Examining (and Destabilizing) Gender in Silent Hill 2

despondent james

Editor’s note: Waaaaaay back when I was starting my Consulting Analyst series on Silent Hill, I promised that when it concluded I would show you all a very special little piece of nostalgia: 21 year old Vrai’s senior thesis; or, what you might call the very first Consulting Analyst. 

Parts of this are still rough around the edges – it lacks the easygoing tone I’ve developed for analytic discussion in years since, it’s evident I haven’t really learned the complex language to make a truly meaningful discussion of gender-as-spectrum rather than as modified binary, and God help me since it’s an academic paper I felt compelled to mention Freud (in comparison to younger me, I mainly abstain in favor of Lacan instead). 

But even still, I’m proud of where I’ve come from. Of my continuing weird and deeply personal fondness for James Sunderland. So please, come enjoy this trip to the past with me.

(Oh, and pack a lunch. This sucker was the capstone of four years of work, and it’s about two and a half times the length of your average Consulting Analyst).

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The Consulting Analyst – Silent Hill Downpour

guilt

[Apologies for the late arrival, readers. Please enjoy this last look into the Silent Hill franchise, and – barring a last minute deluge of voters – prepare to enjoy some Dumas-inspired analysis to take this franchise’s place in the future.]

The final stop on our tour (because at present there’s nothing I can say about PT’s present that hasn’t been covered more adroitly, and it hasn’t been long enough for a real post-mortem; and Book of Memories isn’t part of the mainline canon) is the first draft of a really great Silent Hill game. This was tragically undermined by the fact that it got lumped into Konami’s shortsighted attempt to flood the market with three SH games during its 2012 “Month of Madness,” and the fact that despite getting delayed multiple times the final product was still a bug-ridden mess on top of the arguable conceptual problems. I mean, it came out better than the HD Collection, but desiccated corpses repurposed as compost heaps come out with a better smell of quality than the HD Collection did.

The main protagonist – well, the player character (more on that later) of Downpour is Murphy Pendleton (David Boyd Konrad), a prison inmate who winds up in Silent Hill when the bus transporting him to a maximum security facility crashes at the edge of town. Murphy is pursued by dogged police officer Anne Cunningham, and haunted by the town’s usual bag of head-spelunking hallucinations. You can watch a pretty thorough walkthrough of it here (alas, I’ve never found a version with commentary that particularly appealed).

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The Consulting Analyst – Silent Hill Revelation

hell carnival

Few things are more difficult than explaining your love for a bad movie. Which seems like a pretty straight-on indictment of Silent Hill Revelation, but hear me out. I didn’t just watch this movie, I stalked it. For years. I had director Michael J Bassett’s blog on about six different favorites lists, and I coveted every last promising screenshot and bit of news. And it was promising news, is the thing, spoken by a voice that was clearly an avid fan of the search material.

And then the movie itself came out. And well…alright, imagine a small child comes up to you and hands you a portrait they did of you. The picture in question is only vaguely humanoid in shape, and the drawing-you seems to have three feet of forehead and conspicuous stink lines. But the kid’s just looking up at you with such expectant, loving eyes that it’s kind of impossible to get mad. Maybe you find a way to “accidentally” lose the thing later, but you just can’t resent the effort. Plus, it provides us a unique opportunity to examine how good intentions can be eaten by the stifling demands of the mainstream film industry! Continue reading

The Consulting Analyst – Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

 farewell

Released a mere year after Homecoming’s severe critical lashing, Shattered Memories was working from a pretty notable deficit of fan enthusiasm. Perhaps partly because of this, many of the decisions surrounding the game’s identity and presentation feel reactionary, tied to the knowledge of its existence in a franchise that by then had firmly entered the headspace of being called “once prestigious.” Its awareness of its audience is constant, from the major marketing hook of “the game plays you as much as you play it” on down. And while on the surface level this ends up being a bit groan-worthy (the NPC changes are largely cosmetic and the psych evaluation is pretty simplistic fortune cookie stuff), it manages to sneak its way into being the Smart Meta Entry in the series.

