Silent Hill 2 and Guilt: Part 5
Here’s the final part of the Silent Hill 2 post series. Enjoy.
Guilty James (Continued):
The structure of the game’s narrative is important because of the “need of translatability” for conveying psychologically-motivated stories to James and the player. Laurie Taylor states that “video games connect to a long tradition of fairy and folk tales” (Taylor, 3). By combining mature themes and horror with a fairy tale tradition, this gives the game narrative a very efficient tool to work with. The player can be reminded that they are playing a video game and a story, but at the same time, this story says something profound about the human nature of guilt.
Taylor quotes Matt Bittanti who states that the avatar is “a technologically charged doppelganger,” (Taylor, 18) reminding us of Kirkland’s findings about the connection between player and avatar. This doubling of the player and player-character “is repeated throughout video games for both player-characters and their enemies” (Taylor, 18) and she makes the example of Doppelgangers in other games such as Shadow or Dark Link as Link’s Doppelganger in the Legend of Zelda series.
She also references Judith Halberstam who explains that “the monster…is the subject’s double, and “represents not simply that which is the buried self, rather the monster is evidence of the production of multiformed egos. Indeed, it is only the evidence of one self buried in the other that makes the subject human”” (Taylor, 18). Thus, the monsters’ function in Silent Hill serves as a shadow, a double, and the sight of James’ darker images.
Vardoulakis also speaks of the Doppelganger and that “Doppelganger characters tend to be associated with evil and the demonic, thus one can infer that the Doppelganger presents a notion of the subject/subjectivity that is defective, disjunct, threatening, spectral” (Vardoulakis, 110). He also says the Doppelganger is “a form of relationality that is not only a condition of possibility, but also a reflection of and on that condition” (Vardoulakis, 110) and that the Doppelganger “represents the subject as more or less pathologically divided between reality and fantasy” (Vardoulakis, 105).
Two very important Doppelganger characters in Silent Hill 2 are Maria and a character known by fans as “Pyramid Head” (he is called “that red pyramid thing” by James in the game during a conversation with another character, Eddie).
Pyramid Head is a Doppelganger character born out of James’ unconscious guilt over the murder of Mary, and he represents James’ anger and sexual frustration. His first appearance is while James is exploring the Woodside Apartments early in the game; he is seen, complete with eerie red aura, standing on the other side of wall of bars, separate from James. With James on one side of the bars and Pyramid Head on the other, this represents Pyramid Head as a split version of James represented in physical form.
Pyramid Head initially carries with him a large sword called a Great Knife. In the stairwell of the Blue Creek Apartments, Pyramid Head kills a Lying Figure monster and then turns his attention on James. Prior to this, James receives a knife from another character, Angela. Angela’s knife represents the option of suicide (examining this knife enough fulfills a requirement for the suicidal “In Water” ending), and it is no coincidence that Pyramid Head’s Great Knife highly resembles Angela’s knife. This Great Knife represents the violent retribution and punishment from the masochistic unconscious guilt.
Another example of Pyramid Head’s goal of punishing James is if the player finds a newspaper article in the Woodside Apartments garbage. It is a story of a man named Walter Sullivan who kills two children. The article remarks that Walter never seemed like the kind of person who would kill people, and it tells the story of how Walter commits suicide in jail while blurting out, “He’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to punish me. The monster… the red devil. Forgive me. I did it, but it wasn’t me!” (Silent Hill 2). Walter Sullivan’s newspaper clipping is another symbol of James’ unconscious guilt. At this stage in the game, James is still unaware of what is going on, but this provides a hint to the player the nature of Pyramid Head’s role in the narrative. James also doesn’t understand Angela at this stage of the game when she says “You’re just like me” and “We’ll get what we deserve” (Silent Hill 2).
In addition to the Walter Sullivan article, James can also discover “patient records” during his trip with Maria to the Brookhaven Hospital. There, he finds records of three patients: Jack Davis, Joseph Barkin and Joshua Lewis—they all represent fragments of James’ psyche. Jack is described as a model patient with suicidal tendencies for unknown reasons. Joseph is a psychotic delusional patient who is guilt-ridden in the belief that he caused his daughter’s death. He is normally calm, but violent when excited. Joshua, the third patient, has a strong persecution complex and is dangerously violent (Silent Hill 2).
Sound familiar yet, James? The entire game is littered with clues and hints for James through repeated depictions of multiple, fragmented selves whether it is through written descriptions of personas like the “J” patients and Walter or through non-player character Doppelgangers like Pyramid Head and Maria. Other hints produced in the game pointing toward James’ guilt include imagery of Mary—for example, he obtains the flashlight off of a mannequin wearing Mary’s clothes, and in Room 202 of Woodside Apartments there are dead butterflies (butterflies are a Japanese cultural symbol of the dead) on the bed (the site where Mary was smothered to death by James).
