Rising pulse. Sweaty skin. Labored breathing. Guttural moans. Scratch marks.
All of these and whatever the dark corners of your mind can conjure will aptly describe a good romp in the sack, or a main character’s journey through scenic Silent Hill. While both will leave you with a lasting impression, they are far from mutually exclusive.
Throughout the series, from its inception on the Playstation all the way through to the most recent entry Silent Hill: Downpour, sexuality has been present just beneath the surface of the horrifying mystique of the town. As it became more common and acceptable in video games to portray sex and nudity, Silent Hill left it to us to form the images in our heads. For me, this was just another aspect of the rape my mind suffered with each trip to the town in question. It may not have been shoved down our throats, so to speak, but much like the three great directors named David (Cronenberg, Fincher and Lynch), these games always let us explore areas that others, entertaining though they might be, ignored. Sometimes we learned about the deep recesses of characters in the town, and other times, we got to know a little more about ourselves than we may have wanted.
I could go on for a long time about the entire series, so for the purposes of this article, I’m sticking to three core entries I feel are important highlights – Silent Hill 2 (which will be available in a newly polished HD Collection on shelves by the time you read this), Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and the just-released Silent Hill: Downpour.
Oh, yeah – spoiler alert and all that bullshit.
There are a lot of reasons Silent Hill 2 remains a high point of the series for its devoted fan base, myself included. While still set in the town we came to know and fear from the first game, this game mostly bypassed the occult mythos and instead focused on the personal story of James Sunderland, a man drawn to Silent Hill by a letter from his very dead wife Mary.
James…well, he’s got some issues. We learn that he was married to Mary for quite some time, and at some point, she became sick. While we are originally led to believe Mary has been dead for a while, plot twists and revelations reveal that she became ill and James was her caretaker up until he smothered her with a pillow. You may think this was to end her suffering, but to put it mildly, James had put up with enough of her shit. The disease was making her irritable and ugly, inside and out.
I’m convinced that James wasn’t getting laid one bit from the moment Mary got sick until he killed her. This is my own interpretation, as much of the game is meant to be to each individual player, but if the town is a reflection of those who travel to it, all the signs are there.
In this game, we see four-legged female mannequins. We witness a muscular, pyramid-helmeted man with a steel sword as tall as James brutally execute Maria, a vision of an idealized version of his wife, over and over again throughout the course of the narrative. James had a lot of things on his mind before he made his decision to kill Mary, and sex with his wife, or a severe lack thereof, was boiling right underneath his quest to do something to help her.
If you think I’m painting James as a shallow asshole, you’re correct. Think about this: the woman he chose to spend his life with is decaying in front of his eyes. It’s warping her mind, causing severe mood swings and crying fits. Amid all her suffering, James has managed to paint another image of Mary, one who wears red miniskirts and quite possibly works as a stripper. This is the Maria he encounters in Silent Hill, and depending on how the story finishes, the one with whom he can leave the town after killing Mary again.
I wonder sometimes how abusive James was to Mary, especially considering the violent rape by Pyramid Head of the mannequins and the repeat executions of Maria. For Christ’s sake, Mary wrote him a letter on her deathbed apologizing for all the suffering she caused him. Now that I’ve written all this down, I’ve come to realize James is one of the least likeable main characters in any game I’ve ever played. Fuck him and his blue balls.
If Silent Hill 2 gave us unparalleled access to the mind of somebody else, Shattered Memories gives us the same uncensored information on our own filthy minds. One of the very first screens tells you that the game “plays you as much as you play it.” Other games have tried using gimmicks like this and failed. Shattered Memories not only succeeds, it makes you wonder about just how much your vices and character faults play into your everyday decisions.
