There’s an eerie tale unfolding right now on the Internet: Since March 12th, a YouTuber who calls himself “Paul” has been sporadically uploading videos of PETSCOP — a previously unknown PlayStation One game.
The walk-through starts as a cartoony nostalgia trip… but quickly turns into a surreal tale full of cryptic messages, dark clues, and hidden references to a disturbing real-life child murder. No one knows if Paul is telling the truth about the game… but whether it’s “real” or not, the PETSCOP video series is a uniquely unsettling experience.
The Gift Plane
In video one, Paul addresses an unknown person, saying: “This is just to prove to you that I’m not lying about the game I found.”
The title screen indicates a 1997 copyright, and a developer called “Garalina.” Supposedly, PETSCOP was made for the original PlayStation console, but was never completed or released.
When Paul presses “start,” we are introduced to the bright surface layer of PETSCOP. The “Gift Plane” is a cheery, puzzle-based video game level, where players walk through a half-completed cartoon zoo and try to befriend and free the creatures imprisoned there. Paul completes the odd little level in less than 10 minutes, and shows off where the rest of the game might have been placed if it had been finished.
According to Paul, the PETSCOP disc came with a note attached, reading: “I WALKED DOWNSTAIRS AND WHEN I GOT TO THE BOTTOM, INSTEAD OF PROCEEDING, I TURNED THE RIGHT AND BECAME A SHADOW MONSTER MAN.”
The note also contained a cheat code… and when he enters this code, PETSCOP gets very weird.
The Newmaker Plane
The surface world gives way to a vast, pixelated underground that we later learn is called the “Newmaker Plane.” This digital purgatory seems empty in all directions, and Paul’s avatar walks aimlessly for over an hour in the dim light until he stumbles on a locked door in the middle of nowhere.
Episode 2 takes viewers through the door, into a maze of corridors. As on the surface, the decor and tone is never outwardly scary — there’s no blood, monsters or jump scares — but everything is just a little off, a little unsettling.
The path eventually leads to what seems like the grave of a child… and on to a central entity named “Tool.” Tool says “ASK,” and a text interface appears. When Paul enters questions, Tool responds with cryptic sentences like “TURN OFF PLAYSTATION.”
On the video, Paul says he thinks whoever created PETSCOP was trying to simulate a ghost or spiritual entity, and notes that its answers sometimes don’t relate to the questions being asked. He also says that if Tool is supernatural, it would appear when the game wasn’t turned on. (I have a feeling this will come up in future episodes!)
Further exploration in episode 3 leads to a facial expression puzzle — combining different expressions leads players into the bedrooms of different children, frequent references to “rebirthing,” and the question “Do you remember being born?”
When Paul asks Tool “Who am I?” It responds “Newmaker.”
The Death of Candace Newmaker
As it turns out, Candace Newmaker was a real person. She was born in 1990, and lived in an abusive home until she was taken by the state at five years old. After a year or so in foster homes, she was permanently adopted.
A troubled child by all accounts, Candace tried to set her adopted parents’ house on fire, and she attacked, bit, and spat on teachers, her parents, and therapists who tried to treat her. Desperate, the Newmakers took Candace to a “rebirthing” facility in Evergreen, Colorado in 2000.
Rebirthers believe that you can treat attachment disorders and other severe emotional disturbances by recreating the conditions of birth. They wrap children (and sometimes adults) in blankets and cushions, press on them, and force them to fight their way out, as if they’re struggling to be born. Candace Newmaker’s parents brought the girl to therapists Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder in 2000 for a two-week series of therapy sessions — which culminated in a rebirth session.
The therapists forced Candace to assume the fetal position on the floor, wrapped her in a flannel sheet, piled over a dozen pillows on her, and held her down. For nearly an hour Candace struggled to escape, as fake therapists Watkins and Ponder sat on her tiny body, mocked her, and exhorted her to fight.
“I’m going to die,” Candace said at one point in the session. “Can you let me have some oxygen?”
“Go ahead and die right now,” Ponder responded.
After 40 minutes, Newmaker fell silent. She was motionless for an hour and 20 minutes more before the adults realized something had gone terribly wrong. They called paramedics, and the EMTs managed to restore a weak pulse to the asphyxiated girl… but Newmaker died in the hospital the next morning.
[If you really want to bum yourself out, here’s a complete the transcript of the therapy session.]
So, what does this tragedy have to do with PETSCOP? It’s hard to tell exactly… but the connection is definitely intentional. The game repeats the keywords “Rebirth” and “Newmaker” at several places, as well as asking whether people remember their births. There is a character called “Tiara” in the game; Candace Newmaker was born “Candace Tiara Elmore” before being renamed Candace Elizabeth Newmaker. A room in the game called “The Quitter’s Room” is a clear reference to the taunting language used by the therapists as Candace was dying.
The Further Mysteries of PETSCOP
More questions are left unanswered: Exactly who is Paul — other than, potentially, the most convincing voice actor on YouTube? Who actually made the game? Did a game designer in 1997 really create a digital expression of his obsession and madness, and burn a single copy of the disc to be discovered later? How did he know about Newmaker, who didn’t die until three years later? Is the whole thing a carefully-constructed piece of interactive storytelling that plays on the inherent creepiness and disconnection of the “space” in which video games take place? Or is it an actual paranormal video game?
Seven videos have been posted on PETSCOP’s YouTube channel since March, at a rate of around one a week. There’s no telling how many more are coming, or in what weird way this story will unfold, but I’m totally hooked… I just hope it’s not marketing for a lame movie, or that Tool’s final message won’t be “Drink More Ovaltine!”