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At the top of my list of favorite game franchises, sits 2 seemingly unlikely companions: one is the first 4 Silent Hill games developed by Konami's internal "Team Silent" studio; the other is the series of "Souls-Borne" games created by From Software. If these 2 franchises are not my number 1 and number 2, respectively, then they are both definitely in my top 3, with Sid Meier's Civilization being the only other real contender.

On the surface, Silent Hill and the Souls-Borne games don't seem to have a lot in common, nor would one necessarily think that they would appeal to overlapping audiences. In some senses, it would seem that they couldn't be further apart. Silent Hill is a series of slow-paced psychological horror games with linear narratives, that emphasize puzzles and encourage the player to run away from threats and avoid the games' poorly-developed combat mechanics. The Souls-Borne games are frenetic action-RPGs that barely have any plot at all, and which are built entirely around combat mechanics, and which are infamous for their difficult gameplay. But despite the radically divergent styles of gameplay that these 2 franchise offer, they both contain similar themes and are open to similar artistic interpretations, which appeal to me, personally because of a particular aspect of my core beliefs and identity.

You see, I'm an atheist. More specifically, I consider myself to be a "strong atheist", "anti-theist", and "secular humanist", among other labels. Not only do I not accept any of the various god-claims due to insufficient evidence; I also positively believe and assert, with confidence, that there are no gods at all. Now, I'm sure that I've just invited a slew of commenters who will try to convert me or share their beliefs for why their personal god is real, but I'm not here to argue about the theology. Besides, I've pretty much heard it all. Not just on the internet, but also from extended family. God of the gaps, personal incredulity, watch-maker, Pascal's Wager, Kalam and other various Cosmological Arguments. I've heard it all -- or at least most of it. And I reject it all.

I am as confident in my belief that there is no god, as I am in my belief that there is no Santa Clause (and for many of the same reasons). So unless you think you can convince me that Santa Clause is real, you're probably wasting your time trying to convince me about your god.

View this entire essay in video format on YouTube.

But my atheism goes a bit further. I'm also an anti-theist, and I believe that religion and religious institutions are also dangerous and do more harm to society than good.

And based on my own personal reading of both Silent Hill and the Souls-Bornes, it seems that both game franchises kind of agree with me.

Could From Software develop a Silent Hill game?

Before I get into the topic proper, I want to talk a little bit about the reason for why I decided to talk about this particular topic.

Ever since the cancellation of Hideo Kojima's Silent Hills in 2015, following the release of the P.T. playable teaser, rumors have swirled about Konami looking for a studio to develop a new Silent Hill game. For a long while, rumors persisted that Kojima's new studio would still somehow be involved, despite the bitter falling out and bridge-burning between Hideo and Konami. In spring of 2022, these rumors reached a fever pitch, with the internet believing that an official announcement was imminent. Polls began showing up on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube asking fans which studio they would most like to see given the job, and choices ranged from Konami getting the old Team Silent back together again, to Kojima Productions, to Bokeh Game Studio, Remedy, to Bluepoint, to Bloober Team.

Why didn't Amnesia developer, Frictional, appear in more polls of Silent Hill developer studios?

Whenever I would see these polls, however, I would always throw out two other studios who. One of them is kind of an easy pick: Frictional Games, the developer of Amnesia and Soma. The other option that I throw out usually throws other fans for a loop. That developer is From Software.

"Do you want a Silent Hill Souls-like?" I've been asked.

No. Not at all. But I have long wanted to see From Software try their hand at a genuine horror game. Not just a horror-themed Souls-like, as in the case of Bloodborne, but an honest to goodness pure horror title. FromSoft's games tend to be very rich in a dark, oppressive atmosphere, and the stakes of the gameplay usually creates a genuine fear of what might be around any given corner. Further, the Lovecraftian themes and relatively obtuse methods of story deliver help to sell the fear of the unknown in From Soft's works, which actually lines up fairly closely the ominously-mysterious and un-knowable forces that manifest the horrors of Silent Hill. Silent Hill's un-knowable evil are more inspired by the psychological horror of Stephen King than by the OG Cosmic Horror of Lovecraft, but the underlying concepts of dark, un-caring forces beyond human comprehension are still very similar.

