Silent Hill: The Short Message - title

Silent Hill: The Short Message is a first-person horror game about wandering through looping, decrepit hallways in an abandoned apartment building, while confronting a secret, repressed guilt. And stop me if you've heard any of this before.

Silent Hill used to be a series that innovated, that pushed the envelope. The first game basically introduced the video-game-playing public to the concept of psychological horror. The second polished the formula to introspective perfection, while also providing a template for a plot twist that would be repeated in (what feels like) every horror game since -- at least the ones not named Resident Evil. Even action-oriented games like Dead Space ripped off Silent Hill 2.

Silent Hill 3 introduced gamers to a teenage girl protagonist who actually felt like a real person, instead of being a hyper-sexualized "boob ninja" in a bikini or skin-tight catsuit, while also providing jaw-dropping technical accomplishments. The moving, bleeding, living environmental textures of Silent Hill 3's Otherworld amazing and un-precedented at the time. And it's character models and lighting looked better than many games that would be released on the following generation of consoles.

Hideo Kojima's playable teaser P.T. spawned a cohort of horror games ripping off the formula of first-person looping hallway horrors, of which The Short Message is only the latest example. And heck, even P.T. was really only popularizing horror conventions that Silent Hill 4 had already started experimenting with a decade earlier.

This is a blunt and earnest depiction of teen depression, self-harm, and suicide.

The Short Message, on the other hand, is largely a retreading of horror gaming tropes that are quickly becoming tired and stale. The looping hallways were mind-blowing back when P.T. did it -- ten years ago. But I've seen it in seemingly every horror game since, from Layers of Fear to Visage to MadIson.

It isn't just general horror trends that The Short Message is retreading either. It's also invoking well-worn and frustrating habits that the Silent Hill series just refused to break in its never-ending quest to recreate the lightning-in-a-bottle that was Silent Hill 2. The character's repressed guilt being hidden from the player and revealed as a mid or late-game plot twist? Check. The person you're looking for being dead already? Check. Silent Hill acting as a purgatory that seems to be willfully trapping people until they confront and overcome aforementioned guilt? Check.

The heaviest, bluntest hammer Konami could find

One thing that The Short Message doesn't bother to copy from its ancestors is the subtlety and nuance that Silent Hill used to be famous for. The Short Message is unbelievably heavy-handed, blunt, and melo-dramatic. This is owing, in large part, to trepidation from Konami and/or developer HexaDrive about how to depict the game's subject matter: teen depression, self-harm, and suicide. It's a touchy subject, for sure. One has to give credit to Konami and HexaDrive for so directly addressing an issue that most game publishers and developers won't touch with a 20-foot pole.

HexaDrive's depiction of mental illness is not
as hopeless and fatalistic as Bloober's.

But this is also where The Short Message lands on one of its greatest strengths. It's blunt depiction of teen suicide is at least a hopeful and optimistic one -- one that is also grounded based on the very real social and technological issues that often motivate or catalyze real-life self-harm and suicide by actual teenagers. And this is not something that we should overlook in discussion of The Short Message. It's almost the polar opposite of how Team Bloober (the company that is developing the Silent Hill 2 remake) has historically treated the same topic. Bloober has always shown abuse victims as totally, fundamentally broken individuals for whom death or suicide is a welcome release that spares the world from their burden.

In contrast to Bloober, The Short Message wants depressed teens to know that they are not broken, that they can get help, and that there are people out there who care about them and would miss them and would be there for them in their times of need. The Short Message wants people to know that recognizing the red flags, and talking to the person can save their life, and that, for the depressed individual, things will get better.

If nothing else, The Short Message has its heart in the right place.

And let's face it, teenagers aren't exactly known for subtlety or nuance. Teenagers do tend to blow things out of proportion and be melo-dramatic. So it's hard for me to hold The Short Message's overly-blunt and melo-dramatic dialogue against it. Yeah it's cringe-worthy at times, but it's cringey in exactly the way that real-life teenagers are often cringey. There might also be more intentionality behind the blunt, cringey dialogue than is apparent at the surface level. Does the heavy-handed and cringey dialogue represent the literal events as they actually happened? Or are we seeing the world as the teenage character sees it?

