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Silent Hill 3

Last year, YouTuber Super Eyepatch Wolf posted a video titled "The Problem with Silent Hill 3: the Downfall of Team Silent". In that video, Super Eyepatch Wolf asserts that the design of Silent Hill 3 changed early in development, as a result of pressure from Konami. He claims that early designs for the game were going to be a more personal, introspective tale, in the vein of Silent Hill 2.

YouTuber Super Eyepatch Wolf posted a video last year asserting that Silent Hill 3
was originally going to be more similar to Silent Hill 2's personal and introspective story and style.

Konami may not have been happy with this early design because -- believe it or not -- there were apparently many vocal fans of the first Silent Hill game who were upset that Silent Hill 2 had not continued the story set forth by the first game. So Konami mandated that Team Silent make Silent Hill 3 be more of a continuation of the first Silent Hill, and so SH3 was re-written as a direct sequel to the first game, and returned to the narrative of a cult trying to birth a demon god.

I've adapted this blog post into a YouTube video response to Super Eyepatch Wolf.

It's hard to believe, but when it was first released, Silent Hill 2 was not universally regarded as the "gold standard" of video game horror. You can look at middling contemporary reviews from publications like Gamespot and GameInformer. In those days, the series was perceived as being "about occultism", and Silent Hill 2 was a stark deviation. Now, with a generation of gamers having grown up playing and loving Silent Hill 2, there's an effort now to re-frame the entire series as having always been about a haunted town torturing the guilty, even though three out of four of the original games are explicitly about a cult trying to re-birth its demon god, and repressed personal guilt is only featured in one of those four games.

Silent Hill 2 was the only of the original 4 games to be about the protagonist being punished for repressed guilt.

But that may not have always been the plan...

If Super Eyepatch Wolf is correct, then Team Silent may have wanted to pivot the narrative focus of the series away from occultism and towards more personal stories like SH2 -- though, importantly, not necessarily about repressed guilt or amnesia!

I have a complicated relationship with the question of "what is Silent Hill about?" Readers of my personal blog will know that I've rigorously defended the idea of Silent Hill (as a series) being about occultism, and that new entries in the series should respect that history, rather than trying to re-frame the entire series (and the nature of the town itself) to be about a haunted town that summons people to face their hidden guilt.

That being said, it isn't that I have a particular attachment to occult stories, even though a lot of the games that I like (such as Demon's Souls and Blooborne) also have strong occult threads. I also am definitely not opposed to more thoughtful, introspective stories. Silent Hill 2 is my favorite game in the series because of that thoughtful, introspective story! Rather, I've found all the third-party-developed games after Silent Hill 4 to be highly derivative of Silent Hill 2 and not particularly good.

Silent Hill 3 pivoted hard back towards the occult inspirations of the first game.
But is that really what Team Silent wanted?

Super Eyepatch Wolf does have some quotes and evidence to support the idea that Silent Hill 3 was originally intended to be a very different game -- all of which was taken from a single interview. But there's not much (if any) information about what the actual story of that game may have been. Nobody on Team Silent has (as far as I know) talked about it, nor do we have a leaked design document like what we have for Silent Hill: Cold Heart (the Wii-exclusive that eventually transformed into Shattered Memories).

With no real hints to go on, Super Eyepatch Wolf doesn't do much in the way of speculation as to what the original SH3 might have been about. He seems to have basically come to the same conclusion that I have, and he implies the same idea that I'm about to spell out. In the following blog post, I'm going to go one step further than Super Eyepatch Wolf. I'm going to speculate as to what this original concept might have been about, and how certain elements of Silent Hill 3's final design supports that speculation!

I want to emphasize that what follows is pure speculation pulled right out of my ass! I have no evidence or knowledge of Silent Hill 3's original design, nor do I know for sure that the game was substantially redesigned. I'm basically just assuming that Super Eyepatch Wolf is correct, and running with it. I'll leave it to others to debate whether there ever was an alternate design concept for the game. So do not take me as an authority on this subject, or take this video's content as gospel.

Our only clues to the original intent lie
within the final product itself.

