In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
We have reached...THE END! Huzzah! As Ray Stantz once said, ‘Well, that wasn’t such a chore now, was it?’
So anyway, hope you enjoy if you can be bothered to read it. I mean, who does anyway? Reading iz stooped and I don’t not know who dumb...or something.
Anyway, the whole idea of this chapter was to bring together all the elements I discussed before and see how they’re put into practice. In the end, I don’t think it came together like I wanted and found the often overlooked idea of Silent Hill 2’s take on the femme fatale. Ideally, I wanted to talk about how the game put the assimilation theory into practice, but I ended up exploring the cinematic tropes instead (since I talked about it already in the previous chapter). I like to think it came out fine, but I wish there less focus on trying to convince the cinema group that videogames share common ideas with films or at least understand what they’re emulating.
Be warned. There are spoilers involved. Remember...quotes...plagiarism...blah blah blah. Anyway, if there’s anything else, let’s walk and talk.
Chapter 3: Silent Hill 2 and the Assimilation of Genre and Interaction (Case Study)
Videogames, like their cinematic counterparts, have genres that inevitably diluted by simulacrum. The lauded innovations are soon followed by second wave ‘clones’. Every so often, there are videogames that either refresh their respective genre or progress towards new ones. Silent Hill 2 is partially in the former in terms of structure; it is after all a sequel to one of the first waves of survival horror. Yet it also manages to be innovative by assimilating cinematic codes into its construction of story and character. The game is a sequel by nature, but the story has very little connection to its predecessor. Instead it uses original’s set-up of an urban ghost town as a backdrop to a cinematic, yet highly interactive, gothic-noir tale.
(Editorial Note: I just recap the plot here, so I’ve left it out for various reasons)
A man whose experience of life has left him sanguine and bitter meets a not-so-innocent woman of similar outlook to whom he is sexually and fatally attracted... which in any event brings about the sometimes metaphoric, but usually literal destruction of the woman... and the protagonist himself. (19)
Silent Hill 2 predominately incorporates the theory of Eastern and Western assimilation of genre, though usually overlooked are the cinematic tropes most commonly found in film noir. In theory, this genre (or style depending on your stance with noir)might appear as if created through accidental or indirect means, since the interactive element provokes investigation by the participant and not solely because of the narrative’s foundations.
While Silent Hill 2 relies on contemporary and gothic horror, the basis of its characters are lifted from noir, especially found in the central roles of James and Maria. The almost suicidal protagonist is plunged into a mystery that is hampered or progressed by the help of a femme fatale. At first, Maria is the exact opposite of Mary in appearance and personality. We, as the active participant, compare the two with Mary’s photo in the inventory and find confirmation later in the form of flashbacks. The photo places emphasis on a plain and homely wife, so when the doppelganger appears, it is not only a shock to James, but to the viewer too. There’s an exact likeness but the withdrawn look is replaced with eroticism. Therefore, noir-like recognition is revealed between the two women – the safety net and the seducer.
Above: 'homely' Mary Sunderland Below: 'dangerous' Maria.
The material for the film noir heroine is drawn from stereotypes of the femme fatale or evil woman and the good-bad girl, and generally contrasted in film with a marginal figure representing the good woman, worthy of being a wife, and often the victim. (20)
At first, James (though visually distracted) is committed to finding his dead wife and so rebukes any attempts of a connection by Maria. During the search for Laura, Maria’s flirtations diminish as maternal instinct takes over. This leads to a breakdown in the participant’s given perception that she is a temptress; an intentional confusion that is designed cloud judgement between player and protagonist. Silent Hill 2 twists the femme fatale role in such a way that Maria misleads through unconventional means. Our protagonist is slowly being castrated through the confusion between the ideals of spouse and ‘the other woman’. Due to the domineering element of horror, Maria’s ability to change her personality and finally her appearance, result in her role as a destructive femme fatale sharing its identity with that of the kaidan.