A quick plot summary: the game splits time between first-person therapy sequences that scream This is Not a Twist in Dr. Michael “that drug-pushing dickbag side mission” Kaufmann’s office and a 3rd person POV retelling of the events of the first Silent Hill (novelist Harry Mason gets in a car crash, runs out into Silent Hill to find his daughter) that turns sour and odd very quickly. And as you might suspect there’s no way to talk about this game without knowledge of its ending, so you can do a Let’s Play catch up here.

Good? Okay, we’re moving on.

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The Consulting Analyst – Silent Hill Homecoming

in a nutshell

It’s not uncommonly said that Silent Hill Homecoming is the worst Silent Hill game on account of it stealing the basic twist from Silent Hill 2 while also having an overabundance of terribly programmed combat. That is not (solely) true. Homecoming is the worst Silent Hill game because every uncovered gem of promising storytelling is almost immediately drowned in a mire of vomited detritus emerging from the fumbling mouths and hands of the development team. And in the process of revisiting the game, I’ve become a bit fond of the game, or at least the story, this might’ve been.

A quick plot summary for those whose memories are foggy (or who skipped this one altogether): Alex Shepherd is returning home (allegedly from military service) to the sleepy town of Shepherd’s Glen, neighbor to Silent Hill. He goes home only to find his little brother Josh missing, along with many of the town’s children, and sets off across the mist- and monster-infested streets on a hellbent quest to find his brother. You can watch a pretty good Let’s Play here.

Now, let’s knock those not-inconsiderable negatives out of the way first, and then get to the meat of the thing.

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The Consulting Analyst – Silent Hill 0rigins

travis

Considering it has no reason to exist, Silent Hill 0rigins has a surprising amount going for it. Well, a surprising amount of story things going for it. Well, its main character is interesting. I mean, they reference Shakespeare, that’s got to be good. Right?

Alright, so the game design is a dodgy thing (breakable weapons were possibly the worst thing they could’ve proudly carried on from SH4, and there is a healthy scattering of glitches foreshadowing what is later to come); and the plot is functional fanfiction at best, with a fairly dodgy characterization of Lisa in particular. But I wasn’t kidding about Travis. Or the Shakespeare.

SH0’s plot stands as a prequel to the first game. Like SH protagonist Harry Mason, trucker Travis Grady nearly runs over a young girl on the highway. Unlike Harry Mason, Travis doesn’t especially have any reason to follow after her but does so nonetheless. This leads him to the burning Gillespie house, where the Silent Hill cult has just begun the immolation step of their new world order plot. Travis carries Alessa out of the building, passes out (something he spends a lot of time doing), and wakes up within the haunted town proper. Trying to find out what happened to the girl, and later doing an unwitting fetch quest for her, leads Travis on a greatest hits tour of Silent Hill faces and the demons of his own past – which just so happen to mirror Alessa’s. You can watch a pretty good Let’s Play of it here.

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The Consulting Analyst – Silent Hill (2006)

Christophe Gans’ adaptation of Silent Hill is one of the better videogame films out there, a title as honorable and unchallenged as “Best Logger Using Only Teeth” or “Suma Cum Laude: Class of Infant Punching.” Most videogame movies of that decade were directed by Uwe Bolle, is the point. At any rate, what we have here is the beginning of the fan-helmed SH products, a well-meant but rocky period that came to a screeching halt with Homecoming (no doubt this film’s dire financial straits did nothing to help the situation). They tend to be characterized by some good ideas and a pet interest in putting a spin on some particular set of themes from the existing works, as fans are wont to do. And that fact helps the film come dangerously close to working in some respects while dragging it down irreparably in others, leaving us with a pretty, bewildering mess.

I’m also pretty sure Christophe Gans thinks he made a feminist horror movie.

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