In the comments of a recent post about Silent Hill 2's Otherworld, I had a discussion with a reader about the time period in which the Silent Hill games take place. This is actually an interesting and difficult topic, so I thought that I would dedicate a post specifically to it.

First and foremost, let's remind ourselves of when the games were released:

Game titleOriginal release
Silent Hill coverSilent HillJanuary 1999
Silent Hill 2 coverSilent Hill 2September 2001
Silent Hill 3 coverSilent Hill 3May 2003
Silent Hill 4 coverSilent Hill 4: the RoomSeptember 2004

Contemporary fiction

It is very important to note that no specific dates ever appear in any of the Silent Hill games that were developed by Konami's internal Team Silent studio. If dates are provided, they are either only the month and day (and not the year), or they are time periods relative to the events of the game (such as referring to the "events of 17 years ago" in Silent Hill 3), or it is just the year of an historical event in the past (such as the document about the sinking of the Little Baroness). Even documents that you would expect to have dates (such as newspapers, journals, diaries, patient reports, and police records) are intentionally left dateless (or at least ambiguous).

In Silent Hill 2, there is a point in which James finds newspapers scattered around a hallway. Upon examining the floor or walls, James comments that the newspapers have today's date. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the developers to provide a specific date for the game, if they wanted to. They could have had James read the date on the paper to the player, or the paper itself (with its date) could have been made clearly visible. The developers didn't do this; they left it completely ambiguous.

Silent Hill 2 - labyrinth newspapers
James notes that these newspapers have today's date, but doesn't tell us what the date is.

The developers went out of their way to not provide any specific dates for the games. Why would they do this? Typically, works of fiction that are not set in particular time period are written to be contemporary. Unless otherwise specified, most works of fiction should be assumed to take place now with respect to the consumption of the work by its audience, regardless of when "now" happens to be. if it's not contemporary to consumption, then it's usually contemporary to creation. This is usually pretty obvious if the work contains detailed descriptions of locations, technologies, and events that can be easily dated.

If we look at the original Silent Hill game in a vacuum, then the game provides no internal indication that it takes place at any specific time period. Players in 1999 probably had no reason to believe that the game took place in any year other than 1999. The same is true for Silent Hill 2, 3, and 4: if looked at in a vacuum, they can all be considered to take place in the same year that they were released. And if you didn't even know the year that the game was released, there's very little within the games to indicate that they take place at any time other than now.

However, this assumption falls apart because there is an absolute time difference of seventeen years between the events of the first game and the events of the third game, even though the difference in time between releases of the games was only four years. So we can't assume that each game takes place in the year of its release. At least one game has to be shifted on the timeline. So which game (or games) should be assumed to have taken place when?

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Silent Hill: Cold Heart - pitch cover
Shattered Memories was derived from
a pitch called "Cold Heart",
which was not supposed to be a "re-imagining".

This may be old news to some people, but earlier this month, I came across a post on Silent Hill Memories dot net that included scans of the full, 14-page pitch document for the game that became Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Climax held a contest to give away seven copies of the document to fans, and scans of the document have since been posted online in various sources.

The document tells us that the final product ended up being radically different than the original concept. Apparently, Climax did not originally intend to do a remake / reboot / "re-imagining" of the original Silent Hill. Instead the plot would continue on with the standard Silent Hill timeline (presumabely following the events of Homecoming) with a new character. The game's working title was Silent Hill: Cold Heart. The document outlines what some of the game's intended features were supposed to be (including combat mechanics that were completely cut from the final product), describes the main character, and also provides a brief walkthrough of an early chapter of the game.

The introduction page describes the playable character: Jessica Chambers. Jessica was planned to be an over-stressed and emotionally-vulnerable college student. She ends up in Silent Hill after a freak snow storm causes her car to crash on her way to visit her parents.

Silent Hill: Cold Heart - Jessica Chambers
Page 1 and 2 describe the main character, Jessica Chambers, and how she ends up in Silent Hill.

Jessica is described as being "emotionally vulnerable" and is dependent on a therapist. She has nightmares and is "weighed down by a deep sadness". The pitch doesn't specify the nature of this sadness or her reason for being dependent on a therapist (other than perhaps the stress of college).

I would suspect that the reason for her sadness and the therapy would have been similar to Shattered Memories: that one or both of her parents are probably dead, she has repressed the memory, and experiences nightmares of Silent Hill as a subconscious attempt to confront these repressed memories. You know, repressed memories of dead people is what Silent Hill is all about, right? ...

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I was going through the comments on my posts a while back, and I came across a doozy of a comment by user Maiden T. I'm not going to replicate the entire post here, but you can review the comment at the link provided. In summary, the commenter asserts that Silent Hill, as a series, was never about occultism, and that all the games were "repressed-memory morality tales". The first Silent Hill and "to an extent the third one" are the exceptions (according to Maiden T).