Levels like the Tower of Latria in Demon's Souls, the Painted World of Dark Souls, the Hypogean Goal of Blooborne, Mibu Village in Sekiro, and so forth manage to capture the slow, methodical, and tension-filled pacing of more traditional horror games like Resident Evil and, yes, Silent Hill. In fact, the Prison of Hope in the Tower of Latria of the original Demon's Souls stands as one of my favorite video game levels ever for its incredible, terrifying atmosphere.

Several of From's games have played with light, dark, shadows, fog, and mist, in similar ways as horror games like Silent Hill. Heck, Demon's Souls even included an inventory management system reminiscent of classic survival horror, including items and equipment that could preserve progress after death. Deciding whether to keep those items on hand and spend them to preserve progress is a decision analogous to the strategy behind using the old Ink Ribbons in classic Resident Evil.

The Prison of Hope in Latria, in Demon's Souls is one of the scariest levels ever.

So yes, I think that From Software would be more than capable of pulling off a horror or survival horror game. I've been hoping to see such a game from this studio for quite some time now, and I'm actually kind of disappointed whenever a new announcement comes along, and it's just another Souls-like action game. I've loved each and every one of those games (to varying degrees), but I would like to see this studio try something different, and I think horror is right up their alley. I highly doubt that the newly-announced Armored Core will satisfy this itch.

More specifically, I honestly do think that they could be a good fit for Silent Hill. Not only have they firmly established their capability to create a horrific atmosphere, but I believe that FromSoft's games actually do have a lot of thematic similarities to the original Silent Hill quadrilogy.

Do not trust religious authorities

First of all, it's no secret that Silent Hill and the Souls-Borne games are heavily inspired by occultism, alchemy, and black magic. But I'm not an expert in occultism, alchemy, or black magic, so I'm not going to go into details about this. If you're curious about how these topics are utilized in these games, then I recommend you check out Max Derrat's channel, as he has posted videos about how both game series use these concepts in their stories and world-building.

It seems clear to me that the writers, designers, and developers at From Software and Konami's old "Team Silent" studio did a lot of research. They knew what these symbols meant to the real people who created and used them. The use, placement, and relations of these symbols in these games isn't just mere coincidence. The meaning behind the symbols is part of the games' stories, and how they are used within those stories conveys part of what the creators were trying to communicate.

Both Silent Hill and the FromSoft games have lots of religious symbols and themes.

Just having references to occultism and religious symbols doesn't mean that the games are automatically critical or opposed to religious ideologies. In fact, the use of these symbols could suggest agreement or reverence for the religious beliefs that created them. But the reason that I belief that both From Software and Team Silent don't particularly care for religious institutions is the way in which both studios use these symbols, and how they structure their game narratives.

Both franchise have over-arching stories that paint religious institutions and religious authorities as dangerous, villainous entities that lie to the mass public for their own selfish endeavors.

Religious authorities in From Software's Souls-Borne games

FromSoft's games are particularly good about depicting the deceptive nature of the religious institutions, because the deceitful nature of the authorities is unknown to the player as well -- at least initially. So it's easy for an un-suspecting, and un-critical player to take the "quest" given to them at face value. Rekindle the flame, seek the Elden Ring, drink the paleblood and cleanse the streets of Yharnam of Beasts. Oh, and pay no mind to the man behind the curtain.

An un-critical player won't realize that FromSoft's games are lying and manipulating you from the start.

It's easy for a player to go through the entirely of a FromSoft Souls-Borne game and be completely clueless that they've been lied to. Learning about the deceptions always requires the player to stray from the main path, to probe the seams and edges of the world, and to diligently read the descriptions of items that you pick up. Eventually, if you explore enough, read enough, and talk to enough characters, you may find that things don't quite add up. Your quest isn't all it was made out to be.

If you keep probing, and keep going to the places that you aren't supposed to be, you'll inevitably learn that the powers at be are just using you as a pawn to get what they want. Maybe they are taking advantage of your naivety as a gamer who just accomplishes the next objective given to you without a second thought. Or maybe they are taking advantage of your righteousness. After all, you are lulling the Old One back to slumber, fighting to cure the curse of undeath, or ending the scourge of beasts, aren't you? Those are noble causes, right? You're defeating monsters and curses that are causing real harm, right?

