Above is a section of the painting “The Hands Resist Him.” Why is it so incredibly creepy?
Silent Hill came at a time when survival horror was, in many ways, still in its infancy and still struggling to discover what would make gamers’ skin crawl. Resident Evil had given us our fair share of jumps, but Silent Hill took a different path, opting instead to make us incredibly uncomfortable. The ever-present radio static, fog, and plunges into the twisted alternate worlds of Silent Hill scared us more based on the threats of being scared than the scares themselves.
It goes without saying, then, that playing through Silent Hill was a tense experience: one that could make you jump at the smallest of noises. It also meant that the fear factor was very different for everyone who played it, as being scared was often a matter of how scared you allowed yourself to get. Draw the shades, close the door, turn up the sound, and allow yourself to become immersed in the world, and you’ll likely find yourself wide-eyed and gripping your controller with unnecessary, involuntary force.
However, despite whatever experience you had with the game, you can not possibly imagine the abject terror that I experienced. For, you see, I had an added element of fear more horrifying, more ghastly, and more demonic that you will ever experience.
None of you played Silent Hill in the same house as my mother.
Now, for the sake of full disclosure, let’s get one thing straight. There’s really nothing terrifying about my mom. At 5’5’’ and 100 pounds maybe, she’s this tiny lady that many of my friends growing up considered a second mother. She did have one quality about her that’s directly tied to her stature, but we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
I played through the majority of Silent Hill in nighttime sessions on the weekends with one of my friends. We’d sit on the floor, probably far too close to the television, with the intent of getting as freaked out as possible. We genuinely wanted to be scared, so we’d close the door, make it completely dark, crank the crappy TV speakers, and see just how freaked out we could get.
Our biggest scare came during a quiet moment in the game. The player character had just been transported to the twisted version of Silent Hill, and we were both surprised that the terrifying inhabitants of this world hadn’t shown their disfigured faces yet. By this point in the game, we knew the game’s tricks. The moment that we decided that we were safe, the big scare would come. We were expecting something big, and, as we all know, that’s the point at which the tension is highest.
Controller in hand, I round a corner in the game. Suddenly, with utter silence in the game, a voice behind us erupts. It’s whisper, but one of the loudest and most sudden kind. It’s nearly a hiss.
”What’re you guys doing?”
All in the same moment, ever muscle in my body seizes up. I might have even let out a little utterance of fear. My god, what terrifying demon has possessed my television? Is the game looking into my soul?
Nope. Somehow, my mom had crept silently into the room, maneuvered directly behind us, and, analyzing the situation, decided that the best way to address us would be to whisper to announce her presence. Noble intentions, perhaps, but they nearly ended in tears and urine.
It scared the living hell out of us. Despite not actually being a part of the game, it remains the most intense scare that the game gave me. Perhaps someone should make a game where this actually happens: insanely loud female whisper coming from the back speakers at an otherwise quiet yet tense moment.
What sort of scare can you expect around that corner?
Looking at the episode now, I have to wonder exactly what influences contributed to the level of surprise that we felt. As I see it, there were three factors in play.
The game: how much the game itself contributed to the tension of the moment.
External factors: the atmosphere of the room, the volume of the sound, and, of course, my mom.
Internal/personal factors: chiefly, our desire to be scared and our ability to become immersed in the game.
As I see it, there’s a pretty even balance of these factors. However, I think the fact that my mom’s whispering broke the immersion was the most startling. We had, in essence, been transported to Silent Hill, where, in most cases, we knew what the rules were. Sure, we could still get scared, but we knew what sorts of scares we were in for. My mom, in essence, changed the rules of fear. We were suddenly transported to an entirely different plane of fear. And it worked.
So, horror games. I don’t expect you to call up my mom every time I play you so that she can sneak in and scare the crap out of me. But don’t fall into the same rules of fear. Give us your modus operandi, and then throw something at us that is totally out of character. The biggest scares will come when we think we know the rules, and when they’re suddenly and horrifyingly broken.