(This post contains spoilers for Silent Hill 2. You’ve been warned.)
Yeeeeeah, I kinda hoped I never got desperate enough I resorted to writing about this one, because I’m pretty sure this will turn into a dissertation. There’s been a lot of virtual ink spilt on Silent Hill 2 and honestly, I don’t think there’s anything I can I add to the discussion… so obviously there’ll be at least three posts about the game I have to say about. Part One will discuss one meaning of the story while Part Two will look at the themes and symbolism, and Part Three will look at the way Silent Hill 2 tells its story and the lessons horror creators can learn from it.
Silent Hill 2 is more than just a good game. It’s the greatest work of horror of all time in any medium. It’s that damn good.
‘In my restless dreams,
I see that town.
You promised you’d take me there again someday.
But you never did.
Well I’m alone there now…
In our “special place”…
Waiting for you…’
—From Mary’s letter to James
The story begins when James Sunderland receives a letter from his wife Mary. Only she’s been dead for a couple of years now. So James goes to the town of Silent Hill, Maine to find her. What James doesn’t know is that there’s a spiritual power in the town that makes people’s deepest fears real. (If you’re familiar with the Silent Hill franchise, you know that alternate dimensions is a popular theory for why the town is the way it is. This isn’t supported by the facts though, and plus an alternate dimension is not scary under any circumstances. If there’s a horror dimension, then there’s a happy-happy joy-joy dimension too. There, I got the best ending without picking up a controller. Go me.)
As James explores the town, he discovers horrors of every kind. From Pyramid Head, who pursues James relentlessly through the town, to Eddie, the homicidal overweight loser. He also meets Maria, a lady who looks exactly like his wife, Mary. Like Russian literature, the game is about everything at once, and much like its inspiration, Crime and Punishment, explores the lives of the characters in heartbreaking detail.
Said all that to say this… For the whole game, James plays the upright and righteous hero, bravely facing all the horrors the town throws at him, trying to rescue all the other characters. He’s exactly what all of us think we are.
We all think we’re the hero of our story. We’re the fixed point by which everything else is judged. Our natural inclination makes us think we’re the good guy, the white hat. That’s our perception. What we want to think.
That’s where Silent Hill 2 sets its trap.
And the game reveals James murdered his sick wife. It is one of the most brutally heartbreaking moments in all of horror fiction.
Yes, we’re all good in a general sense. We don’t murder our neighbors on sight, so that’s a plus. But are we really, truly good? Would the world look the way it does if we truly were good? No. And that’s how Silent Hill 2 challenges the player. ‘Goodness is far more costly and far more valuable than you’ve ever dreamed.’
This is what good horror does, it forces the person to look deep within and be honest with themselves. Sometimes, that’s the scariest thing we can ever face.
Until next time…