TBT – The Complicated Web of Silent Hill 3
My mind is at a standstill on the precipice of disaster. Any movement I make may prove misfortunate. Development initiates from acceptance and privilege. I am lost, in a sea of thick fog and monsters, plagued by nothing but memory, suffocated by grief. How can one eat pizza in times like these?
Silent Hill functions as a series of vignettes tied together by emotional circumstances. Waves of situational apathy ride over and under narrative events as they unfold, manifesting terror, sorrow, regret, desire, naivety, and good humor within — often all at once.
Videogames allow their audience to hold a mirror up to themselves, recontextualizing the computer screen as a surface reflecting back their own philosophies to reconsider. They dig at the heart of a player’s interactions, normally without ever really questioning why. Games may tell you to do (to take, to place, to move, to push, to go, to kill), without ever necessarily offering significance. The irony is almost tantalizing: we thrive off of a game’s rewards, actively working towards them, but rarely consider the purpose.
Silent Hill’s narrative functions with this philosophy in mind, the mind as a symbolic labyrinth of emotion, gripping and pulling at the psyche through fits of expression, tied together loosely by recollection and nostalgia. Fear is bred through confrontation, exposing the recesses of desire held back deliberately and subconsciously. When we are finally comfortable jesting at tragedy, we laugh it off with sickening remorse. The humor fades, and ill-will settles in.
“Rows of wine bottles. I don’t really feel like eating and drinking stuff from an alternate reality, OK?”
Silent Hill has always, necessarily I will add, been seeped in humor. Levity conjures a sense of momentary relief from the depressing horrors usually filling the atmosphere throughout the titular town, but what the series is so successful in plotting is a sense of genuine emotional pacing. One moment the player can be crying from fear, and the next they are hysterically cackling.
This is determined storytelling at its most human level. The most vital aspect to Silent Hill’s effectiveness, however is the player’s direct involvement within its universe. In many ways, the series is about being a human, about coming to terms with the emotional baggage which propels each and every scene forward.
While Silent Hill 2 deliberately investigates the chaotic inner workings of basic human desires, sociologically illustrating a collective attraction towards self-immolation and disgust; the game’s direct sequel boldly contradicts this argument, depicting a young woman’s search for her lost womanhood in a sea of like-minded corrupted individuals.
“A picture of a flower in a vase. Nice, but… whatever.”
Heather Mason immediately stands out from the world she inhabits. Throughout the game’s entirety, she seems lost and confused, questioning every little detail surrounding her and their worth to her current progress. Scattered papers across the grime-ridden floor, portraits hanging in an art gallery, company lockers housing employees personal belongings; it all means nothing to her if it fails to aid in solving a puzzle. “Nice, but… whatever.”
But what of the artifacts she does collect? Small plastic bags, frozen pork loin, keys ripped out of charred canine corpses, a smoker’s book of matches; this assortment of seemingly innocuous belongings is made personally meaningful through usage of each.
If every Silent Hill entry serves as a metaphysical descent into the bowels of the protagonist’s ego, then their interaction with these seemingly meaningless objects renders them of utmost significance. These objects purposefully suggest past lives, people defined by their addictions, their hatred, inner turmoils, appetites, and indeed their sense of humor, however lighthearted or vile.
“Who the hell would make something like this? Furthermore, who the hell would eat it?”
The level design of Silent Hill 3 weaves these implicated scenes across a careening canvas. The labyrinthine hallways of the shopping mall, the claustrophobic dungeons of the subway, the parallel business office complexes separated only by history. These locations forge a world simultaneously familiar and alien, mirroring the subtly manic mechanics of the mind. One doorway leads to a locker room, in which a cordless payphone blaringly rings; the next, a prisonscape, housing a hanging body dripping blood into a bucket overflowing with red.
Each scenario leads into the next through transitionary sequences not unlike those of a great film. These connected locales serve a strict reminder of the world’s symbolic construction. Whereas the previous entries strictly confine their protagonists within Silent Hill, Heather’s journey walks her through suburban hellscapes before finally sending her into the titular town, suggesting a universal disconnect from everyone around her.
