, seems to have too much of an insider's knowledge of the game. Very little surprises Paul, and he seems to know what to do a little too easily. Maybe he's just lucky. Or maybe he simply cut out the footage of numerous failures and setbacks. But it seems most likely that this "Paul" playing the game in the videos is the person who made the game.
Petscop starts off by showing us the "gift plane," a place with bright colors, and a series of rooms have puzzles in them that the player can solve to capture small creatures, so it feels odd, but similar to a game like Pokémon or Monster Rancher. There is some odd texts on signs, and some dead ends, but the gift plane doesn't seem that different from many "rated E for Everyone" kid's games.
Then you get down to a basement level, where everything is dark. This is called the "Newmaker plane." I seriously recommend that someone watch all the videos for themselves, and then watch the Game Theory video on the subject, or check out the Wikia page on the game for information about fan theories about what different parts of the game mean.
In the "Newmaker plane," we realize that this game is much darker than it originally seemed to be. It's about child abuse. Specifically the strange, tragic case of Candace Newmaker (born Candace Tiara Elmore), a girl who was tortured and killed during a strange ritual called "rebirthing." This was done by some so-called "therapists" (crack-pot cultists, to sane people) trying to use this bizarre ritual as a kind of therapy, to strengthen the non-existent bond between Candace and her adoptive mother, Jeanne Newmaker. Despite the fact that Jeanne showered Candace with gifts (note the recurring motif of gift-boxes and the repetition of the word "gift" in Petscop), Candace never really bonded with her adoptive mother, and would not let Jeanne hug or touch her. That is why Jeanne, exasperated, sought the help of these supposed "therapists," who claimed to be experts in helping adoptive parents bond with their adopted children. But they have very bad methods, and some very odd ideas about what is meant by "helping."
During this "therapy," Candace was wrapped in a blanket and held down by four adult women. She was told she had to fight to live and for air, and "therapists" ignored her screams or responded to them with taunts. When she died, they called her "quitter" and blamed her for giving up on life. The women responsible for Candace's death faced prison sentences of 16 years. In 2001. So, the release of the Petscop videos (starting in early spring of 2017) coincided with these women getting out of jail. Or it would have, if they hadn't actually gotten out early, one in 2008. Sounds like a slap on the wrist for killing a child! It makes sense that Petscop then is written because the author of this game/video series is sad, angry, and outraged about the incident.
What is remarkable is that, instead of depicting this tragedy outright, the player character in the video explores clues alluding to this incident symbolically. We see enough references to birth, the name "Newmaker," the word "quitter," and the way bad adoptive parents conceptualize adoption in a monstrously inhuman way, so we have enough clues to get the overall picture. But many of the details of the game/videos are a mystery. Some objects are censored with black boxes in the videos, for example. Some symbols and words in the game don't seem obviously connected to the Newmaker story. Will we ever know for certain what they are, or how they're connected? Will we ever understand for certain what the various names in the story mean? Petscop is not designed to make you feel comfortable or to feed you answers. It is designed to provoke discussion. The person who made this seems very, very aware of the fact that fan communities build up around the mysterious and unknown and dark aspects of certain games. They are using their "mysterious and spooky" creepy pasta aesthetics to get people talking about the Candace Newmaker incident and to get people interested in learning about it.
This is the kind of thing that really elevates video games as a storytelling medium. It makes an artistic statement that is subtle and provokes discussion. It's an intellectual challenge, but also an emotional journey into the soul of a very dark event.