I’m fully awake at 9 am. On a holiday. This, my dear Reader, is very unusual.
I’ve been awake for at least two hours now. Even on workdays, I don’t wake up this early unless I have to, and I’m usually not awake when I do. Not for at least another hour. I suppose an exception to that would be the days when I had my skills training, when we’d be in the labs by 9 and would be done by just before 1700. Even then, the shroud of sleep would be around my head like a hood.
I’ve spent the night trying to sleep and being awakened constantly by visions of twisted corridors, jammed doors, rusty metal fences, dirty hospital sheets over rotted walls, slow creatures with bludgeoning appendages, and so on. Last night, I streamed about 4 hours of Silent Hill 2. That’s the longest I’ve streamed in one go, and one of the longer play sessions I do of anything these days. Even though nothing during the period was remarkably scary or scarring, by the 7th time I was awoken by a Silent Hill scenario playing out in my head, it started to feel like something was awakened in my subconscious. By the 20th time, it felt like the ghost behind the things that I don’t remember in my head was busy filtering through all the material that was consumed. It was incredible.
I’ve been kept awake by scary movies and games before, but that was usually due to fright. An image, a sound, or an idea would be stuck in my head and repeating. I would be too scared to sleep. Perhaps the justification for that behaviour is that, if I stay awake, I can keep an eye on the thought. I can guard myself from it if I keep staring at it, even if the staring is unpleasant.
However, this last night was not one of those nights. I was not frightened by anything Silent Hill 2 showed me. However, I suppose I was sort of obsessed with it. So much of it doesn’t add up and yet those very things make complete sense. It’s common knowledge by now that the Silent Hill games operate within a “logic of a nightmare” sort of framework. The location, characters, and events are all just there to serve the overall feel of something that has gone terribly, disfiguringly wrong a short, but forgotten, time ago. It’s not the ‘ancient curse of doom and disaster’ flavour of horror. It’s more inspired by unethical science experiments than Aztec rituals. It’s more concerned with what we, as humans, are able to do and think right now than the things none of us remember doing anymore. That makes it much more interesting to me, since I’m convinced that you can convince me that any atrocity you can think of did, indeed, happen some number of thousand or hundred years ago. What we can do now, though, is another story. I suppose the reason for that is that if someone can do it now, then maybe I can do it too, and that is a horrifying thought. I’ve long since realised that, given that the situation lines up in the right way, anyone I know can turn into the worst kind of human being. Given the right situation, anyone can go so remotely demented that they would bring many depths of distress to anyone who recognises them. So, if someone out there, in our time and sensibilities, could do something unthinkably awful, what if I end up in their shoes? What if I am the one demented? What ancient people did in an ancient time is too far for me to make that connection. Their lives were so different I cannot begin to relate. Today’s insanities, though, could be anyone’s insanity. Given a certain margin of similarity of life, of course. I doubt a well-to-do white suburban Dutch family can relate to the horrors of a homeless Somalian child living in a town dominated by an angry militia, but they could probably do better with that than whatever an Assyrian prisoner in a Babylonian camp was afraid of.
Yet, each one of those times my whatever calmly woke me up from whatever my other whatever was conjuring up from the images and sounds I saw in the game, I realised that whatever that was was not actually from the game. Every time, it was a new location, sound, and scenario. They were all very Silent Hill, but not the same one. I suppose that is to be expected out of dreams, but I felt very surprised that my mind was that fascinated with the setting. Usually, when I’m awakened by repeating nightmares, they’re all similar and/or carry the same theme. With these ones, it was always different, except for the feeling that something has gone wrong. Maybe the reason why is because I honestly don’t know what to fear in Silent Hill. I’ve played the game for over 10 hours now (according the save file), and I still don’t know what the fuck I’m looking at. This is in no way a bad thing for the game to do- it is its biggest strength. The plot is fairly loose, and the characters don’t just linearly advance the storytelling forward. They obviously do facilitate the telling of the story, but they feel like they can just as well walk out of the protagonist’s path, never to be seen again. The voice acting for these characters constantly sinusoids between pretty spot on and hilariously off, and it makes it all harder to predict. Honestly, I’m glad this is the case, because the laughter is kind of necessary to break the game’s gloomy, choking air. The dialogue is good, but for some sub-plots it breaks the seriousness of what could be an effective narrative (I’m looking at you, Eddie, you humourless cunt). And yet all of that sort of falls in favour of the game. Silent Hill is Weird, and all of these flaws make it Meta Weird. I love works that leave me unsure as to whether they are good or bad, but leave me with a lot to process.