The empty shopping malls and subways imitate fear of the public unknown, emphasizing a young woman’s uncomfortability within the contexts of an oppressive social community. Silent Hill 2 closely regards the psychological consequences of moral corruption, but its sequel goes a step further, illustrating the effects on society as a whole, and the impressions left on a community of individuals.
The obsessive religious cult serving as the game’s main antagonists (outside of its usual monsters, of course) render up a commentary on collective influence through fear mongering. The game fortunately never delves into anti-Christian doctrine, but instead a politically-charged objection to emotional manipulation.
“I don’t know what kind of hell is waiting for me there, but I’ve got no other choice. I don’t care about God or Paradise… If that’s what she believes, then fine. But she won’t get away with what she did. When I find her, I’ll kill her myself.”
Silent Hill 3 posits the notion that our thoughts and feelings are constantly influenced by our habitats and surroundings. Fear of the unknown directly corresponds to a fear of the monstrous; disturbed beings seeking only to inflict suffering. Within the contexts of a modern society, an empty pitch-black subway station can incite panic and dread from a lone young woman who has been raised to understand the dangers inherent in another’s personal desire.
In other words, Silent Hill 3 flips the script on its predecessor. Whereas James Sunderland serves as arguably his own true antagonist of Silent Hill 2, the treacherous, repressed archetype he embodies spiritually serves as the sequel’s own. The distorted villains stalking the streets of Heather’s Silent Hill embody hideous phallus and vaginal beings, once again stressing humanity’s socially-constructed enmity towards sexuality and desire, further instigating self-loathing and madness as a result.
The construction of Silent Hill 3 determinedly reflects a constant emotional struggle with insecurity and well-being. Weaving in and out of sequences horrific, comedic, painful, sorrowful, uplifting, and disturbing; through locations haunted not by ghosts, but the emotions left behind by past inhabitants; Heather embarks on a personal quest made universal by her social predicament. A quest for vengeance as inscribed by lineage, bridging the gap between historical politicizing and individual aspirations. As though retribution were simply an inherent goal for all Mankind.
The result is a perpetual dream state, offering insight with no conclusive reward. The game’s portrayal of parallels often illustrates the deceptive line between our conscious and subconscious realities: our world versus the Otherworld; a mirror image versus the player’s perspective; a chilling portrait versus a blank wall. It all plays into Heather’s catoptrophobia, a consequence of body image insecurities, tied directly into her struggling womanhood. Womanhood as a state of mind, as opposed to strictly a physical definition.
“I don’t like mirrors. It’s almost like there’s an unknown world right on the other side. And the person staring at me isn’t really me, just an imitator.”
A telling moment occurs after Heather dreams a rollercoaster killing her during the game’s introductory sequence. Upon returning to the park later, she retrieves a key in order to shut down the coaster, only for the ride to power back up on its own while she wanders down the tracks.
This state of being is at constant odds with Heather, just as the game is at constant odds with the player. Tripping them up at every turn, surprising them with enemy encounters and puzzle design, but most importantly the emotional rollercoaster of each scenario. The most shocking moments are built off of the game’s prescribed foundation of gradual pacing, sickeningly stalking their way into abrupt bone-curdling frights, dependent only on the player’s inner desire to see what happens next as they wander around alone in the dark.
. . .
I once dreamed I was home alone, sleeping in my bed, the closet door standing at the foot of my bed menacingly suggesting terror to be found within. It slowly creaked open and I was incapable of moving; blackness oozed out of its pores. A hollow abyss revealed itself and began swallowing the entire room. Red veins stretched and gripped at the furniture surrounding me, then began to devour my stagnant body.
Glancing down, I could see I was being turned inside out. My flesh casually dissolved into muscle and bone, and the sinking feeling hit me. My bed enveloped me, and the world faded away into pitch black.
I lay in silence, hearing only my thoughts. Death was a purgatorial darkness in which only my thoughts remained. When I finally awoke, I was exalted and snickered in relief. But a menacing question eventually dawned upon me: Is an eternity of darkness better off thoughtless or mindful?
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.”