While some of us may be decorating our Christmas trees and wrapping up presents, there are some of us who are still longing for the spookiest time of the year. Halloween has such deep roots in human history that some cultures perceive it as the time of year when otherworldly activity is at its most active. The idea of different worlds coming together is not a new concept and is quite clearly explored in one of the scariest horror video game franchises of all time: Silent Hill.
The series has been talked about to death already, ranging from the importance of what the first game did for video games as a whole at the turn of the millenium to the disappointing cancelation of Silent Hills. However, there’s something else about the games worth exploring that’s much darker and more realistic, and that’s the franchise’s relationship with mental health.
Obviously, this article talks about heavy subject matter, which includes mental health, depression and abuse. Also, some spoilers for the Silent Hill games.
When Konami brought the development group Team Silent together to create the first game, they wanted something that would compete with Resident Evil. However, what the team did was something different and truly remarkable. Instead of creating a game that would be a carbon copy of the first Resident Evil, they made the first true psychological horror experience to be created by a AAA company.
It can be argued that the game itself is a clear metaphor for mental health. There are strong consistencies throughout each title which can be related to struggles of the mind: the constant fog obscuring everything, the decaying environment, the inability to escape without struggling every step of the way, the ominous music which inspires anxiety and fear and the monsters which represent the demons lurking in the back of a broken psyche. All these factors take the phrase psychological horror to an all too literal level, but the real highlight is how mental health is conveyed through the characters in the series.
While the first game was terrifying in its design – following the journey of Harry Mason as he looks for his missing daughter – Silent Hill 2 truly mastered psychological horror. At the time of the game’s release, the idea of psychological horror within the industry was more of an experimental concept than a cornerstone of the genre. However, after the game’s success, the creators took more liberty with the concept.
A different and much more profound approach to mental health was taken with Silent Hill 2, raising it to a much darker level. The main character, James Sunderland, is in a deep state of grief and depression from the death of his wife and goes to Silent Hill after unexpectedly receiving a letter from her.
At the end of the game, the player finds out that James murdered her as a mercy killing when she contracted a debilitating disease. The monsters in the game are symbolic of James’ mental struggle. A lot of the monster designs have a feminine form with the single exception of Pyramid Head. Relentless, he can often be found abusing the other monsters and is quite clearly representative of James’ desire to be punished.
The secondary characters in Silent Hill 2 have their own mental struggles. Angela Orosco is someone James meets very early on in the game, and she suffers from suicidal depression as a result of psychological and sexual abuse she suffered throughout her childhood. There is one particularly dark scene where James finds her in a dreamlike state, contemplating taking her own life before asking him to take the knife from her, fearful of what she might do.
One of the antagonists, Eddie Dombrowski, suffered a lot of bullying and ridicule before the events of the game because of his weight. A lot of his self esteem issues have manifested into violent tendencies. Every time James meets Eddie, a corpse can be found nearby. At first, Eddie claims his innocence, but by the final body, Eddie is angry to the point of fighting James.
It is also here that James witnesses Eddie’s version of the otherworld: a giant meatlocker where Eddie sees everyone laughing at him and mocking him. What’s interesting about Eddie is that they originally intended him to be a cheerful character; his name was actually borrowed from the comedian Eddie Murphy. However, the final character was changed to keep more in theme with the other characters.
The only character who doesn’t really follow this trend in Silent Hill 2 is Laura, a young, mischievous girl who has been called to Silent Hill. However, unlike the other characters, she cannot see the monsters in Silent Hill because of her purity and innocence, in stark contrast to James, Angela and Eddie. This gives more evidence to the idea that the monsters each of the characters face are manifestations of their personal demons, as the other child character of that age, Alessa Gillespie, was abused and burned, leading to the creation of the Hellworld the player sees in Silent Hill 1 and 3.
Though Silent Hill 3 is a direct sequel to the first game, it follows Heather Mason, Harry’s daughter. An incarnation of Alessa Gillespie, Heather has a direct link to the town of Silent Hill. One of the creatures, Double Head, is a half-bandaged, half-burned dog-like creature which represents Heather’s fear of dogs and Alessa’s fear of being burned, who was set on fire before the events of the first Silent Hill. Later on in the game, the player discovers that Heather is also pregnant with a god, and a lot of the monsters she encounters have a very phallic design, which could be a representation of her becoming pregnant against her will.
Silent Hill 4: The Room takes place in Ashfield, a town which is half a day’s drive away from Silent Hill. The protagonist Henry Townshend wakes up one day to find his apartment door all chained and can only ever leave through a hole in his bathroom wall that leads to various otherworlds. What is unique about this game is that the Otherworlds are not a reflection of Henry Townshend’s psyche. If anything, Henry stands out from the rest of the main characters of the Silent Hill franchise in the fact that he doesn’t have any real mental demons.