Before I talk more about Pyramid Head, I need to explain the creation of Maria. When James gets the false letter from Mary at the start of the game, he wonders if the special place Mary refers to is the Rosewater Park by Toluca Lake. Fueled by his desire to meet Mary at the park, Maria materializes there.
Maria can be a very perplexing character for the player to observe. Visually, she is a replica of Mary, and James mistakes her for Mary. He exclaims that Maria could be her twin, but there are fundamental differences between Maria and Mary. For instance, Mary’s dress style was very conservative, but Maria’s clothes and makeup are highly sexualized. She is a symbol of James’ desire to see Mary again. However, this desire is mutated and perverted by the way James remembers Mary, and thus, we meet Maria instead.
She is a Doppelganger of Mary and James’ perception and desire of Mary, and she is only real to him. This is implied because no other characters see her—at the Bowl-O-Rama, she waits outside, unseen by Laura and Eddie. The only other character to interact with her is Pyramid Head, another Doppelganger character created by James. She is a very interesting character because she flirts with James (“See how warm I am?”) and she acts, in a way, as a guide through the narrative (“Is this your only special place?”). She also seems to be able to access areas of the game that James cannot—at Heaven’s Night, she fishes out keys to let them into the previously unavailable area. Her concern for the little girl, Laura, also reflects Mary’s in-life concern for Laura, and this also serves as the drive to visit Brookhaven Hospital.
Brookhaven Hospital is a very symbolic portion of the game. Mary spent three years of her life slowly dying in a hospital. Since James rarely visited her, she spent much of her time with a young orphan named Laura. She would tell her all about the wonderful little resort town of Silent Hill. James and Maria follow Laura, chasing her to Brookhaven Hospital, representative of the space where Mary and Laura once bonded.
At the hospital, Maria suddenly becomes ill, representing Mary’s illness. James leaves her in one of the rooms to rest; if the player checks on her enough, it contributes toward the ending where James leaves Silent Hill with Maria. Eventually, the world will transform into the extremely monstrous Otherworld, and James will be unable to find Maria. Maria will find James and grow angry with him and accusing him of only caring about his dead wife. Soon, Pyramid Head appears, chases them down and kills Maria in front of James as he escapes into an elevator. The fact that the game world transforms into the Otherworld represents his unconscious becoming more aggressive, and this ends up being true as Pyramid Head kills Maria, simulating for James his unconscious guilt over killing Mary.
In the Labyrinth section of the game, James will find Maria alive again in a cell and she has no recollection of her death. At first, her personality appears to be that of Mary—“James honey. Did something happen to you? After we got separated in that long hallway? Are you confusing me with someone else? (laugh) You were always so forgetful. Remember that time in the hotel? You said you took everything. But you forgot that videotape we made. I wonder if it’s still there…” And James, bewildered, asks how she knows about that—“Aren’t you Maria?” (Silent Hill 2). She quickly reverts back to her Maria personality—“I’m not your Mary.” And James says, “So you’re Maria.” She responds, “I am, if you want me to be… Doesn’t matter who I am. I’m here for you James. See? I’m real” (Silent Hill 2). She then suggests he will receive sexual favors if James rescues her. Later on in this section, James returns to find her laying on the bed, beaten to death.
The fact that Maria brings up the Lakeview Hotel twice is no coincidence (first time at the Park, second time in the Labyrinth) because Lakeview Hotel is the final area of the game. James remembers Room 312 and the video tape. Upon finding the tape, he sees the very real video of Mary from their time at Silent Hill discussing the town as a sacred place and her desire to return. Then, it cuts to James’ memory of sitting by Mary’s bedside, kissing her one last time, and smothering her with a pillow—the memory is jumbled and fuzzy, but unmistakable. James then confesses his guilt to Laura. Then, Mary’s voice calls out to James through his radio.
Everything that happens prepares James for his final confrontations with Pyramid Head and the final boss… Mary. Knowing the truth of his actions, he is able to consciously recognize his guilt and confront it. When James witnesses a third death of Maria, he finally understands the purpose of Pyramid Head: “I was weak. That’s why I needed you. I needed someone to punish me for my sins. But that’s all over now. I know the truth. Now it’s time to end this” (Silent Hill 2). The final boss with Mary is one last trial—it shows James’ guilt and remorse over killing her, his resentment of Mary for taking away three years of his life with her illness, but also his desire to show his love for her by putting her out of her misery. Depending on the achieved ending, or in fact, no matter which ending the player achieves, it is undeniable that James is a complex character with complex emotion and he is neither completely moral nor immoral.
