On 12 March of this year, a new YouTube channel began, called “Petscop“. The channel was devoted to a Let’s Play of a single and previously unknown game. (For the unfamiliar, a “Let’s Play” is a series, usually on YouTube, that combines player-recorded gameplay footage and audio commentary/reactions. I’ve done quite a few myself, and even uploaded most of an LP of Ultima: Exodus for the NES)
The premise was simple: our Let’s Player had found a copy of an unreleased, unfinished PlayStation 1 game called “Petscop”, apparently made and never finished in 1997. The game had you searching through a number of stages (or “houses”) to rescue 48 total pets that were left in the “Gift Plane” after said area had closed indefinitely and the staff had left. The game encouraged the player to find these pets, each one unique and valuable, and surely they’ll find one they can love. It was a puzzle game of a sort: solve puzzles to get to and “capture” each pet. The first pet captured was one in a cage, another was a simple music puzzle.
Then the Let’s Player (called Paul simply based on what he names his game file) mentions a note that was with his copy of the game. The note was in two parts, written by two different people. The first was seemingly written by a child, to judge by the words and phrasing: “I WALKED DOWNSTAIRS AND WHEN I GOT TO THE BOTTOM INSTEAD OF PROCEEDING, I TURNED THE RIGHT AND BECAME A SHADOW MONSTER MAN.” The second half of the note contained a date and instructions to go to a certain room, pause the game, and enter a sequence of button presses before resuming gameplay. Paul did that and the game subtly changed. At that moment, the only noticeable change was that the music stopped playing.
This is where everything in the game changes, where it goes from being a friendly puzzle-solving capture-the-creature game to something else, something more.
There have been attempts at this idea in the past, of a creepy video game. All notable examples I know of are based on existing video games, which is useful if you want the audience to go into this sort of story with a certain set of knowledge and expectations. For example, there was the famous BEN Drowned creepypasta, a story of a haunted copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the N64. This story combined text story posted to the /x/ section of 4chan and short gameplay videos posted to YouTube. Those gameplay footages were what sold this story and cemented it in Internet lore: we actually saw what the author, “Jadusable”, was discussing. We saw the game glitching out, we saw that Elegy of Emptiness statue follow Link around, we saw the corrupted text. But this was all based on an existing property, and we knew the rules of the game, we knew the limitations of what could be expected. The only time these limitations were approached were when footage from another Zelda game (Ocarina of Time) were briefly spliced in, which only hurt a viewer’s immersion in the story (that visual data does not exist on Majora’s Mask, there’s no way that could possibly show up).
Petscop is something different, something new, something unexpected, and something that is still, seven videos in, a complete mystery.
Petscop is not an existing game. Prior to this, no one had heard of Petscop. The videos set this up as some existing and unfinished video game from 20 years ago, but it is highly doubtful that the game actually exists outside the world of this Let’s Play; that is, this game is purely fictional and the gameplay we see was made solely for this video series (and is probably being created as these new videos are made). A lot of people have been wanting the series creator to release the ROM or ISO of Petscop, but for reasons I’ll mention later, I do not think such a ROM or ISO exists, nor will one ever be released to the public. No, our view of Petscop, our understanding of Petscop, will be limited to what “Paul” decides to show us of the game.
Once the code is entered, the “hidden” portion of the game is found. Exiting that first stage (called “Even Care”) does not return Paul to the overworld of the Gift Plane, but rather to a vast, grassy, and flat plain we eventually learn is called the Newmaker Plane, an area resting under an eternal night. At first, the Newmaker Plane looks to be empty, until Paul finds a staircase that leads down. Through there, Paul finds a game world far larger than the incomplete “Even Care” stage from the “actual” game, a game world that includes a child’s grave, a windmill, a kiosk that allows him to communicate with something (or maybe several somethings), and a long list of mysteries. There are clues to what the “hidden” game is about, and this is where the viewer must start questioning their own limited interaction with the series.
You see, the game starts throwing out names, such as Michael Hammond and Candace Newmaker. Simple searches reveal that Candace Newmaker was a victim in a very real case of a dangerous therapy method with no basis in science. The methods of this therapy are referenced in this Petscop game. The “hidden” game is referencing child abuse and death, and this is where the purpose of this is brought into question. Who is actually doing this and why? What’s the ultimate point of this Let’s Play? Is it simply to show us this supposed lost PS1 game and the odd content it hides?