But that isn't necessarily the case. These quests are deliberate, pre-meditated, deceptions by the powers that be. They are designed, at least to some degree, to keep the masses in check, and to keep them too afraid of threats (both real and imagined) to bother questioning the prevailing wisdom.

In Demon's Souls, the clerics worship a supposedly benevolent God, from whom they channel so-called "miracles". They look down upon sorcerers who channel the supposedly demonic Soul Arts, which are derived from the power of the Old One. But these two beings are actually the same entity. The god worshipped by the clerics is the Old One. Umbassa, indeed.

Talisman of the Beast reveals that God and
The Old One are both one and the same.

The clerics who perform miracles are channeling the power of the same souls consumed by the same Old One as the sorcerers. Mechanically, this is even represented within the game by the fact that both miracles and sorceries draw upon the same mana bar. Both miracles and sorceries fill the same "magic" slots. And some advanced items can use either faith or intelligence to perform spells or deal magic damage.

And if I really want to be cheeky, I could even point out that FromSoft cast faith and intelligence as if they are in opposition to one another. As if using intelligence to challenge the religious dogma is "smart", and performing miracles using blind faith is "dumb". This same dichotomy between faith and intelligence as the scaling influence of magic and spells will continue on into all of FromSoft's fantasy-themed games.

Dark Souls is even more specific about the deceitfulness of the gods and clergy. Your quest is a bait-and-switch right from the start. Oscar of Astora tells us that our quest is to lift the undead curse that afflicts humanity by ringing the 2 Bells of Awakening. But once we've rung those 2 bells and acquired the Lordvessel from Anor Londo, we're told that was never our purpose at all. Our actual purpose is to succeed Lord Gwyn by kindling the flame and keep Gwyn's precious Age of Fire going, in defiance of the natural order of the world.

Furthermore, the entirety of Anor Londo and the very existence of Princess Gwynevere (and her amazing chest) is an outright illusion. The gods that you worship aren't real. At least, not anymore. Gwynevere has abandoned Anor Londo and Lordran. Gwyndolin, the one maintaining the illusion, is a real, living demi-god, sure, but one that is going well out of their way to lie to the player and to hide the truth about Gwyn. As for Gwyn himself, he's an empty husk of a god, weak and impotent.

The quest to lift the Undead Curse of Dark Souls is an outright bait-and-switch!

The deception isn't limited to Gwyn, his children, and Frampt either. The other religion that we encounter in the game, the Way of White, is also depicted as hypocritical and corrupt. I'm a bit unclear as to whether the Way of White is a rival religion, a schism religion, or just a different sect. Either way, the Way of White is initially portrayed as a benevolent covenant. Mechanically, it makes it easier for players to find friendly summonable players to help them clear levels and bosses. Lore-wise, they promise that adherents marked with the Dark Sign can be cured with a pilgrimage to Lordran, but in reality, the church is just sacrificing them in order to get rid of undesireables, and possibly to make a little money on the side. It's analogous to how Christians claim to do good works through charity, but the largest Christian organizations take people's donations and tithes, horde the wealth for themselves, and spend it on political campaigns that are designed to hurt people.

Petrus asks for a financial contribution
to "prove your faith".

One of the followers that we meet, Petrous, is a murderous scoundrel, and he even offers the player the opportunity to "prove your faith" by giving him a donation of souls, which are the game's de facto currency. You don't prove your faith through deeds, or prayer, or knowledge of the tenants of the religion. You prove your faith with a financial contribution. This could just be Petrous being a greedy bastard, but the rest of the lore within the game hints that the church itself is just as corrupt. And to hammer the point home, the Thorouland Talisman, which is only given to high-ranking members of the Way of White, has only a minor faith scaling, implying that the high-ranking leaders of the church don't actually have any faith. They don't believe in the doctrine that the preach.