Japanese Horror since classical times has revolved around these depictions of beautiful female victims who undergo monstrous transformations when betrayed or threatened. This is particularly true of animated (anime) horror. A number of critics have suggested that in anime these figures represent the sexual fantasies and anxieties of a largely adolescent male audience - a conclusion bolstered by snakes, demonic worms and other phallic transformations. (21)
Maria’s obvious Western appearance and outspoken sexuality is not typical of the kaiden. It is not until she is reunited with James at the hospital, during her maternal phase, that she finally shows signs of being threatened. James, through a throwaway remark, provokes a frightened Maria into verbally attacking his obsession with finding Mary. This attack reinforces her availability that he so desperately needs, but also the questions the participant’s control over the protagonist’s closure.
Maria is killed by the judgemental executioner Red Pyramid Head, but is later resurrected without injury. Her subsequent deaths (she is killed twice more) are punishment for James, a man who is still repressing memories of murder. The Eastern and Western horror assimilation is used to its greatest effect through the personification of Maria. In essence, she is a kaiden, but she is a physical presence that castrates the protagonist through manipulative traits found in the femme fatale.
Frequently the female figure exists as a crucial feature within the dangerous criminal world which the hero struggles with in the course of his investigation, and often as not constitutes the central problem in unravelling the truth. Woman becomes the object of the hero’s investigation. (22)
The most prominent scene that highlights these assimilations between culture, participant and avatar is when James finds the resurrected Maria in a cell. The mis-en-scene is sparse; the only illumination is from an overhead light bulb with twin beds and chairs on either side of the bars suggesting two cells and not one. Stripped of the visceral horror that has preceded this scene, the developers have deliberately made the viewer aware that the most important aspect on display is the unease between the protagonist and the antagonist. It also points out, in theory at least, the narrative core that the participant must base their definitive decisions on.
James sits in silence as Maria’s monologue is presented in two tones – dark and light. The monologue itself is ambiguous and suggestive tones are being used in what seems like common reminiscing. To read between the lines, the use of noir lighting is implemented. When there is a suggestion of a sinister mood, Maria sits in such a way that parts of her body are hidden by darkness, e.g. “I’m not your Mary either!” and “But you forgot about that tape.” The opposite effect happens when she becomes playful since Maria moves into the light and creates an overexposure on her face.
The scene ends with Maria seducing the already mentally exhausted James, who then exits to find another way to reach her. Though the game sets the player off to find another route, the motives for rescue become unclear. The narrative is built upon a multiple ending structure where every minute decision connected to Mary and Maria is creating a natural (and uninformed) ending through those actions. Therefore, we as the participant mirror James’ confused intentions, deciding whether we are rescuing Maria because of eroticism or for something more honourable.
Defined by their sexuality, which is presented as desirable yet dangerous, the women function as an obstacle to the male quest. The hero’s success or not depends on the degree to which they can extricate them himself from the women’s manipulations. Although the man is simply destroyed because he cannot resist women’s lures, often the world of the film is the attempted restoration of order through the exposure and then destruction of the sexual, manipulating women. (24)
The audience participating in survival horror is one of a male majority. In this genre, much like its cinematic counterpart, there is a strong male to overcome the monster and save a female character (even the final girl has help before the final confrontation). The male videogame participant will usually have a scene where they must rescue a female companion. Theoretically, it is an idea that grows from the average adolescent audience’s shy yet highly sexualised personality. Though this may sound stereotypical, evidence can be found within the popularity of dating simulation games and even pseudo-pornographic anime. In Silent Hill 2, the development are aware of this pop culture in their Japanese homeland and intentionally twists the ‘rescue the girl’ scenario into a story about relationship fears.
There is a scene, preceding Maria’s cell, between James and Angela that highlights this theory. Both share a connection through the searching of the dead (Angela is looking for her mother’s tombstone) and a contemplation of suicide. James, however, notes his suicidal behaviour early on as a signal to the player about the allowance of unhealthy risks.
