Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Silent Hill: Simulation of Cruelty - Part 3: The Final Act: Gamplay as Pure, Primal and Divine

Previously: Part 1, Part 2

As anyone who has played through a Silent Hill game will tell you, the endings aren't the most satisfying. They all basically say, "The game is over." The inclusion of multiple endings and the joke alien endings further confirm that the ending cinema is just presenting a new status quo, and that this new status quo is not very important to the over all message of the game. The game's narrative qualities should not be judged based on the ending alone. The (rotten) meat of the game is gameplay, and the story surrounding that gameplay. Heather's search for identity in Silent Hill 3, Henry's struggle for freedom in Silent Hill 4, and James' need for love in Silent Hill 2 all are active while the player is active. When the game is over and the final boss is killed, the game can no longer express anything to the player. Although the action leads to an eventual end, the journey is what is important in discerning theme and meaning. The literature of the game should be taken more as a drama and not like a novel.

The player benefits in playing a game with a heightened sense of immersion, arguably greater than theater can accomplish. The player gets to partake in a simulation of cruelty. With the tools given by the developers, a person is able to experience the emotions of the character first hand. Heather's fear, anger, and disgust of who she is can be translated directly to the player through the gameplay. The game is crafted in a manner so the actions and elements within it will replicate the pain of the character. On top of this, Silent Hill destroys the psychology of emotion, and takes it to the pure, primal, and divine.

The structure of the game forces a player to act within their primal nature. The key objective of Silent Hill is survival. The player is constantly put in a position of fight or flight. The limited health and accuracy of the control makes staying to fight a difficult option. Fleeing is also hampered by tight hallways, fast enemies, and a difficult control scheme. The objects you gain while playing are crucial to your survival. There is no collection of coins or rings for bonus points like in other games.
The actions themselves are also of a more primal nature for most of the game is spent using simple melee weapons, like a rusty pipe. Bullets are rare, and are not necessary in defeating the monsters. The action of physically beating something to death with a simple tool conjures images and feelings of base instincts—it is also undoubtedly you that is doing the killing., it is your force, your muscle. This deepens the immersion for the player, for they can not distance themselves from the violence with a gun. If a gun is used, however, a physical element is still placed in. Once an enemy reaches low health, it falls to the ground and cries out and convulses in death throes. In order to finish it off, the player must crush it with their foot. This violence is more intense than in most games. It is clear that you are killing something that is living, something that bleeds, and will remain after it is dead. The monsters are not mere targets to get points, and defeating them is not a way to show off how skilled a player you are. They are undefined living creatures that you have to kill to survive. Accentuating the violence draws your attention to it. You cannot overlook the bleeding stump with legs on it, or a nurse with no face as it writhes on the floor. This is exactly the type of image and act that Artaud calls for: a pure act of violence that forces you to focus on the thought behind it.

The breakdown of psychology furthers the player’s ascension. What you are killing is never explained. The horrific surrounding are never defined either. Attempts are made through the game, but are always ambiguous. At one point, Heather is horrified to find out that the things she sees as monsters might actually be people. The hell worlds that the characters fall in and out of are never defined as either a real space or something their minds create. The games are abstract, and they induce fear. This abstraction releases the player from culture and brings them into a space within themselves. They have to define for themselves the pulsing and glowing red hallway, or a table with bloody sheets that runs like a dog. That definition will be based in an emotional response, rather than what is in their day to day lives. The player's mind is therefore beyond the physical world, and through this they can reach the divine.

The Silent Hill series has borrowed many conventions of survival horror games that were established by Resident Evil. However, the ultimate goals behind the two are completely different. Resident Evil takes conventions from action and horror movies. Silent Hill's horrors hold more meaning than quick fun shocks and gross outs. There is substance in its images and these are connected to either the character's struggle or the overall themes of the game. For instance, the overarching story of Silent Hill always holds a religious element to it. Whether you are fighting a cult, being chosen to give birth to God, or tying to stop the 21 Sacraments, Silent Hill has forced players to explore that of which is not of our world. It surrounds the gamer with violence: from puzzles that give a description of a killer eating a face so that you can figure the code of the number pad in order to open a door, to carrying items that are as gruesome, like a plastic bag you filled with blood from the cut throat of a hanging corpse. In this world of violence a person is forced to leave their everyday lives, and in their work to survive, they are raised to a pure primal state like the one Artaud describes. Perhaps when they leave the space of the game, the player will have a greater understanding of the meaning of violence, so that they will never side with it.

1 comment:

Anima said...

Very interesting take on the games.