The present holds clues to the past

As far as I know, Team Silent's members have not talked publicly about what this original concept might have been (if it is even true to begin with). So we don't really have anything to go on. In fact, pretty much the only thing we do have to go on is the actual version of Silent Hill 3 that ended up being developed and released. Many games that pivot their direction still maintain themes and concepts from their original design. This is probably a result of sunk costs. The designers, artists, and programmers may have already spent person-hours creating storyboards, concept art, game assets, code and scripts, and maybe even a rapid prototype. Even if the direction of the game shifts dramatically, the team (or the publishing company that is fronting the bill) might want to keep as many of these storyboards, concept arts, game assets, code and scripts, and prototypes as possible, so many of them will be rolled into the final game's design in some way or another.

So I ask: what themes are present in the final release of Silent Hill 3?

The biggest one is the idea of growing up. Silent Hill 3 is, in many way, a tale of Heather's loss of childhood innocence. When she is thrust into the nightmare of Silent Hill, and her father is murdered, Heather is force to grow up very quickly and very suddenly. She goes from being an average teenage girl, shopping at the mall without a care in the world, to be a hardened monster-hunter and incidental savior of the world.

Heather has to grow up real quick.

The stresses and pressures that are unique to being an adolescent girl are also present throughout the game. Now, I'm a 30-something year old cis white male. I can't really speak to the experiences of a young woman. That being said, one of the artistic merits of video games as a medium is their ability to put the player in the headspace of the character (regardless of differences in age, gender, creed, sexuality, or whatever). Silent Hill 3 gave me a little taste of what it's like to be a teenage girl, so I can still try to describe my take-aways from the game, as best I can, even though I may not be able to personally relate to them. If I'm way off-base on something, I'm sure someone will correct me in the comments.

Heather being a young woman is not a simple superficial decision. Silent Hill 3 isn't just a game with a young female protagonist, it is a game about a young female protagonist. Her femininity and age are both essential to the themes and motifs of the game!

Heather is impregnated against her will, and forced to give birth to a demon.

Motherhood and pregnancy are a major underlying theme in the narrative and visuals, and this is where things start to get really disturbing. The game's plot is that Heather is impregnated with a demon fetus without her knowledge or consent, and the whole game is about Claudia's attempt to force Heather to give birth. It's ... um ... kinda rape-y...

Pregnancy and menstruation are also heavy motifs in the game's visuals. The whole game is very bloody and red. There are lots of fleshy tones, walls have animated textures of what appears to be blood flowing up and down them, and there are scenes of blood leaking out of sinks and bathtubs. In one case, Heather even becomes trapped in a hospital room, while blood envelopes her. While these could all be indicative of bodily harm and injury, the strong theme of pregnancy and birth also means that these aesthetic elements are probably meant to symbolize menstruation.

Blood running up and down walls, and leaking out of fixtures, is indicative of menstruation.

We have a lot of phallic imagery in the monsters. Just like how James is tormented by monsters with a petite feminine form, many of Heather's monsters are hulking phallic or masculine monstrosities that either pummel her with their phallic limbs. Other monsters poke and prod at her with flailing limbs, while at least one type of monster will outright tackle her and pin her down.

James' monsters are feminine and petite, while Heather's are more hulking and masculine.

Yes, Silent Hill 3 also has nurses. But they are not nearly as sexually-objectified as the ones in Silent Hill 2. They have faces, for one thing. The nurses in Silent Hill 3 are likely there because of Alessa's past trauma, not necessarily because of anything from Heather's psyche.

Heather also receives a lot of unwanted attention from creepy older men. Whether it's her sneaking into a bathroom to get away from Douglas, being gaslit by Vincent, receiving creepy love letters from a stalker, or being pestered with unwanted phone calls from weird men, Heather is the subject of a lot of unwanted male attention.

Heather is stalked by creepy, older men, and receives unsolicited phone calls and other male attention.

