Late to the Party: Silent Hill 1-3

Content Warning: This piece covers mental illness, suicide and general sad stuff. There’s also some very vague spoilers. They won’t ruin the experience, but they are there.

Also, this is more of a personal essay. Sorry for those looking for a more traditional breakdown of Silent Hill. If you want something more traditional, I recommend checking out Lovely Bones’ franchise festival article on the series. It goes in depth about the development, plot and themes of all the games. It’s great stuff! 

Growing up, I wasn’t a horror fan. Like a lot of other people, I was too scared to want to be scared. I thought consuming horror would make me believe in ghosts that would haunt my dreams and sear themselves into my brain. Plus I liked things more…upbeat. I wanted things to be bright and colorful and fun; just like me!Or, at least, this was how I thought of myself. For a large portion of my life, I spent so much time trying to believe I was happy instead of actually being happy. But facing that terrified me, I thought dealing with that would turn me into something I didn’t want to become. Dealing with emotional baggage is like drifting on black ice. I was so scared I would crash and burn. 

There’s no media that has reflected that struggle like the Silent Hill series. As a fan of games like Resident Evil and someone who got into horror media as I grew older, I really wanted to try out the series. So one night I closed my door, turned my lights off and emulated the first game on my computer. Gameplay wise, I didn’t feel tense. I ran past most enemies and conserved ammo all the time. Unlimited inventory slots and saves meant there weren’t many difficult decisions when it came to resources. Most of the bosses, while creepy looking, didn’t pose a challenge. 

What made me feel tense was the world of Silent Hill itself. Getting lost in the fog covered town as Harry searches for his daughter Cheryl, I felt immersed in the world. My hands tightened when the radio clanged like a small bell. This carried over even further into the otherworld sections, where everything is draped in shadow and environments are cold and metallic. While Harry is a rather one note protagonist, he runs head first into the unknown to uncover the secrets of the town and find his loved one, regardless of his own confusion and fear. It’s rather baffling that the director of the first Silent Hill movie thought being vulnerable was more fitting for a female lead. While the story has some interesting moments, I feel like it’s bogged down by being too vague for its own good. Ambiguity and nuance can enhance a story, but narrative elements that can have different thematic interpretations is different than character motivations and thematic ideas being half baked. The narrative doesn’t tie itself up thematically, just some ideas that weren’t capitalized on. 

But there’s always a next time, and what a time it was! Silent Hill 2 is one of the most moving works I’ve ever experienced. It’s uncompromising and dark and grotesque but also beautiful and nuanced. While I’m not a widow or have his kind of problems, I felt a connection to James. He tries desperately to make things right, but in reality it’s his way of running away from his troubles. He was alone, sad and in denial over what has happened in his life. He struggles with dealing with Eddie and Angela just as much as he does with the various beasts of Silent Hill. He’s a grieving husband who is unable to move on. I’m a depressed twenty something who struggles with maintaining relationships and acknowledging his feelings. But we both share the issue of trying to avoid our struggles, believing (hoping) that we can push past them instead of facing them. Despite our differences, I felt empathy for James and a kinship with him.

And I also felt a different but equally powerful kinship with Heather as I played Silent Hill 3. Besides dealing with an evil cult, the rebirth of god and a potential Armageddon, Heather is a kid trying to find her place in the world. There are forces that are trying to control her life, and she has to fight for her own agency. I can relate to that. When I was in college, I felt like I was there because it was expected of me rather than because I wanted to be there. These issues plus my anxiety getting worse and my difficulty making friends was a bad combination.Expectations can be difficult, especially if they don’t align with your goals and wants. Despite the visceral onslaught she faces throughout her story, Heather refuses to give into the order. She’s her own person, trying not to die.

I can relate trying not to die. Well, almost dying. When I was nineteen, I attempted suicide by overdose. My rough experience in university made me think I had no future. I went into the my bathroom and downed a handful of pills, but I panicked and told my family what happened. This lead to me committing myself voluntarily to a mental institution. I remember the long silence that took place while strapped to a stretcher as one of the ambulance people tried to write down my information. Arriving there was not what I expected. Staff escorted me to a room for questioning about my background. “Who am I?” “Why did I do what I did?” As someone whose mind felt raw after everything that happened so far, answering those questions felt like I was throwing up bricks. My throat was dry and my stomach growled. Then I had to go into a private room with a doctor and an assistant who gave me a full body check. I remember my skin being littered with goosebumps and all my body hairs sticking up like spikes as the doctor spent time wondering things aloud and checking “abnormalities” like a pimple on my ass. When I went to bed, I remember being curled up into a ball, my whole body shaking and tears running down my face. I lay there in the dark listening to the footsteps of one of the staff patrolling the halls. My stomach felt like it was on fire and my lungs felt like they were being squished alive. I was so scared. It was the most terrified I’ve ever been. While these thoughts were unfounded, I thought I was gonna die there. I thought, my life is over and I’m gonna be trapped here forever. My anxiety over being scared came true, except this wasn’t a movie or video game. Like the protagonists of these games, I was stuck in some otherworld where I had to be strong and fend for myself, remaining focused on my own survival. I wasn’t in immediate danger, of course, but my mind felt that way. As I immersed myself in these games, I pondered my own feelings.

While playing Silent Hill, I found that the hospital levels resonated with me so much because of my own experiences. I think the worst part of that whole experience was the treatment of other patients by the staff. A lot of times nurses or workers would yell at us or say what we can’t do. The worst is when we’d ask a question and they’d respond with “because I said so.” It felt like they treated us more like subjects to deal with than help, like we were burdens. It’s hard to cope with the fact that people who are supposed to help may not have your best interests at heart. As I played the Silent Hill series, I thought about this. When places that are supposed to be safe aren’t, what do you do? Of course, my experience wasn’t flooded with killer ghost nurses, but there was a familiarity in the world the games were portraying that resonated with me.

 One memory that’s been etched in my mind is when another patient was about to leave. When someone asked her how she felt, she sighed and said, “I’m going back to the place that put me here in the first place.” No matter what happens, our baggage will stay with us. Without going into specifics, one of the endings of the games shows the main character crying over everything they went through. This is the “good ending” where they won, but that doesn’t change the fact that their lives have been changed and control them, leading to their loved ones to be caught in the crossfire. Despite surviving, we still have to deal with our issues. That weight won’t go away, but it can get easier to hold. 

One of the reasons why I gravitated towards horror as I’ve grown older is for the adrenaline rush it provides. While I didn’t have any moments where I was screaming in terror, what I experienced were games that could were haunting, poignant and achingly human. It also made me ponder my own problems, which surprised me. I think this gaming marathon taught me how horror doesn’t have to be just monsters and jump-scares. It can be about the ugly side of our psyche.  Nothing in media can top my fear during my hospitalization, so everything else feels like a fun romp, while also reminding myself of it in a way. I’ve been through worse, so going through a scary movie or game shouldn’t be so bad. Besides, like Harry, James and Heather, the ordeal doesn’t last forever. You can just leave.

Special thanks to Grumproro for reading and giving feedback to this piece. She really helped me figure out where I wanted to go with it and gave a lot of support. Also special thanks to Annanomally for also reading it and giving me the thumbs up when I wondered if I should make this more personal. When I wondered this type of writing was self-indulgent, she said “this site is built on self-indulgence.” Fair point.