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 title||Original release
|Silent Hill||January 1999|
|Silent Hill 2||September 2001|
|Silent Hill 3||May 2003|
|Silent Hill 4: the Room||September 2004|
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.
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 at which times? [More]
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.
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.
Years ago, I wrote a post regarding the nature of Silent Hill's Otherworld and how it is most likely not a parallel dimension. In it, I may have made a significant mistake. Uh oh. Everybody makes mistakes, and I'm definitely not an exception. But no, I haven't changed my mind and conceded to parallel dimensions :P
Specifically, I failed to consider an important piece of evidence, and therefore may have mischaracterized the Lakeview Hotel Otherworld. In that post, I stated that the burnt-out version of the hotel was the Otherworldly-version that had been transformed as a kind of intermix between James' and Angela's Otherworlds. This is not necessarily true.
In fact, the burnt-out, waterlogged version of the hotel may not be the Otherworld at all. It could be the hotel in its natural state. The "normal"-looking version of the hotel may very well be the Otherworld one.
Is the Lakeview Hotel basement an Otherworld? Or is it the real hotel, as it currently exists?
In this post (as in others that I've written), I'm going to use the term "Otherworld" to refer colloquially to the areas of the game that have undergone supernatural transformations that modify the area substantially from its natural state. I still do not believe that the Otherworld is an actual "other world" that exists separately from reality. I still believe that the entirety of the Silent Hill universe (as created by the original developers) exists in our singular, real world, but is transformed via a supernatural force or entity that is native to the region.
Now, let's talk about the Otherworld in Silent Hill 2!
The Otherworld of Silent Hill 2 is a confusing and complicated issue in the series. Unlike the other games, SH2's Otherworld is much more subtle and restrained. This is due to two reasons. First, having a bloody, industrial Otherworld does not fit the story, since SH2 is a melencholy personal tale about James' mental state in the wake of his wife's death. It's not a game about a cult summoning a corrupt god to reshape the world into a hellish paradise.
Secondly, Silent Hill 2 deals - in part - with the state of the town after the events of Silent Hill . Since Silent Hill shows signs of massive renovation and reconstruction efforts, it is reasonable to assume that Silent Hill 2 takes place shortly after the events of the first game (probably within a year or two; maybe even days or weeks), and that the town is still rebuilding from the devastation that it sustained from the first game. The cult has suffered losses in its leadership, a crisis of faith, and is also in a state of rebuilding and recruiting. As such, the cult does not play an active role in Silent Hill 2. With no God or psychic girl around this time to project her nightmares onto reality, the paranormal activity experienced by the characters of SH2 are likely a lingering effect of the spiritual and psychic interference of the first game. Because of this, the manifestations experienced are much more personal and subdued, as the influences must be pulled from the twisted minds of the few characters in the game.
In fact, the general consensus among Silent Hill fans is that SH2 only has between two and four full Otherworld levels... [More]
In my earlier post titled 'Silent Hill' is NOT about 'repressed guilt'; it's about occultism!, there seemed to be some misunderstandings about the interpretations that I offered. For one thing, reader Malik commented:
"I have to disagree. The series has never established the cult as the basis for the goings-on in Silent Hill. It is never explicitly stated that the cult or Alessa are the true source of the supernatural power ..."
The commentor is correct on that point. Though, I don't think I ever said that Alessa and the cult were the ultimate source. Rather, I was arguing that the plots of the game were focused on the cult and Alessa, and how they affected this supernatural power. I thought about responding with my own comment, but I felt that it would be more appropriate to just write a new blog article about it, so that I could spend more time exploring the town's history, as it was established by the original creators.
Please note that much of this post is speculation, as the games themselves provide very little concrete information about the extended history of the cult and region prior to the Civil War.
I did not mean to imply that the cult and Alessa created the supernatural phenomena, and I agree that it existed (in some form) prior to the events of the first game.
Mary refers to Silent Hill as a "sacred place".
Mary's comments regarding the place being "sacred" in the past implies that early inhabitants (probably the Native Americans) were aware of the supernatural effects of the region going back hundreds - maybe thousands - of years. Since the Natives saw the place as being "sacred" and beautiful, I tend to believe that the power did not manifest demons or project people's nightmares onto reality during these periods of history. Instead, I would imagine that the force (whether conscious or not) would have been more benign - maybe even benevolent.
We don't know much about the natives' beliefs prior to the arrival of European colonists, and what little we do know is possibly clouded by the lens of the European colonists and cultists.
But based on what we know about real-world Native American beliefs, it is safe to assume that the natives of the Silent Hill region would likely have worshipped any regional supernatural power as the "ancestral spirits" or as the "spirit of nature". The Book of Lost Memories, which can be found in Silent Hill 2 after beating the game, tells us about the nature spirits:
"They called this place 'The Place
of the Silent Spirits'. By 'spirits',
they meant not only their dead
relatives, but also the spirits that
they believed inhabited the trees,
rocks and water around them."
- Lost Memories book (Silent Hill 2)
The name "Place of the Silent Spirits" is significant. In addition to being a callback to the game's title, the fact that the spirits were "silent" implies that the natives were not able to talk to it; or at least, the spirits did not talk back. This implies that the "spirits" are not a conscious entity. Even though it can apparently react to the thoughts - and even desires - of the people it comes in contact with, it probably does not have an intelligence or will of its own... [More]
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 user 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).
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. So 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 common myths about Silent Hill. The first was about the sexual nature 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, and 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 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. [More]
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).
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