It's possible that her relatively modest attire [for a video game heroine, anyway] is an attempt to try to avoid such unwanted attention from men in her daily life. This doesn't mean that Heather has repressed memories of being raped or sexually-assaulted or harassed, but the risk of such violations is definitely fore-front in her mind. This is apparent from the opening moments of the game, when she threatens to scream in order to make Douglas leave her alone, and then climbs out through the bathroom window. It is reinforced by her possession of a switchblade and stun gun for self-defense. None of the male protagonists in the first four Silent Hill games started the games possessing weapons.

Ironically, despite showing as much (or more) skin, Heather's attire is
less sexualized and titillating than other contemporary video game heroines.

Again, I want to reinforce the idea that Heather's gender and age are not superficial design choices. They are fundamental to the game's narrative and themes. This story cannot be told, nor can these themes be presented, with a male protagonist. This game gives cis white males (like me) a brief glimpse of the threats and traumas that many of our female peers may have to deal with every day. Witnessing these themes of sexual harassment and assault from the point of view of a woman contributes greatly to the horror of this game by grounding it and making it all feel much more real and threatening.

At the end of the game, Heather goes on to swallow a pill that makes her throw up the demon fetus growing within her. The Aglaophotis capsule that her father gave her could be read as a metaphorical day-after contraceptive pill. One other possible bit of abortion imagery that stood out to me in a recent play-through (but I may be completely stretching with this one) is the use of a coat-hangar to pull down a ladder in the Otherworld mall. Is the use of a coat hangar incidental? Or is this a deliberate attempt to invoke imagery of a coat-hangar abortion?

Heather's Agloaphotis capsule acts as a metaphorical contraceptive or day-after pill.

What does all this add up to? Well maybe I'm projecting some of my own political biases, but it looks an awful lot to me like Silent Hill 3 is effectively a game about aborting a forced and unwanted pregnancy, to the complete disregard of the cruel, religious fundamentalist who insists that the pregnancy must be carried to term regardless of the wishes and well-being of the mother.

Is this supposed to resemble a
coat-hangar abortion?

Silent Hill 3 as abortion allegory?

I submit that the original story concept for Silent Hill 3 might have been a deeply introspective and personal tale of a teenage girl who is dealing with the trauma and shame of having un under-age, unwanted pregnancy, possibly as a result of rape, and that she either has already had, or is contemplating having an abortion. All the pieces are there in the final game, Team Silent just dropped the more introspective allegorical angle and inserted the cult god concept from the first game as a more abstract metaphor.

The game could go two directions from here:

The first direction is that the game may have kept some of the themes and concepts of the final product. Specifically: a villain (possibly a religious figure like Claudia) who wants to force Heather to have the baby against her will. In this case, the game would likely have a "pro-choice" message, with the idea of being forced to carry the baby to term being associated with the villain, and with Heather "expelling" and "killing" the fetus as the game's victory state (just as is the case with the god fetus in the final game).

The other direction would be more derivative of Silent Hill 2 with Heather having already terminated the pregnancy (or having committed herself to doing so), and then confronting her guilt associated with that decision. Maybe she had the abortion and repressed the memory, like James in Silent Hill 2, or maybe she didn't. This direction would have pulled Silent Hill (as a franchise) firmly in the direction of being about characters confronting their deepest darkest traumas, with the town acting as a sort of purgatory; rather than being the cult-driven franchise that it ended up being. But then again, they went on to make Silent Hill 4 about the cult as well, so ... eh ...

This hypothetical direction for Silent Hill 3 may have cemented Silent Hill as a purgatory.

This latter direction also may have ended up having more of a anti-abortion message behind it, depending on how many endings the game would have, how different they would be from each other, and which outcomes are presented as "good" endings. I don't know what the political biases were at Team Silent, or what kind of message they might have wanted to send. But considering the general disdain that the Silent Hill series shows towards religious authorities, the casting of the fundamentalist Claudia as a villain, and Heather's "baby" being a literal demon, I lean towards Team Silent probably being more pro-choice. But then again, Silent Hill 2 didn't pass judgement regarding James' "euthanasia" of Mary. Team Silent left the question of "euthanasia or murder?" up to the players. This hypothetical Silent Hill 3 that I have described may have similarly left the morality of Heather's abortion up to the judgement of the players, with endings that could go either way.

The villain is a religious fundamentalist who impregnates Heather against her will
and tries to force her to carry the pregnancy to term.