Pictured above is the Quitter’s Room, which people have taken as a reference to the Newmaker murder. As is documented, her “therapists” taunted her by calling her a quitter. This room was a brief oddity in Petscop 2, but is revisited in Petscop 7 and greater significance is placed upon it. The game plays an unknown melody, presumably played by the mirror character on the left. The game starts communicating with Paul directly in this room via a note on the wall.
The game starts taking on a life of its own. In an early video, Paul notes to himself that this is not an incomplete game, the whole game is actually this hidden content, and the Gift Plane element was just a cover. This part of the game feels finished, like a whole lot of work went into it.
But is this a real game? Any possibility of this game being real can be discounted quickly, mainly as it references a murder that happened three years after the game was supposedly made. There is one fan theory going around, however, that claims the Gift Plane section was made in 1997, game development ceased, the game was shelved, and revisited by someone in 2000 following that horrible event, that the Newmaker Plane section was made in reaction to that.
The latest video, “Petscop 7”, concludes with Paul visiting the rooms of Mike and Care. In an earlier video, Paul discovered a building (one that Petscop 7 reveals is a “Child Library”) that lets him visit numerous different rooms, each accessed by inputting a set of facial features (eyes, eyebrows, nose). The first of these two rooms doesn’t seem too unusual. Each of these rooms contains a different carpet, and different items on a table. The carpet pattern and items on the table presumably represent a specific child. It is the second of these rooms, a variant on Care’s room (the facial design he input combined Care’s face with Mike’s eyebrows (lore from an earlier video told us that Care doesn’t have eyebrows)) that brings the video to a halt. From the moment Paul enters, there is a censor block (added, we are told, after the gameplay was recorded, so not by the game itself) over something on the table. There are no outright clues to what information is being withheld from the audience. What is on the table? What are we not being shown? Paul is fixated on this unknown object, and spends a lot of time focused on the table, staring at it. Our only spoken clue is Paul’s guess that it might be something the game puts in any room. Whatever this object is, it clearly unsettles our narrator, as he remains silent the rest of the video, and barely moves the character; his attention is held by whatever that is on the table.
It’s the presence of this censor box that leads me to believe that we, the audience, will never be given a copy of the game to play ourselves. If there is graphic content (by graphic I do not mean obscene or violent, I simply mean visual) that must be withheld from the audience, then simply giving the audience the game would reveal that content anyway.
Petscop 7 ends with text telling the viewer that further information will be withheld from future videos. Besides acting as a way of telling the audience to expect more censorship, this also acts as a preview of what to come. We now know to expect “a big present with a sticker on it”, “something on a wall, in a black house”, and something “written on a chalk board”. We know Paul is going to continue exploring the Newmaker Plane and discover these locations and items.
We know more is to come of this series.
So what is Petscop, exactly? It’s still too early to tell. The creator of this series is keeping silent. Websites like Kotaku have reached out to the creator (how they did or what channels of communication they tried are unknown. How do you even find the creator of something like this who does not want to be found?) with no response. It’s good for this series that this person is remaining silent, as it keeps the mystery alive. Right now, there is still an element of doubt as to whether this game actually exists (it very likely does not).
What Petscop is is a very modern form of storytelling. This is a story told exclusively through recorded footage of a video game combined with that player’s reactions and thoughts to what is happening. We aren’t given any outside sources of information, the videos are it. We learn as Paul learns, we experience as Paul experiences. We even notice things that Paul doesn’t notice (there is an ever-growing list of things in the videos that we as an audience see but Paul never reacts to). There is a story hidden here, mysteries hidden, just waiting to be unraveled. There have been attempts on this format in the past (including an infamous story based on a supposed Godzilla game for NES), but Petscop is being really creative with the format and drawing the audience in. We’re still early in the story with no idea where it is ultimately headed, and the journey is exciting so far.
For all of its darker elements, though, what drives this series is all of its mystery. What is Petscop? What is the point of this series? Where will it go? Is it a real game? Will we ever get to play it? Who are these characters? Is it actually Paul uploading these videos? What are the pets? Who are the children? Who is Marvin and should Paul lead him back to his house?
We’ll see what, if anything, Petscop 8 and future videos explain.
In addition, I have recorded a Radio Free Caemlyn episode discussing Petscop.