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The rumors regarding new Silent Hill games are true. Well, some of them anyway. It doesn't look like Hideo Kojima or Guillermo del Torro will have anything to do with any of it. Konami finally broke the silence regarding its plans for the Silent Hill franchise, and announced 4 new games and a new movie! I have very mixed feelings about all of this.

Market saturation

First and foremost, announcing 4 new game projects all at once feels like overkill to me. I really hope that these games are spaced out and aren't all released at the same time or in quick succession. Remember the last time Konami tried releasing a bunch of new Silent Hill content in its 2012 "Month of Madness"? Yeah, that didn't go over too well.

I'm having enough trouble keeping up with the oversaturation of streaming Franchise TV series.

More generally, keeping up with the oversaturation of content from franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel is already difficult, and I can't keep up. I don't need all my favorite video game franchises piling onto that oversaturation. People have lives outside of media consumption, and I'm sick to death of these corporations thinking that they have a right to monopolize our time by throwing dart after dart at walls in the hopes that some particular dart sticks in the bullseye. I do not owe Disney, or CBS/Paramount, or Konami any of my time, and I've gotten to the point that I don't offer my time unless I have an expectation that it will be worth it. So if any of these Silent Hill games does not look worth my time, I won't play them, and they can go in the pile of un-consumed content along with Book of Memories and most of the crappy graphic novels and comics.

That being said, I'm expecting that most (if not all) of these titles will be relatively short, niche horror games -- "short" compared to the massive open world grind-a-thons that other studios keep trying to shove down our throats. I don't expect any of these new Silent Hill games to be 100+ hour, open world, live service games that are designed explicitly to waste my time and try to steer me towards buying "time-saver" micro-transactions and loot boxes. That doesn't mean that Konami won't find a way to put micro-transactions and loot boxes into the games. But I expect these games will likely be more traditional, conservative 8 to 15-hour horror campaigns. This means that I will likely have time to split between these games and other games, and also between these games and each other (should they all be released contemporaneously, and I chose to play them all).

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I frequently hear people bring up the infamous Fukuro video as a counter to my essay on why Silent Hill 2's Pyramid Head isn't a rapist. I haven't addressed this issue in the past because I actually don't know that much about the video or its creation. But I thought I would take a moment to address this issue. First off, let's watch the video in question (warning: contains disturbing content that may not be suitable for sensitive viewers).

This video was made by a small group of Team Silent members, most notably, Masahiro Ito and Akira Yamaoka, and it was included in a documentary DVD titled The Art of Silent Hill. There isn't really much information about this video on the internet other than speculation. As far as I know, Ito and Yamaoka have never made any public statements regarding its relevance to the canon of the games. When asked about the symbolism of the video on Twitter, Ito responded that it abstractly represented the womb.

Does an abstract representation of the womb have any relevance to Silent Hill 2? Not at all. It does, however, have strong ties to Silent Hill 3. In fact, the Fukuro girl character does make a brief appearance in Silent Hill 3! Perhaps Team Silent already had basic designs and outlines in place for Silent Hill 3 when they started work on Silent Hill 2, and the Fukuro video incorporated elements of both?

Fukuro's wiki page asserts that she was a scrapped monster from Silent Hill 2, however no citation is included for this claim, so I can't verify it. The wiki page goes on [without citation] to claim that Fukuro might have been another representation of James' subconscious (along with Pyramid Head). If that is true, then she may have been scrapped because the nurses and / or Maria may have made Fukuro's role superfluous and unnecessary.

Silent Hill 3 - Fukuro Lady
the Fukuro Lady appears briefly in an elevator scene in Silent Hill 3.

