“Hell,” Sartre wrote in No Exit (1944), “is other people.” Presumably, the “especially at a night club”-qualifier was implicit. Some things go without saying.
Here, then, is the most chilling horror videogame of all time, Berghain Trainer, which employs your camera, microphone, and a series of questions to test if you can get into one of Berlin’s most famous nightclubs. Berghain, you see, is notoriously difficult to enter. Last year, GQ’s Burt Helm read a series of online posts about gaining access to the club to its chief bouncer, Sven Marquardt. “We’ve heard all those things, too,” the man with the barbed wire face tattoos told Helm. “But like I said, it’s subjective.” Indeed, subjectivity is essential to the club’s admissions policy and Marquardt has confessed that the composition of the crowd varies based on who’s at the door. This, per his interview with Helm, is part of his plan:
I feel like I have a responsibility to make Berghain a safe place for people who come purely to enjoy the music and celebrate—to preserve it as a place where people can forget about space and time for a little while and enjoy themselves. The club evolved from the gay scene in Berlin in the nineties. It’s important to me we preserve some of that heritage, that it still feels like a welcoming place for the original sort of club-goers. If we were just a club full of models, pretty people all dressed in black, it would be nice to look at for a half an hour, but god, that would be boring. It would feel less tolerant, too.
All of which gets at the underlying futility of Berghain Trainer, which measures all sorts of parameters involving your facial expression and affect. Unless the game can get into Marquardt’s head, what does any of this matter? To that end, the game seems to always end in failure. In my three attempts to beat the game, which involves a three-question quiz, I could only ever ace the question about my age. Likewise, every member of Thump’s staff to try the simulator failed to gain entry. That, one might say, is what verisimilitude looks like.
Of course, Berghain Trainer’s name suggests that it is more than mere simulation. It is supposed to teach you something, but what exactly? Gaining access to Berghain, as Marquardt has steadily explained, is not something one can train for. Indeed, the subtext of his comments is that training is perhaps the worst thing you can do. But here’s Berghain Trainer, a meta-commentary on the futility of it all and the false promise of club scenes.
To quote preeminent German nightlife expert Groucho Marx, the main lesson of Berghain Trainer is that “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” Maybe it’s possible to beat the game. Stranger things have happened. Would that feel like a victory? Your facial expressions and vocal tone and answers match some random profile, congratulations! Best to stay at home, give the game a quick peek, and then do something else with your life.