In Bloodborne, it is eventually revealed that the same "healing blood" that is administered by the Church is actually causing people's beasthood. The Church presumably poisoned the residents of Old Yharnam in order to sell the Old Blood as a miracle cure (for the plague they created). This is analogous to the Christian concept of "Original Sin", for which the only supposed forgiveness is the worship of Jesus.

In Bloodborne, the Healing Church burnt the whole town of Old Yharnam, and massacred its entire population to keep their dirty secret. The Church leadership knew the blood would lead to beasthood, but kept administering it anyway, and created the hunts to clean up (and cover-up) the messes that they created. The church leadership's desire to transform themselves into god-like beings caused them to do immeasurable harm to both its adherents and to non-believers. Not just Yharnam and Old Yharnam, but also to the residents of the Fishing Hamlet.

The Healing Church has done immeasurable harm to Yharnam, the Fishing Hamlet, and everywhere else it goes.

Religious authorities in Silent Hill

FromSoft's religious commentary is a bit obscured by layers of arcane lore and often locked behind difficult enemy encounters and set pieces. But Silent Hill is a lot more direct and open about its feelings regarding religious authorities. The religious leaders, Dahlia and Claudia, are outright villains, and do despicable things in the name of their faith.

The cult abuses and brainwashes children in order to indoctrinate them at young ages. They create a sham orphanage as a front so that they can essentially kidnap other people's children and indoctrinate them into believing that the cult's god can be resurrected. They partner with the local hospital's corrupt director to sell addictive narcotics to gullible tourists, and spend the money to build their churches, run their sham orphanage, and to bribe the local authorities to look the other way.

The cult of Silent Hill runs a sham orphanage to brainwash children into its beliefs.

And that's just the institutional evils and corruption. It says nothing about the individual evils that the religious figures in Silent Hill will go in the name of their beliefs. We can start with Dahlia's shit parenting. She neglects her daughter and robs her of her childhood. And when she finally does take an interest in her daughter, it's only because she realizes that she could potentially use her daughter's psychic powers to achieve her goal of resurrecting god. This, of course, requires sacrificing her daughter's life, like Abraham sacrificing his son in Jewish tradition.

After the cult's plans are thwarted by Harry in the first game, what does the cult do? They re-write history and ret-conn their own belief system. And those who challenge the leadership are excommunicated, exiled, or killed. In the case of Leonard, Claudia has him admitted to a mental institution in order to silence him, unify the church, and prevent the followers from splintering into different sects. She also murders Harry. Partly so that he can't protect Heather anymore, and partly as revenge for him killing god in the first game, but also because she believes her god is born out of hate and suffering, and she must instill those emotions into Heather.

The cult's god is one born of hate and suffering.

There's also the metaphorical story of Silent Hill 3, in particular. That game can be read as an allegory for the religious right's denial of women's reproductive rights. I've already talked about this in a previous essay (both on my blog and on YouTube), but in summary, Silent Hill 3's plot is about a religious fundamentalist trying to force Heather to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Claudia is the villain, and Heather's fetus is a literal demon. The whole game is loaded with symbols and metaphors of femininity, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and abortion.

And Silent Hill's critique of religion isn't limited to just the crazy cults either. Team Silent took some stabs at mainstream Christianity too. Most notably in Silent Hill 2. Silent Hill 2 contains at least one reference to minority groups being "persecuted by the Christians". It's a lot more subtle and understated, but it's there, and it condemns Christians just as much as it condemns cultists like Dahlia, Claudia, and Vincent.

I have previously discussed the interpretation of Silent Hill 3 as an extended allegory in favor of abortion rights.

Why these games appeal to me

In the past, I've advocated for new Silent Hill games to stop focusing on Twilight Zone-esque stories about repressed guilt, and to return to fleshing out and expanding the occult influences of the original games. It's not that the cult storylines of the original 4 Silent Hill games connect with me, per se. It's more that the cult storylines are part of Silent Hill's broader anti-religious themes. Corruption of church officials, worship of evil beings, indoctrination and abuse of children, control of women's bodily autonomy, persecution of non-believers, historic revisionism, and so forth are all recurring themes or ideas in these games. As a budding atheist making sense of my identity, those themes spoke to me in a way that very few (if any) other games at the time did.

