Play with Me

[20 June 2005]

By Michael David Sims

Choose Your Own Pain

Horror movies don’t scare me. Matter of fact, I can’t say they ever have… not even as a child. Maybe it’s because they were just as much a part of my childhood as cartoons, comic books, video games, and wrestling. So having been exposed to them at such a young age, I guess I just became desensitized to the outlandish violence and gore. After all, how many times can Freddy slice a teenager open or Jason impale another camp counselor before it becomes old hat?

That said, some horror films have totally creeped me out, specifically Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Psycho, and The Blair Witch Project. That’s not to say they scared me, but they left me feeling cold if only because they felt real. The raw emotion (especially in Henry and Blair Witch) and the possibility that those instances could actually come to fruition is what casts a long, icy shadow over my spine with each viewing.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe monsters such as Freddy and Jason just don’t do it for me because I know there are real “monsters”—such as Henry Lee Lucas and Ed Gein—on the prowl as I sit here typing this. Maybe it’s because I know three kids could wander into the forest at any minute, never to return. That’s what chills me. When I know something I’m watching could play out, that rakes sharp nails across my thighs and forces me to sit up and pay attention.

“Play with Me” is no different. Initially conceived as an “interactive installation that uses stop-motion animation and sound to create an uncertain reality” and displayed at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, Australia, the video is now available for mass consumption online. And while I’m sure watching the interactive display—made to resemble a pine dollhouse—in person provides quite a jolt, it seemingly loses little of its effect when transferred into cyberspace.

When one first sits down—either in Melbourne or in front of their computer—all would appear normal. Here’s a cute (if not forlorn) dolly resting at a table covered in coloring books and a tea set. Modern toys and children’s books are neatly stacked on the shelves behind her, and there’s a basin for her to clean the pot when teatime is over. After one clicks any of the three glowing items (the coloring book, tea set, and toy monkey) “events quickly escalate away from the viewer’s control and a terrible scene unfolds.”

Much like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, multiple options spawn from a previous set of multiple options. And though the video is far from never-ending (nor does it provide as many options as the CYOA books) one feels compelled to watch each horrifying outcome after the next if only out of morbid curiosity. Even after she pulls the Draino out and pours it into one of the mugs and the cup begins to glow (indicating you can click on it), you find yourself clicking not because you want to watch a stop-motioned dolly chug the poison but because you don’t (or can’t) believe she’ll do it. But she does, just as she scratches her eyes out with shattered porcelain and splits open her wrist with more of the same.

You watch and you cringe, not because the images are horrific per se (they’re only animation after all), but because you know deep down that someone somewhere is cutting themselves or rocking in a corner after a fit of uncontrollable rage or drinking a toxin to end it all. It might be nothing more than animation, but the truth behind it remains so very real. And the fact that it represents a very real and very sad aspect of some peoples’ lives is what makes it creepy… if not downright scary.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/play-with-me-2005/