Sound also “fills survival horror games to define characters’ relationship to the virtual space of the game world, the narrative and each other” (Taylor, 15). Taylor’s assertion about sound means that sound can be reliable in this regard, especially in Silent Hill, because of the lack of light and heavy fog. The sound effects of screeching radio static and the game’s soundtrack are vital for enhancing the feel of the game and of James’ character emotions. The music provides a feel of longing, of anxiety, of feeling lost, of uneasiness and fear, of nostalgia, of anger and hate and violence and darkness—great example tracks from the game include song titles like “Prisonic Fairytale,” “Heaven’s Night,” “Betrayal,” “Black Fairy,” “Love Psalm,” “Forest,” “Promise,” “Promise (Reprise),” “Theme of Laura,” “Theme of Laura (Reprise),” “Laura Plays the Piano,” and more.
A song like “Promise” is a reference to the promise James is unable to keep to his wife Mary—the promise of returning with her to Silent Hill. However, though he does not keep this promise in real life, one could argue that he keeps it symbolically—he returns to Silent Hill with her memory buried in his heart. This song also represents the “ghost” of Mary that James carries with him, Maria. “Promise” plays during the Maria ending—James leaves Silent Hill with Maria, but he has not confronted his guilt. It is still there in the form of Maria, and it is believed that this ending symbolizes that events will repeat themselves again.
The “Leave” ending, where James leaves with Laura, represents a positive therapeutic experience. In his final scene with Mary after the final boss fight, James accepts his act of murder as both an act of love but also an act of selfishness. Mary ultimately forgives him and tells him to go on with his life. In the end, the player is rewarded with a reading of an actual letter from Mary, and James is seen leaving town with Laura, having adopted her according to Mary’s in-life wishes and desire. Thus, James is able to work through his unconscious guilt and intrapsychic conflict in Silent Hill and ends up not only surviving but developing from providing meaning to his experience.
On the other hand, the player could achieve the “In Water” ending—the most likely ending. This would mean that James’ experience in Silent Hill would be a negative therapeutic response to his unconscious guilt. This would mean that the entire game was one big masochistic venture leading up to death.
In conclusion, though Silent Hill 2 constantly reminds us of its status as a video game, it does provide a profound example fictional narrative of guilt and grief. It provides a glimpse using James to see the processes of how guilt is processed by the unconscious and conscious self, how the human psyche is multiple and divided, and how extreme experiences can transform a life forever.
I hope you all enjoyed this series of posts on Rogue Princess Squadron, and you can also find the original post of this essay on my old blog, Baconsnowflakes. Below you will find my list of references throughout the essay, and I do invite you all to read some or all of these. The Ewan Kirkland, Marc Santos/Sarah White and Laurie Taylor articles are all really interesting, especially for us gamers!
Hollan, Douglas. “Constructivist Models of Mind, Contemporary Psychoanalysis, and the Development of Culture Theory.” American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 102, No. 3. 538-550. 2000.
Johnston, Adrian. “Affekt, Gefuhl, Empfindung: Rereading Freud on the Question of Unconscious Affects.”Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol. 18, No. 2. 249-289. Spring/Summer 2010.
Kirkland, Ewan. “Restless dreams in Silent Hill: approaches to video game analysis.” Journal of Media Practice. Vol. 6, No. 3. 167-178. 2005.
Kirkland, Ewan. “The Self-Reflexive Funhouse of Silent Hill.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. Vol. 13(4), 403-415. 2007.
Kirkland, Ewan. “Horror Videogames and the Uncanny.” Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory. Proceedings of DiGRA. 1-4. 2009.
Santos, Marc & White, Sarah. “Playing with Ourselves: A Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill.” Digital Gameplay: Essays on the Nexus of Game and Gamer. 69-79. Ed. Garrelts, Nate. McFarland & Company, Inc. 2005.
Santos, Marc & White, Sarah. “Saving Ourselves: Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill.” Game Career Guide. 1-4, 2007. http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/334/saving_ourselves_psychoanalytic_.php
Silent Hill 2. Konami Computer Entertainment, Tokyo (Playstation 2, Xbox, Windows). 2001.
Taylor, Laurie. “Fractured Identities: Sibling sand Doubles in Video Games.” Reconstruction 5.2. 1-30. 2005.
Vardoulakis, Dimitris. “The Return of Negation: The Doppelganger in Freud’s “The Uncanny.”” SubStance, Issue 110 (Vol. 35, No. 2). 100-116. 2006.