The Silent Hill games, with their more obvious anti-religious messages came out when I was a teenager, at a very formative and impressionable time in my life. I possibly, subconsciously, gravitated towards these games because of those themes, and those themes surely influenced and reinforced my own dislike for religion. They weren't the only influences, of course. I was also raised on Star Trek -- the Next Generation, specifically. Star Trek glorifies the use of rationality to solve problems and better our lives. It also exposes religious beliefs as auto-deceptive and religious leaders as manipulative, power-hungry opportunists who use people's legitimate faith (and trust) to get what they want, even when it conflicts with the legitimate believers' best interests.

I was also raised on Star Trek, which also frequently paints religion as irrational or evil.

By the time of the release of Demon's Souls, my atheism was firmly cemented as a core part of my belief systems and identity. I had spent hours upon hours reading and listening to apologetics and their associated debunks. The backlog of Athiest Experience episodes and YouTube content creators like Aaron Ra were immensely helpful.

So when games like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne were released, I picked up on the religious themes, no matter how subtle they might have been. I noticed when the churches of these various games exercised deception and corruption, when they indoctrinated people into false beliefs, when they revised history to hide information that conflicted with their so-called "truths", when they would appear to persecute minorities, and so forth. And I immediately distrusted them and would see them as the villains that they are.

All of From's games are basically about powerful religious institutions outright lying to the mass public, in order to preserve their corrupt and, ultimately destructive, power and influence. In some cases, it is to maintain their person power and authority. In other cases, it is more abstract: a desire to keep the world the way that they want it to be, even if it goes against the natural order and the organic evolution of society.

In Silent Hill and Fromsoft's games, religion is a corrupting influence that gives evil people an excuse to be evil in ways that society just ... accepts. The societal power that the religious position offers them enables them to inflict their evil on others. Their religious beliefs and convictions come from misunderstandings of natural (or in the case of these games: supernatural) phenomenon, and they project their own biases and prejudices on the outside world. In the case of Silent Hill, they aren't just projecting their internal prejudices in the form of regressive laws and public policy, but the supernatural power of the town allows these prejudices to physically manifest in reality as places and monsters.

Religion gives evil people a socially-acceptable excuse to be evil,
and causes otherwise good and well-intentioned people to do evil things.

This depiction of religious authorities in Silent Hill largely lines up with my own perceptions of real-life religious authorities, and serves as a warning against giving such people any political or cultural power.

The later Silent Hill games (especially Shattered Memories and Downpour) neglect the cult-focused stories and lore of the Konami-developed games, and so they lack those strong anti-theist or anti-religion themes and messages. I guess Homecoming and Origins have them to an extent, but those themes are treated much differently in those games, and both those games are also bad games (or bad adaptations of Silent Hill) for other reasons. To me, the gradual distancing from the anti-religious themes as the games have gone on felt kid of like a betrayal, and is a big part of why I don't like any of the games after Silent Hill 4. Those anti-religious themes of the original games, whether intended by the creators or not, became a core part of the message of the games, for me, and a core part of the entire franchise and lore built around them. Taking those themes away made the games not feel like Silent Hill anymore -- at least, not to me. The new games just don't connect with me the same way that the old games did.

From Software, on the other hand, has basically just been telling and re-telling the same stories of lying religious orders in every game they release. They've basically picked up the mantle that Silent Hill abandoned, as my favorite game series that resonates with my atheism. So I'm still a loyal fan.

Comments (1) -

05/11/2024 08:46:09 #

So much reaching. The anti religious themes? Lol

In Soulsborne games, the only atheist, Patches, is shown as an evil and untrustworthy murderer. Meanwhile the Vilebloods in Bloodborne are also shown as murderers who hunt out of desire for fun. They do not care about who they kill and seek power themselves. The Healing Church meanwhile is not even a religious organisation, it is instead a secular organisation doing unethical scientific experiments on humans to force evolution and implement a form of social darwinism.

The whole point of the Soulsborne games is that everything is corrupt, humanity is corrupt and that includes secular organisations.

Metal Gear meanwhile is not anti religious either.

It's sad that your atheism is so insecure that you try to force your agenda into these games.

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