Horror games have been a top selling genre of video games for over a decade. They have taught us the value of conserving ammo in a zombie outbreak, and to always leave room in your inventory for the unexpected health item or bloody rusty key. One survival horror game series, however, has tried to teach us more. The Silent Hill series has consistently pushed its players beyond normal shock and excitement. The series uses horror as a tool for an expression of an idea, instead of just thrilling its audience. In this sense, Silent Hill moves into the realm of art. Art feeds from artistic ideas of the past, and video games are no different. The Silent Hill games are an extension of the concepts found in Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty, for the ultimate goal of the games is to lift the player out of reality to a place of primal forces.
Artaud developed his Theater of Cruelty in the 1930's in response to art and the declining soul of humanity. He believed that art had lost its purpose in society—that it should not be a part of any high culture, but rather used as a means for "the world of the gods" to enter in us. Totemism inspired him to look at art as a way to release forces that hasten communication with the divine. In ancient cultures, performances done by shaman were used to entrance the viewer and take them to a higher plane. He felt that the loss of these rituals in society caused great pain and destruction. To Artaud, theater could save humanity because it is "capable of recovering within ourselves those energies which ultimately create order and increase the value of life." Theater is not confined to any one language because it is based on live actions, or as he puts it, "gesture." The gesture of theater can "reverb" in a person, which allows him or her to take the attitudes behind the gesture within themselves. Each performance is unique, which allows it to recreate the natural rhythms of life, in any circumstance.
Theater of Cruelty was created so that the brutality of the world could be shown to us, so that we can see that the sky can fall. He felt that violent images gave a person the sense of the supernatural which would therefore raise us out of our culture. Take, for example, walking on the street with a group of people, and then suddenly witnessing a child getting hit by a bus. In the initial moment everyone in the group would be lifted out of their culture and everyday life, and taken to a primal place. The violent images in Theatre of Cruelty focus on the violent thought behind the act. To emphasize this: the thought and not the act will show violence's true nature, making it impossible for the audience to embrace violence or war. The thought behind the violence will be seen as useless and can therefore redirect humanity to peace.
Next: How the Silent Hill series fits in with all of this.