By Dan Clendenin

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Playtest (2016)

“Playtest” is episode 2 in season 3 of the British television series called Black Mirror that debuted in 2011, and that was later made available on Netflix. This episode imagines a terrifying version of our modern obsession with video gaming. An American named Cooper is finishing up a backpacking trip around the world in London when his credit cards are frozen and he badly needs some quick cash. He meets Sonja on Tinder, who helps him sign up as a tester for a virtual reality game. That work requires a “small medical procedure” in which they upload a “neural net package” called “the mushroom” at the base of his neck. Thus begins the horror. Is it real or virtual? And what a bitter irony that the purpose of his globe-trotting was to “find himself” and “make some memories.”

“Playtest” epitomizes the original vision of Black Mirror. “If technology is a drug,” explains the creator Charlie Brooker, “and it does feel like a drug — then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area — between delight and discomfort — is where Black Mirror is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” The fictional satires have drawn comparisons to The Twilight Zone, with their ominous explorations of our “techno-paranoia.” To date there have been 13 episodes, each of which is about 45 to 90 minutes long.

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