Day #278: Silent Hill

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Like anyone that would identify as a writer, I’ve spent a good portion of my life staring at blank screens, wondering what I could fill them with. In my time writing about games, I’ve started and abandoned pieces on Silent Hill more times than I care to admit, never quite sure how to approach them; fearing that somehow, I wasn’t going to be able to do justice to this thing that I so strongly admired. Do I try to simply give a historical account of the series, or do I dig deeper into the lore and influences? Maybe I should do neither and attempt to focus exclusively on how the games and their individual pieces were able to speak to me in such a way. Perhaps I should, somehow, someway, do all three.

Silent Hill, in the beginning, was nothing. The name itself is a deception. Without any context, the words imply something peaceful and innocuous. To play the game is to then pervert and distort that expectation. Nothing is how it should be. Homes and businesses are abandoned. Streets are absurdly wide and often simply lead to nothingness. And there’s the fog; obscuring everything beyond a few feet in front of you as you aimlessly search for your daughter in some unknown corner of Maine. A quiet town, seemingly built from the most generic snapshots of idealized Americana, is immediately turned against you. One wrong step into a dark alley and you are struck with the realization that the town has not even begun to show you how bad things can get.

The design of the original Silent Hill is a masterclass in using perceived weaknesses to one’s advantage. You don’t notice the poor draw distance of the Playstation because of the fog. The 32-bit console is only capable of models that are harsh and angular, so all of the monsters you encounter are built with that in mind. Even the characters themselves, with their pixelated, unmoving faces, seem to fit in this world somehow, operating with an aloofness that their environment appears to demand of them.

I can’t help but draw comparisons to the film Alien. Ridley Scott knew that he had a man in a rather obvious rubber suit and built around the idea of making sure the audience never caught on. The comparisons don’t stop there either, since screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, by his own admission “stole from everybody”. Silent Hill and its elements aren’t wholly original on their own, rather, they are an amalgamation and often downright celebration of influences. Yet,”Silent Hill” as an aesthetic is something cohesive. Anyone with even a passing familiarity can bring to mind a certain sight or sound that rings true as coming only from that one source.

That’s part of the reason the series hit me the way that it did. It represents, in a sense, everything I look for in a creative work, in terms of what I both want to consume and create. It steals a little bit from everything, so much that it appears to steal from nothing at all. Just like a person – defined by their own biases and opinions, most of which originated from an outside source. It all comes together in the end to make something unique and often flawed in the most beautiful ways.

It’s why the idea of “remaking” Silent Hill always raised immediate red flags with me, not because I assume any ownership via my fandom, but because it was created out of a series of circumstances and limitations that can’t be replicated again. To try and recapture that is, at the risk of sounding presumptuous, the opposite of what Silent Hill is all about. Ignoring that very tenant; attempting to recreate the same magic over and over, is ultimately what lead to the series’ decline.

We’ll get there. Let’s enjoy the bright spots for a few days, at least.

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