The otherworlds are actually a reflection of Walter Sullivan, a serial killer who terrorised Ashfield and acts as the main antagonist of the game. Walter was born in the same apartment that Henry lives in, 302, where he was subsequently abandoned by his parents. The monsters again act as a form of symbolism for the character’s mental state. While most of the monsters represent Sullivan’s hatred towards women and obsession with his mother, monsters like Gum Head represent Walter’s abuse which he suffered at the hands of men in his younger years.
The next game, Silent Hill: Origins, acts as a prequel to the series, and the player witnesses the events that would affect Alessa Gillespie, putting the events of Silent Hill 1 into motion. Travis Grady is the protagonist and, keeping in theme with the other protagonists, he has his own mental struggles.
His mother experienced psychological delusions, which caused her to attempt suicide by gassing herself and Travis, while his father hung himself, leading Travis to stay with the body and talk to it until he was found the next day. This mental trauma is what draws Alessa to him, and there is a theory that Grady may be suffering from a form of Dissociative Identity Disorder, as The Butcher may be a manifestation of his abusive personality.
Though Silent Hill: Homecoming is arguably one of, if not the, worst game in the series, it still follows the formula of having a tortured protagonist with mental scars, though none as profound as previous incarnations. When he was younger, Alex Shepherd was involved in an accident that left him trapped in a school bus during a storm, nearly causing him to die of hypothermia.
Additionally, though he loved his brother Joshua, his parents showed sibling favoritism towards his little brother, to the point of showing no affection towards Alex. The one thing that differentiates Alex from the other protagonists is his career: while each protagonist fits the stereotype of the everyman, Alex is a soldier on leave during the time of this game. All these observations, coupled with the event of Joshua’s death, could have manifested into a form of PTSD.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a remake of the original Silent Hill game, following Harry Mason searching for his daughter. However, this game experiments with a different approach to the psychological aspect of the game, using the character’s play style and choices made throughout the game to determine future outcomes. However, this idea might be a bit too literal. While the previous games were more subtle, there are sections of the game where the player is sitting in a psychotherapist’s office.
On the other hand though, it explores an interesting new idea in terms of story: the patient in the psychotherapist’s office is actually Harry’s daughter, revealing that Harry has been dead throughout the whole game, and depending on the ending, Cheryl Mason either resents or accepts the memory of her father. The loss of a loved one is an idea that has been explored in the series before and is a common mental conflict for many people.
Silent Hill: Downpour follows Murphy Pendleton. Despite being raised in an orphanage, Murphy lived a happy life until his son Charlie was abducted, implied to be sexually abused and murdered by his neighbour Patrick Napier. This event greatly changes Murphy’s life, causing his wife Carol to divorce him and filling him with a lust for revenge. As in previous games, the monsters are representative of Murphy’s mental struggle. One regular enemy Murphy faces throughout the game are the Screamers who are portrayed as grieving widows, while The Void that follows Murphy represents how his desire for revenge is all consuming to the point of hurting Murphy.
Though Silent Hills will likely never see the light of day, P.T. left some breadcrumbs in terms of what could have been expected from the game, especially throughout the dialogue and frequent radio reports you could overhear. Because of how up in the air all the information is, it allows a lot of room for analysis/theories, but here are some quotes that hint on the story Silent Hills would have touched on.
“After killing his family, the father hung himself with a garden hose they had in the garage.”
“You got fired, so you drowned your sorrows in booze. She had to get a part-time job working a grocery store cash register. Only reason she could earn a wage at all is the manager liked how she looked in a skirt. You remember, right? Exactly ten months back.“
“Dad was such a drag. Every day he’d eat the same kind of food, dress the same, sit in front of the same kind of games… Yeah, he was just that kind of guy. But then one day, he goes and kills us all! He couldn’t even be original about the way he did it. I’m not complaining… I was dying of boredom anyway, But guess what? I will be coming back, and I’m bringing my new toys with me.”
Given the dialogue and some of the events that occur throughout the game, it can easily be presumed that the person being talked about is either the protagonist or someone close to the protagonist. Between the violent family murder and alcohol abuse, it is safe to say the person in question falls under the catergory of mentally tortured. It’s just a shame that there will never be a concrete answer. Thanks, Konami.
Like any form of art, video games are full of interpretation, and Silent Hill is no different. The Silent Hill franchise is an important game series for many reasons. While also being one of the first big horror games to hit consoles, it was revolutionary for subtly expressing the otherwise taboo topic of mental health. While it kept players up at night for its more obvious scare factor, the tortured characters and haunting atmosphere reflective of their psyche demands exploration.
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