In any case, if Fukuro had been planned to be a monster symbolic of Jame's repressed sexual frustration, then it seems even less likely that Pyramid Head would also have represented the same element of Jame's subconscious! Pyramid Head and Fukuro's interactions in the Fukuro video could be symbolic of James' sexual desires being a source of guilt for which he wants punishment. In that case, guilt and sexual repression are still separate conditions represented by different manifested creatures that reinforce each other.

Fukuro's necessity in Silent Hill 2 was rendered moot by both Maria and the design of the nurses. It is possible that at some point during the game's design, Pyramid Head's role was intended to be different, and to be more representative of Jame's sexual urges. This could explain the creatures' visual design and the early cutscenes of him "raping" monsters. But as the game's development proceeded, Fukuro was dropped, Maria and nurses were added, and Pyramid Head's role became more explicitly representative of James' guilt and need for self-punishment as a result of Mary's death.

The bottom line is that the Fukuro video and Fukuro character are not in the actual game. At least not in Silent Hill 2. Masahiro Ito may very well believe that Pyramid Head is a sexually-symbolic monster, and he may very well have designed the creature with its Freudian aesthetic with that assumption in place. But for whatever reason, the scenario-writers decided not to pursue that avenue for the remainder of the game. Any lingering sexual symbolism for Pyramid Head is dropped within a couple hours of starting the game, and his role as a punisher is explicitly stated at the end of the game. At best, sexual aggression is a minor, implicit element of Pyramid Head's design; it is certainly not a defining characteristic of the creature, nor is it the creature's primary purpose.

A similar video was also made for Silent Hill 3, and features Robbie the Rabbit. This video also has no relevance to that game's plot.

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Stumbled onto this Gamefaqs forum topic about Masahiro Ito "confirming" that the Good ending of Silent Hill is canon, and that Cybil is supposed to die. Many fans apparently see this as absolute validation of their dogmatic opinions on the topic, and that to argue otherwise is moronic. I don't understand why there is so much vitriol thrown towards people who support the Good+ ending and Cybil's survival. Why does the fanbase want Cybil dead so much?

There are three key arguments that I hear in defense of the "Good is the only canonical ending" position:

Book of Lost Memories - regarding the aglaophotis pendant
Why do fans want Cybil dead?
  1. Harry wouldn't have known what the Red Liquid does until after he sees Kaufman use it on Alessa, and so he couldn't have used it on Cybil earlier.
  2. If Harry used the Red Liquid to save Cybil, then he couldn't have had any left over to solidify into the pendant for Heather.
  3. Cybil does not appear in any subsequent Silent Hill. She is not referenced in SH3, and in Silent Hill Homecoming, Deputy Wheeler refers to a female police officer who went to Silent Hill and never returned. Clearly, this means that Cybil is dead.

To many fans, these three arguments are bullet proof! At this point, they've practically become gospel (along with Pyramid Head's well-known rape antics).

But how well do these arguments really stack up to scrutiny? Let's play Devil's Advocate...

I'm going to start with Masahiro Ito's comments on the issue:

On Mashiro Ito's Twitter feed, he "confirms" that Cybil is dead.

Masahiro Ito confirms Cybil's death on Twitter: 'Yes, I remember Cybil is dead'
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Hideo Kojima
Hideo Kojima

A recent posting to IMDB has some Silent Hill fans very intrigued. The post claims that "Silent Hill 9" has been announced, and that it is directed by Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame). This post seems a bit premature, since I'm not aware of any official announcement - or statement of any kind - from Konami regarding another Silent Hill game, but rumors have been circulating on forums for months regarding the possibility of Hideo Kojima working (directly or indirectly) on a Silent Hill project.

Supposedly, Konami has approached Kojima to direct the next installment in the franchise. He's favorable to the idea, but admits that he may not be the best man for such a leading role:

"Honestly, I’m kind of a scaredy-cat when it comes to horror movies, so I’m not confident I can do it. At the same time, there’s a certain type of horror that only people who are scared of can create, so maybe it’s something I can do."
   - Hideo Kojima
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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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