Silent Hill 2 Guilt: Part 3
The last of the background info on which I will build my own findings… Ewan Kirkland.
Another important figure in Silent Hill writing is Ewan Kirkland, author of “The Self-Reflexive Funhouse of Silent Hill” (2007), “Restless dreams in Silent Hill: approaches to video game analysis” (2005), and “Horror Games and the Uncanny” (2009). In the 2005 article, Kirkland looks at identity representation; he writes that “player performance constitutes another form of storytelling…gamers, Atkins argues, are simultaneously players, readers and authors, constructing stories within the game’s structural parameters” (Kirkland, 169). He also notes that the player’s avatar in Silent Hill represents “average individuals with no superpowers or military expertise,” (Kirkland, 172) and in being average and un-extraordinary in their physical abilities, they provide a representation of the player. Building upon Santos and White, there is more establishment of the player/avatar relationship. Characters like James Sunderland could be just about anyone and are therefore easy for the player to relate to them. This also means we are more invested in what happens to them just as we are invested in our own well-being and success. He concludes that “identity construction within video games may be largely located in representation, but the entire apparatus of a game text might itself be gendered, raced, classed and sexualized” (Kirkland, 176).
In his 2007 article, he discusses in his abstract that “Silent Hill constitutes an extremely self-reflexive series, frequently acknowledging its videogame status and interrogating the medium as experience and text. This, paradoxically, produces an experience of simultaneous critical distance and intensified engagement” (Kirkland, 403). This correlates with what he says previously about gamers, storytelling and the avatar—they are aware of their status as the player as the outside observer but at the same time, they are also immersed in the main character’s storyline and goals.
Kirkland also recognizes “the games’ often dream-like state, their shifting between realities, the bleak sense of determinism, manipulation by transcendental forces, and player vulnerability, alongside the many personal deaths players will inevitably suffer throughout…” (Kirkland, 404). He notes how the game will break the fourth wall to address the player who controls the main character, confronting the player’s implication in the action and often giving leading hints. For example, Kirkland singles out a moment in the Daisy Villa Apartments when you control James in order to check a mailbox; he will say that there is no letter “…from a dead wife or otherwise.” Such practices as these “frequently intensify the horror videogame experience, even as they draw players’ attention to their constructed nature” (Kirkland, 405) In this same example, Kirkland simultaneously highlights the constructed nature of the game AND the constructed nature of James’ memory/consciousness. Deliciously done.
Another important thing he talks about is the landscape of Silent Hill—bloody, dirty, rusty, corroded, corrupted landscape full of fog, mutilated monstrous forms, unsettling music and scratchy radio static sound effects. Alternating between open spaces obscured by thick fog and tight, narrow, maze-like spaces “is central to maintaining tension, anxiety and fear” (Kirkland, 407), and that “the sensation of being subjected to pre-determined forces…produces a genre-specific experience in horror games, characterizing formal themes human agents being preyed upon by uncontrollable supernatural powers” (Kirkland, 407). The “normal” and “Otherworld” versions of Silent Hill’s game world reflects upon the main character and represents him or her. In James’ case, his view of Silent Hill (which we share as the player who controls his action) reflects his “obsessive reliving of Mary’s death and his failure to save her” (Kirkland, 407).
He also returns to the “They look like monsters to you?” issue. Kirkland jumps ahead to Silent Hill 3, but the subject matter is quite applicable to this essay… Returning to Vincent’s question to Heather in the third game, Vincent suggests that monsters only look horrifying and threatening to the main character and are thus “undeserving of [her] violence” (Kirkland, 413). In the case of the second game, Kirkland says that the final boss is…
…a monstrously transformed version of James’ dead wife (or Maria– we’ll get into that with some detail later), exemplifies such tendencies. By this final stage attentive players might suspect James’ responsibility for Mary’s death (only “might,” Mr. Kirkland?), due to his conflicting feelings towards her, and that the entire game is a projection of James’ tortured imagination. Killing Mary, in this context, represents a repetition of James’ act of euthanasia—a misogynistic obliteration of the woman he grew to resent, the manifestation of his guilt and self-loathing. While remaining something players must enact to complete the game, numerous elements signify its dubious morality. (Kirkland, 413)
(We know this to be an accurate reading of the game, but here’s my angle… We know James feels guilt and self-loathing. We know why. But how does it work? What’s going on in that head of his? After all, it’s our nature as human beings to keep prying. Clearly, the second half of my series will be all about prying… but let’s just finish up the background first, shall we?)
In his 2009 article, Kirkland discusses the player and avatar relationship further (yes, I love to keep coming back to this) by saying that the “avatar represents the “I” on screen,” applying “psychoanalytic theory to videogames in discussion of the “unstable dialectic” between player and avatar, which exists as both self and other” (Kirkland, 1). The digital figure of the avatar, he writes, “unsettles the boundaries between dead object and living person” (Kirkland, 2), becoming, as he quotes Donna Haraway, “a figure of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (Kirkland, 2). (Unrelated note: I recommend checking out Haraway’s work, Cyborg Manifesto) Because of this connection between the player and avatar and their ambiguous relationship, “videogame processes can be subjected to a range of productive psychoanalytic interpretations. Horror videogames…have many uncanny resonances which can be used to explore their psychological and emotional impact” (Kirkland, 3)