The True Story Behind Black Mirror Playtest’s Tragic Twist Ending
The Black Mirror « Playtest » episode is one of the most heartbreaking in the season, but its final kicker didn’t originate in the mind of creator Charlie Brooker. Instead, the idea for the « Playtest » Black Mirror finale came from a slightly sarcastic tweet posted by a writer. The joke spurred a plot twist that was both devastating and all-too-relatable.
The episode follows an American abroad named Cooper (Wyatt Russell). While he’s traveling in London, he decides to partake in an experiment that will have him testing out an immersive augmented reality video game. The game specifically targets the player’s unique fears, causing a hyperrealistic immersive therapy situation.
Cooper dies in Black Mirror, « Playtest, » but it’s not in an expected way. He comes out of the other side of the video game only to be killed because of a phone call. He never turned off his phone, so an incoming call from his mom caused a fatal signal interference in the video game. It’s a tragic metaphor for the fact that so many people have greater attachments to technology than the real people in their lives. Fans can thank writer Mallory Ortberg for that idea that made it into the « Playtest » Black Mirror episode.
According to Junkee, in 2015, Ortberg composed a tweet directly making fun of the show’s dark technological themes. She tweeted, « Next on Black Mirror: What if phones, but too much? » The tweet caught Brooker’s eye, and he found it to be amusing. As the Black Mirror creator is known for his dark sense of humor, he decided to incorporate it into the show. Ortberg’s message became the foundation for the twist ending in Black Mirror « Playtest. »
The sci-fi horror show typically tackles storylines about technology similar but slightly more advanced than what currently exists. In « Playtest, » Black Mirror does this with the video game Cooper tests out. While augmented reality video games exist, they’re not as intelligent as portrayed. That allows the audience to breathe a sigh of relief — it probably couldn’t happen at this moment in time. But that last-minute twist is a real punch to the gut. Most people who have cell phones have them on their person 24/7. So who’s to say a situation like this, in which cell phone interference causes a serious issue, couldn’t happen in real life? It’s a prime example of the show at its best. Visions of how technology will destroy humanity are Black Mirror’s bread and butter, so it’s meant to scare its audience a bit. There’s nothing scarier than realizing the dangers of a piece of technology people rely on so much – there’s a reason Airplane Mode exists, after all.
To make « Playtest » even more chilling, it’s not just the use of a common smartphone that makes it realistic, but also the speed at which Cooper dies. Once the fatal signal interference has occurred, he’s killed in a split second. This might seem dramatic, but phones really do transmit information that quickly, especially of the unsavory kind. « Playtest » is meant as an exaggeration, but people are actually being bombarded with a vast and instantaneous stream of negative information from the internet and phones in real life. It’s hard to cope with this much input, and in « Playtest, » Black Mirror chooses to visualize this with Cooper’s shockingly swift demise. This is just one more way in which the Black Mirror episode hits uncomfortably close to home – something the series always manages to excel at despite its somewhat fantastical storylines.