Silent Hill - Incubus concept art
Totally unrelated image of a demon god...

My mind just about exploded when I read this comment, and I started typing up a response, only to realize that I had written a whole blog's worth of counter argument. So, I decided to just turn it into a new blog. I'll continue my series of analysis and interpretation articles about Silent Hill with a write-up about how the series is most definitely about occultism.

What is Silent Hill about?

I've already tackled two topics that I consider to be common myths about Silent Hill. The first was about the over-sexualization of Pyramid Head, and the second was about the realness of the Otherworld. Now I'll address one of the most fundamental misunderstandings about the series: what is it about?

The repressed-inner-demon myth

Probably the most core and fundamental myth about the Silent Hill series is the continued propagation of the idea that the series (as a whole) is about characters dealing with repressed inner demons - typically a repressed memory of guilt over a perceived sin which they have committed. This idea is rooted in the popularity of Silent Hill 2. It is so pervasive, that the designers and producers of newer installments of the series embrace it, while dismissing the other critical elements of the other games' stories:

"[My favorite SH game is] Silent Hill 2. I didn’t really care for all the heavy occult based storyline in SH1 and 3. I felt SH2 had the best stand alone storyline, and provided the best atmosphere of all the SH games by far.
[...]
I find all the in’s and out’s of ‘The Order’ to be overly intricate and rather uninteresting, but that’s just my opinion."
   - Devin Shatsky (producer, Shattered Memories, Downpour), in an interview with Hell's Descent (Nov 5, 2010).

The reason that Silent Hill 2's design was so successful (and unique within the series) is because SH2's excellent atmosphere was based around feelings of melancholy and depression rather than fear and threat. Exploring a character's personal guilt and depression works great when the entire game is designed around that central, unifying theme! It doesn't work quite so well when ...

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One of the greatest strengths of the early Silent Hill games - developed by internal Konami studio Team Silent - is their exceptional character design. The characters presented in these games are among the best in all of gaming history at illiciting emotional responses from the players - both positive and negative.

It all starts at the top, as the protagonists of all three games stand tall and proud as paragons of game character design. This blog will contain major plot spoilers for Silent Hill 1-3. Read at your own risk!

Having relatable and likable characters is essential to the success of just about any horror story (whether in the form of a book, movie, game, or any other medium). It's hard to feel afraid for a character that you just don't care for.

Harry Mason of Silent Hill is a great example of a relatable "Joe Everyman" protagonist. Harry is a simple writer trying to take his daughter on a vacation. He wrecks his car and wakes up to find his daughter is missing in a seemingly deserted and haunted town that is closed off from the outside world. Harry isn't a superhero or elite special forces operative. He's just a guy. He could be anybody. This makes him instantly relatable to an audience.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012 09:01 PM

A Father's Day tribute to Harry Mason

in Video Gaming by MegaBearsFan

Fathers in video games don't typically turn out to be very good role models or successful parental figures. Often, they end up being surprise villains, or they turn out to have been neglectful or abusive (physically or emotionally). A lot of times, parents in video games turn into cannon fodder, dying early in the game in order to push the protagonist into his or her heroic role.

Very rarely do you have a father character in a video game who sticks around and actually gives his children any amount of love or support. That's why I think Harry Mason is such a special character in video games, and quite possibly the best video game dad of all time. So this Father's Day, I'd like to take a moment to pay tribute to this wonderfully-designed gold-standard of video game parenting.

Silent Hill - Harry wakes up in diner
Harry Mason goes through hell and puts his life on the line to protect his seven-year-old adopted daughter in quite possibly the most fatherly display of love and dedication that you will find in a video game.

I recently had conversations with an old friend of mine from high school (screenname Huh?Mr.Box!) who had recently played the Silent Hill games for the first time. I expected to hear that his favorite game was Silent Hill 2, and that his favorite character would be James or Pyramid Head. I mean, that's what every Silent Hill fanboy says, right? Personally, I'm fond of Heather from Silent Hill 3. I'll admit, I had a huge crush on her when I played the game for the first time (and before you start calling me a perv, I was 17 when that game released!) because it was so unusual to see such a well-developed female character in a game.

I was surprised, however, when my friend's favorite character ended up not being James, or Pyramid Head, or even Heather, but rather Heather's father: Harry.

I guess with all the crazy characters that the Silent Hill series is known for, Harry kind of gets lost in the shuffle as being too "normal". But when asked why he liked Harry so much, my friend eloquently responded: "because he's such an awesome dad!"

And you know what, Harry is an awesome dad!...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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