Now, I know that there is a certain point in the game where things line up and it turns out this is all about James Sunderland’s demons and deeds, but I have not encountered this yet, and I would like to assess two things that I find exemplify this Weird design in SH2. First, let’s talk about that one enemy I concededly named ‘Legs’.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Legs. Apparently they’re actually called Mannequins*.
See, the first time I saw that, I was really weirded out by the idea. It’s not scary, but it’s so fucking strange. That’s your design for your monster? A pair of legs with a pair of legs on top? How’s that not, like, a kid’s idea of what a monster would look like? If there wasn’t really loud clanking and screeching being played as the background “music” of the encounter, I would’ve burst out laughing. Mind, even though it’s just industrial noise played to a beat, I also fucking love the music of this game. Is it good music? Is it even music? Don’t know. What I do know is that it is effective, and the only way Legs is effective is the weird way. And here’s the other thing, Legs is like the second most common enemy type in the game. So you end up seeing it very often while playing. The fact that it isn’t immediately scary is intended. In fact, very few enemies in this game are immediately scary. They are, however, odd and out of place. They make you wanna come take a closer look, inspect them all around and see how they function, but you necessarily have to keep your distance and shoot them down before they take you out. Even now, after having seen Legs in action so many times, I wanna look up a 3D model of it and rotate it around to see how it moves.
The other thing I wanted to talk about was a scene/level/room that I encountered in my play last night, so it’s a bit of a spoiler for this section. If you want to play Silent Hill 2 completely clear, please do skip this paragraph. In this room, there’s a big garden with multiple headstones. The ones furthest away from the entrance had open graves, and the one to most left looked like it didn’t have a bottom. As soon as I saw that, I thought “that’s my grave, isn’t it?” Unsurprisingly, it was, and the two next to it had the names of two side characters. Now, at this point in the game, I’ve dropped through multiple bottomless holes in really weird/surreal buildings, so as soon as I saw the hole, I also knew that I had to drop through that to advance. Now, even though, to me, this room was very cheesy, it was still sort of taken aback that it chose to use this motif. It doesn’t really fit. I can understand it if it was, instead of a grave, a padded cell or an electric chair. A grave that you have to jump through, though, says to me (as James Sunderland) “You’re doing this to yourself. This is your fault.” I have a feeling that something at the end of the game will reveal to me why this is the case (especially since I already found a few writings saying that I should die if I wanted to get out of Silent Hill/fulfil my objective). Still, even if the meaning is fully intentional, it’s still not an original scene. Given how much of Silent Hill is incredibly creative and influential, to have this “Let me show you your own grave” scene here feels out of place and weird. The room’s surroundings are actually more interesting: this is a room in a building, with typical room walls and shit, which sort of independently breaks the geometry of the place (I mean, if you’ve been playing to this point, you really don’t expect anything to follow real life logic or physics or anything). Also, the grave a bottomless pit into what exactly? You’re like on the second floor of this building, and you’ve dropped down at least 2 similar pits so far, which both ended up with you being in a building. That kind of logic breaking is a lot of fun to go through, but it feels like my own headstone being there is intended to break the pace of ‘cool things you are now expecting but knowing’ with ‘cool thing you know but didn’t expect’.
Hallways, slow walking but fast crawling disfigurlings, rust and banging. Given that this is the first time I’m fully playing through one of these games, Silent Hill already won my heart and mind. I mean, it kept me up at night. Isn’t that a necessary pop love song lyric?
Funny how love is so much like a horror game, then. You don’t hear “Girl, I swear to you, one day your blood shall be spilt upon white sheets and your guts will make the flesh of the abominations which will haunt our lovely house on the beach” in lyrics very often. Maybe that’s the next pop revolution, then. Would make that drivel a bit more interesting, but only a bit.
*I stole the picture from the Silent Hill wiki. If you ever wanna read some really interesting lore of fucked up things, go there. I love the place. Even if it just spoiled something for me while I was scrolling around.