Not-so-filler-y levels?

This proposed story of a rape and pregnancy could also explain the presence of some of Silent Hill 3 earlier, more filler-y feeling levels. One of the biggest criticisms of Silent Hill 3's final release is that the subway, sewer, and office building levels do very little to progress the game's story. They feel more like padding than an integral part of the game's story.

Every location in Silent Hill 2 was important to that game's plot, and moved some plot thread forward, or contributed towards the characterization of James. The apartments introduce us to Angela, Eddie, Laura, and Pyramid Head. Rosewater Park introduces us to Maria.

The trek through Silent Hill, and travel through the bowling alley and Heaven's Night strip club give the player an opportunity to interact with Maria (and how we treat her is a strong determinant towards the game's ending). It also gives us further characterization for Eddie and Laura.

Every "level" in Silent Hill 2 was important to the game's plot.

The hospital gives us insight into how James perceived Mary's illness, the frustration that he felt, and the depression that Mary felt. The prison strongly represents James' sense of guilt, while the labyrinth represents all the characters' cognitive dissonances regarding what they've done. And lastly, the Lakeview Hotel is where we find out what really happens and get closure for the story.

Every level is tightly focused around a central theme or idea.

Heck, even the transitional levels in which you walk back and forth across the town, in between the major levels of Silent Hill 2 are not meaningless filler. In addition to providing backstory about the history of the town, the condition of the town itself during these segments mirrors James' own crumbling mental state and how his delusional mind is trying to piece his psyche back together. The deeper he falls into his delusion, the darker, more decrepit, and more openly antagonistic the town itself becomes.

That isn't so much the case with Silent Hill 3, as that game really doesn't even begin until Heather gets home and finds Harry murdered. I can see the mall as being representative of Heather's age. Malls were popular hang-out spots for teens during the 90's and early 2000's. Are they still?

The first half of Silent Hill 3 is dominated by filler levels.

The subway is a location that Heather travels through on a near daily basis that she probably knows is very dangerous. Other than that, there isn't much that happens, and I never got a strong sense of theming from the subway.

The sewer feels like completely unnecessary padding. And other than introducing the player to Vincent, the office building doesn't have much going on either. Quite frankly, Team Silent could have moved Vincent's office to somewhere in the mall, and then cut out the subway, sewer, and Hilltop Center levels, without really losing much at all. Maybe keep an abridged subway as a transitional area between the mall and Heather's apartment, and find another place for the Glutton monster that blocks the Hilltop Center exit? (Since the Glutton is actually a very cool monster and set piece).

Subways have a reputation for sexual assault,
especially in Japan.

In the original design, however, it's possible that the subway, sewer, and Hilltop Center levels may have had more relevance to the plot and themes.

Subways have a reputation for being a place where lots of sexual assaults happen, especially in Japan.

Might Vincent have originally been a [fundamentalist] psychologist or counselor?

The fact that Vincent is found in a mental health clinic in the Hilltop Center could also be a clue as to his original purpose int he story. Perhaps, in the original design, Vincent isn't the treasurer of a cult. Perhaps instead, he was a psychologist or counselor. Perhaps he works for a religious organization, gaslighting and guilt-tripping Heather into thinking that her pregnancy is her fault, and that she is bound by religious dogma to carry the pregnancy to term?

Still not sure what relevance the sewer would have had. Perhaps that level was never more than filler.

Or maybe the plot wasn't going to be about rape at all? Maybe Heather is on the run (with her unborn child) from an abusive husband or boyfriend. Perhaps Douglas is tracking her down on behest of said baby-daddy. Maybe she is contemplating abortion, but the main jist of the story is about escaping an abusive or toxic relationship?

There's a lot of directions that these ideas could have gone.

Would Team Silent's original idea have been a better game?

Now we come to the million dollar question: would this hypothetical version of Silent Hill 3 (with its more personal and introspective plot, potentially about a hot-topic socio-political issue) have been a better game than the version of Silent Hill 3 that ended up on store shelves?