The scene involves James rescuing Angela from a physical monstrosity that she calls ‘Daddy’. The player is quick to respond to the dissociation between the parental title and the deformity onscreen and so injures the creature, resulting in Angela killing it in an act of uncontrollable aggression. We learn of the sexual abuse from her real father that resulted in his murder; all of which is foreshadowed through written narratives. Her mistrust in men is directed at James, mistaking his masculine rescue as a way of getting sexual favours and, like Laura before her, questions his fidelity with Mary. James is quick to point out that he has no ulterior, sexual motive in which the player can relate to. Angela is, in theory, a feminist voice dismayed with the real, almost sexual, nature in which male participants feel heroic in protecting the defenceless female.
The fire that dominates the final scene between James and Angela is real yet symbolic at the same time. Characters throughout the series (and survival horror in general) are judged on their actions. Their nightmares become real through unnatural means, e.g. Harry Mason’s single parenting fears become real in an extreme situation and the participating player sympathises with these primal issues. The fire scene reinforces the idea that James has ‘sinned’ like Angela and Eddie. All three are murderers, though unlike Eddie, who has taken control of his fear through desensitised violence, Angela is constantly tormented for her crime. James suffers a similar metaphorical fate when he, through the player’s reluctant permission, drops down near bottomless pits. While it is disorientating and physically impossible, the subtext draws upon the journey through the unknown self.
For James, the fire is a temporary sight, as the participant has yet to make the final actions that will determine the protagonist’s fate. For example, by looking at Mary’s photo it contributes to a redemptive ending. If Maria is looked after more carefully, the ending parameters veer more towards an ending where she and James escape the town, only for her to show symptoms of his wife’s illness. Unlike other videogames where decision making is signposted or time is frozen, these actions are performed fluently throughout the narrative.
’Know Your Ending’. It’s a classic screenwriting tip, no less valid for computer and videogame authors – and even player to a certain degree (players have to at least know there’s an ending). (25)
While interactivity in videogame narrative can be advantageous, it does present problems when creating a definitive end. Multiple ending structures that give participants a preferred ending and replay value, deny a sense of closure that is found in other media outlets like books and cinema. Repetition allows the screening of all possibilities, but by doing so, the overall arc loses coherency. While this process in Silent Hill 2 reinforces the ambiguities and symbolism, the various outcomes cloud the perception of the truest ending. Given the theory of Eastern and Western horror assimilation and the female castrator, it is most likely James, though gaining redemption by defeating his weakened castrator (a common noir theme) was doomed from the beginning. The recurring theme of loss is prominent throughout and foreshadows the protagonist’s pyritic victory.
Very few videogames, even with survival horror, will allow characters to be defeated. Videogame protagonists, much their cinematic counterparts, have endings where they’re victorious. To have the protagonist killed off cheats a player of their reward, but the Silent Hill series is based around a realist approach to an improbable world. Characters face adult situations and because they’re not the invulnerable kind of hero, they find solutions that may not work out for the best. Theoretically, it is a commentary for a society trying to find ground between traditionalist and modern.
James Sunderland is a protagonist that embodies the confusion between traditional and modern man. He is caught between the faithfulness of marriage vows and singular life. Despite this predicament, he still grants himself a position of authority and thus dictates right and wrong to others. He is the hero and yet he is damaged and naive enough to be presented as the everyman archetype. As the narrative progresses, the idea of heroism degrades the more his motives become muddled. Eddie, though clearly mentally disturbed, clearly has a grasp of his identity and believes in his justifications. It is interesting to note that James and Eddie are physically opposite; the former has a perfectly normal physique while the latter, an antagonist, is overweight with physical faults like unresponsive pupils.
Above: Our intital presumptions of Eddie, due to his childish attitude and oafish appearence, are no different to those who tormented him. Below: Laura turns out to be the only character that is completely innocent despite our intital suspicions of her.
Silent Hill 2 is one of the few videogames that manages be successfully innovative in its approach to the narrative. It assimilates the Eastern and Western horror tropes through fluid, cinematic interaction while understanding the themes behind the iconography being studied. As a testament to its popularity, the sequel is highly regarded not primarily for the gameplay but for the believable characters and storyline. The theory of Eastern and Western genre and culture assimilation holds weight in this videogame's approach to an artistic, interactive narrative.