Monday, May 14, 2007

Silent Hill: Simulation of Cruelty – Part 2: A Link to the Divine

Previously: Silent Hill: Simulation of Cruelty – Part 1: An Introduction to Theatre of Cruelty

Can a game capture the primal force that Artaud speaks of? Artaud was very specific in the fact that only theater could achieve this. It might not be possible, but compared to theater, it can be said that video games are the closest medium for this to be achieved in, and the Silent Hill games are the closest representation of that possibility. The main connection between the two is Artaud's concept of gesture. Games are the only other art form, that when played, will never be the same twice because no matter how many times you play through a game, the moment to moment actions are based on human reaction and thought. It can be as simple as the way in which the main character walks down a hallway. In a movie or novel, the main character will always walk down the hall in the same way, but this rigidity does not exist in games. There is the chance for creation based on the individual player. The power of gesture was very important to Artaud. The fluidity of theater can capture life. Video games can capture that fluidity, and take it further.

In Theater of Cruelty, the actor takes the role of a shaman for the audience. The actor is the audience's link to the divine. In video games you are the actor, because the game will not move forward unless the player takes action. Video games therefore place the user in a distinctive position: they are both part of the story and the audience. It is their action that will make the game unique through every movement, giving a more natural flow to the art, pulling it closer to the divine. The question becomes: is the player the shaman or the avatar? I don't feel that the player has enough freedom to remove themselves from the place of audience. There are some games that give the player freedom that make him or her the storyteller, but in Silent Hill the actions that you can partake in are limited and specific. You can only use predetermined objects, follow the story in a set course of events, and although the camera is adjustable, you can only see what is within its range of movements. Therefore, the creators crafted a specific experience that a player can have--which forces the player to act in the way they want--but the player is still given enough freedom so that actions can be slightly different every time they are performed. In this sense the avatar is the shaman to the player. The lack of freedom to zoom the camera up to a bird's eye view, or pick up any object onscreen limits the responsibility of the player to tell the relatively linear story. The choice of this story element was already selected for the player. Such as when an obstacle arises, like having to beat screaming, bleeding carousel horses until they die, the player will interpret this as an event in the character's (in this case, Heather, from Silent Hill 3) journey. In this way the user is just unveiling the story. The game is therefore created to have an effect on the player, not the other way around. This ultimately places the player in a position to be freed from their everyday life so that they can rise to a higher plain.

Next: Taking it a step further: immersion and cruelty.

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