Silent Hill 3 is by far the most technically-refined game in the series, with visuals and effects that were mind-blowing at the time, and which still hold up incredibly well to this day. It is loaded with some of the most interesting, creative, and terrifying set pieces that Team Silent ever came up with. Most importantly, Heather is a strong protagonist who (I feel) stands tall and proud as one of the best examples that video games have of a strong, female heroine -- and one who's femininity is actually integral to the story being told.

Silent Hill 3 is the most technically-refined of the series, with some of the best set pieces.

But Silent Hill 3 definitely has its share of significant problems. The first half of the game is dominated by levels that feel very meandering and filler-y. Heather's head turns to look at doors and dead enemies, which leaves the player uncertain if you've collected every item in the room. Heather's wide variety of high-powered weapons pivoted the game in a more action-oriented direction that undercuts the sense of vulnerability that dominated the first two games, and which is a staple of the survival horror genre. That wide arsenal of weapons (and a bullet-proof vest) also forces all the monsters to become bullet-sponges that turn every combat encounter into an obnoxious chore. And the instant-death pit traps are one of the worst ideas ever put into a survival horror game.

Would the original concept for Silent Hill 3 have maintained all the positives of the final game and replaced the negatives with even more positives? Or would the faults in the final game's designed have still been present? Or would it have been derivative of Silent Hill 2 and too predictable and stale for its own good, in much the same way that the post-Team Silent games were? Would Heather have simply repressed some sin that she feels subconsciously guilty for -- whether it's aborting her child as I've proposed, or something else entirely?

Later Silent Hill games have predictable endings that paradoxically also come out of left field.

The post-Team Silent Silent Hill games fail to hit home with many players and critics in large part because the forced twists all felt predictable and rote. These games lacked the clever and nuanced foreshadowing and symbolism of Silent Hill 2 -- in large part because they had to support so many mutually-exclusive endings that retcon and obfuscate the entire game. As such, the player can paradoxically both see the twist coming from a mile away, and still feel like the twist comes out of nowhere. Might Silent Hill 3 have fallen into the same trap?

It doesn't have to be so. Post-Team Silent Silent Hill games aren't the only games that are derivative of Silent Hill 2. We also have the example of Dead Space. Dead Space came out several years after Silent Hill 2, and also featured a "your wife was dead all along" plot twist. But Dead Space handles that plot twist completely differently. Much like in Silent Hill 2, the actions of the other characters, and eventually of the protagonist himself, begin to erode the player's sense of trust in what Dead Space is showing them, and makes you begin to doubt whether or not the player character is sane. But this time, Dead Space uses these same narrative concepts and plot points to mess with the player's sense of agency and will (a narrative trick that is unique to video games, compared to other non-interactive media). Is the character taking these actions because he wants to? Or because he is being manipulated? Or because he is flat-out delusional or crazy?

Dead Space has a plot about a dead wife that manages to not feel stale compared to Silent Hill 2.

That old plot about a character feeling guilty over the death of a loved one does not have to feel stale and repetitive, but it's a tough uphill climb if you're going to try it.

At the end of the day, we'll never know if Silent Hill 3 could have been an even better game than the one that we all played, because that original idea for the game will never see the light of day.

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Comments (3) -

12/12/2019 11:29:07 #

"The nurses in Silent Hill 3 are likely there because of Alessa's past trauma, not necessarily because of anything from Heather's psyche."

Nurses and hospital imagery is directly tied to pregnancy and birthing in the West, since it's treated like a surgical procedure here and most often handled in hospitals by doctors and nurses. I would say it's entirely possible that the nurses do come from Heather's psyche.

12/12/2019 11:51:07 #

"Still not sure what relevance the sewer would have had. Perhaps that level was never more than filler."

At-home abortions (the pill type) are typically expelled into a toilet and flushed away.

12/12/2019 11:59:42 #

Overall, a wonderfully insightful post. Thank you for sharing it, this gives me a deeper appreciation for the game and its theming. Silent Hill 3 has always been my favorite Silent Hill because it's by far the scariest and most impressive in its visuals and its horror, and now I can enjoy it on an even deeper level. Pretty much everything you said feels pretty on the money and makes a lot of sense.

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