Opening the game, you sit in psychiatrist Dr. Kaufman’s office, and he gives you a personal survey to fill out. It asks questions such as if you’ve ever role played during sex, and if you have ever cheated on a partner. Whoa. Okay, Doc, I guess we’re getting friendly pretty fast. The more you focus on sex as a topic throughout the game, the more sexual images and words you begin to see in front of you throughout Silent Hill. The women Harry Mason meets throughout the narrative will wear much more revealing clothing, accenting hips and cleavage whenever they can. Posters featured in shops and bars will show you tits and bondage gear. Movie theaters will advertise a film about a stripper.
Not only does this game play you, it plays with you. All of the above mentioned images can change depending on what Harry’s/your focus throughout the game is – sex, booze, evasion of fears, or just being an overall dick. Throughout your play time, you will get text messages from Dahlia – sometimes with included pictures – telling you she is either bored, horny or in need of a drink. Again, this all goes back to what type of person you are, which in turn determines what type of man Harry is, and the reason behind their relationship falling apart.
Truth be told, I enjoyed my time playing Shattered Memories more than any other game in the series. Some people were put off that it is meant to be a new take on the first game, and ironically, they sound like the children who are most certainly not this game’s target audience. Perhaps some people weren’t ready to take the plunge and probe their minds to influence a story; I wouldn’t be surprised if David Cage took a few elements of this game and used it to craft Heavy Rain. When my story was complete, Harry had videotaped himself jumping into bed with Lisa and Michelle, quick to point out how much of a bestselling author and playboy he was. Considering how many sex-based choices I made throughout the game, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.
What will creep you out the most is not the appearance of the monsters (who you cannot fight and from whom you can only run) or the choices you make determining little things like how many buttons are undone on Cybil’s police shirt. As the ending credits scroll, you also begin to read Dr. Kaufman’s entire transcription of your session, and they were so authentic in their tone and grammar I wondered if they were going to ask me for a copay when I saved my clear game file.
Keep that spoiler warning in mind, considering this game has only been out for one week.
Having never been locked up myself, I have no idea how long it takes inside prison walls for you to start considering your cellmate for some release. Murphy Pendleton has been in a correctional facility for years before escaping during a transfer accident, and the raging mental hard-on he’s been harboring for even longer than his stint blows up during his trip to Silent Hill. In Downpour, Murphy is after someone who did awful, awful things to his son before drowning him.
The town plays with his head in perhaps the most brutal way possible. In a scene late in the game, we see a shadowy image of a monster choking or snapping the neck of a boy. Screamers, as they are called, attack Murphy with piercing shrieks and claw at him. Naked female-shaped dolls send shadows after Murphy. James Sunderland needed to come to terms with what he did to Mary during his time in the town. Murphy Pendleton, on the other hand, clearly knows what happened and to me, no matter what comes of his journey to Silent Hill, the images will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Murphy has a libido to rival that of James, but while he has indeed been convicted of theft, I don’t think of him as an outright ghoul. He loved his son and when the boy was killed, his wife never forgave him for it. The Screamers are likely what his wife has become since then – berating him every which way for his lack of ability to save his son and supposed neglect in letting the boy even go off on his own from the beginning. The dolls could be the way he viewed his wife and other women from a sexual standpoint – soft, accessible and willing on the outside, but ready to explode with vitriol and hate underneath the surface.
The most disturbing part of the imagery in this game, for me, is the idea that Murphy may not be the good father he wishes he were. One of the endings implies heavily that he was ignorant enough for his son to become bait for Napier, the pedophile who was only caught after getting his hands on another child. If this is to be taken as truth, it wouldn’t shock me to find out Murphy let himself be used and abused by every regular inmate who needed a piece of fresh meat. Perhaps he needed to be “toughened up” in his mind by the prison system in order to face his task of revenge and do what he couldn’t before.
Whether it be the tortured soul of a protagonist or the bowels of our own warped minds, the Silent Hill franchise has taken us to a river, let us dip our toe in, then proceeded to tear out clothes off and shove us in the water. We may not always like what we see, and we may not necessarily be better after the experience, but isn’t that what sex is all about?
Silent Hill Cosplay by Judith Stephens at Chohoview.com