Silent Hill 2 and its Endorsement of Childhood Innocence
Critics agree that the Silent Hill franchise, a series of survival horror video games, is a terrifying set of stories that pioneered a model of what survival horror games should be. The games center around the town of Silent Hill, a town theorized by many players as a metaphor for the main characters dealing with the "monsters" in their past through a series of horrifying trials, from fighting actual monsters to reliving their biggest regrets. Though each game is somehow connected to town’s terrifying mythology, each game follows a different protagonist, showing the town's ability to reveal forgotten truths through horrific manifestations. The plot of Silent Hill 2, released in 2001, follows James Sunderland as he goes to the town of Silent Hill in search of his dead wife, Mary, from whom he had received a mysterious letter. During his time in the foggy, desolate ghost-town full of horrific monsters, he meets many characters, two in particular who are especially important: Angela Orosco, a woman searching for her mother, and Laura, an eight-year-old, orphaned girl who roams the town of Silent Hill. They are both non-playable characters that only appear in cut-scenes, which are events in the game that play out like a scene in a movie. While James’s story delves into the slow but startling realization that he murdered his terminally ill wife, Laura and Angela’s stories coincide at certain points, adding depth to his overarching plotline.
Though the player spends less time with Laura and Angela, their moments in the game contribute heavily to the course of the story. Laura acts bratty and vindictive to James. She was meant to be adopted once Mary recovered and is upset that James stopped visiting. Her character arc through Silent Hill 2 is focused on her learning to forgive James for his actions and to accept the loss of Mary as her friend and mother-figure. While Laura’s development revolves around the immediacy of her anger and loss, Angela’s journey more closely parallels James’s story. Angela is looking for her mother, the only family member of hers who is still alive, and the town of Silent Hill brings back her traumatic, abusive past, creating trials and tribulations which eventually lead to her suicide. Key to both Laura’s and Angela’s characters is a childlike demeanor that neither can let go of. Laura is unable to understand the complexities of morality and is therefore unable to see the "monsters" that plague an adult's past. In contrast, Angela lacks Laura’s innocence but resorts to childlike behavior in threatening situations as a result of her abusive childhood. During these childlike outbursts, she is able to safely exit dangerous situations and even destroy the monsters she faces, which are symbolic of her traumatic childhood and the “monsters” that inhabited her life then. Through these situations Laura and Angela experience, Silent Hill 2 endorses the idea that childhood innocence is the most effective protection from the dangers of adulthood.
A Child Who Can’t See Monsters
In the town of Silent Hill, guilt manifests in horrifically vivid flashbacks of memories better forgotten and monsters roaming the town. The monsters are capable of spitting poisonous liquids and have long claws and, to those who can see them, are real and dangerous threats. The final boss James faces is a monstrous version of his wife wearing a nun’s habit and pinned down by large needles in what looks like a coffin. The tortured image of his wife represents James’s guilt over choosing to not visit his dying wife. She also embodies his guilt of being the one responsible for forcing her into that coffin. Because Laura is not plagued by the same guilt, she isn’t troubled by the dangerous monsters that pursue everyone else. She is immune to the threat because of her guilt-free conscience.
Laura’s behavior at the beginning of the game is far from innocent; in fact, she is initially very antagonistic to James and the player. For instance, at one point, she kicks a key that James needs away from his grasp and then stomps on his hand, laughing as she runs away. Her acts of punishment against James are severe and dangerous to the point that she even lures him into a locked room with a vicious monster. What the players will come to realize, however, is that every evil attack Laura commits against James has a reason behind it. Angry because James stopped visiting Mary at the hospital, Laura lashes out at him during his time in
Figure 1: James meeting Laura for the first time
Silent Hill. Her motive is selfish and unreasonable, a sign of her black-and-white view of the world. In Laura’s mind, Mary was the “good guy,” and James was indirectly harming her. Therefore, she believes James is the “bad guy,” despite Mary’s efforts to convince her otherwise. James is not the only character Laura interacts with throughout Silent Hill 2. She also spends time with a character named Eddie, and this encounter shows her black-and-white view of morality. Eddie participated in an unspeakable act and since then has tried to distance himself from the incident. After Laura discovers this, she is confused and asks, “But if you did something bad, why don’t you just say you’re sorry?” Laura does not have enough life experience to understand why someone would remain trapped in guilt. However, this moment also reminds the players that her naiveté is advantageous to her survival. Rather than endangering her, her naiveté grants her safety while she roams Silent Hill. Laura’s ideas of right and wrong are very simplistic.
In addition, Laura’s lack of guidance in life contributes heavily to why she is initially an antagonist to James. It is never stated when her parents died, but her familiarity with the town suggests that Laura has been by herself for quite some time. Though Mary wanted to adopt Laura, she did not play a major parental role in Laura’s life, at least in the sense of
Figure 2: Both James and Laura learn the truth about what James did to his wife
In teaching her about morality. Mary is portrayed as a good person with sound moral judgment, but because she never fully became a role model for Laura, the eight-year-old girl continued to act on the ways that she learned by raising herself. Kier-La Janisse explains in House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror that not having a role model can result in petty and argumentative ways of solving problems, which is shown clearly in Laura (99). The lack of a parental figure in Laura’s life left her to forge a faulty construction of morality.
Although Laura’s vindictive acts against her enemies suggests a questionable morality, she is safe in the town of Silent Hill. Laura is often seen playing in some of the most revolting areas of the town, such as Alchemilla hospital. According to Bernard Perron in Silent Hill: The Terror Engine, the hospital, among other areas, is purposely shown as dirty and unappealing to create feelings of repulsion throughout the game (38). The hospital is littered with open first aid kits,
dirty stretchers, and walls covered in blood and grime. Though it is not directly stated that Laura cannot see how dirty the hospital is, it is implied by the fact that the young girl plays in this gruesome setting with no inhibitions. When James insists that it is no place for a child to be playing, guiding her away from the filth and telling her that she should leave, she simply answers, “Why should I?” Moments like these emphasize Laura’s inability to understand the dangers facing the adults around her because she cannot see them. She plays in the dirty hospital as if it were a playground, allowing players to infer that,
Figure 3: Laura playing in Alchemilla Hospital
for Laura, the evil in the town is not embodied by monsters but by the real-world evil that took away her happiness.
A common trope in the Silent Hill series, which is brought to light in Ewan Kirkland’s "Masculinity in Video Games: The Gendered Gameplay of Silent Hill," is the helpless, trapped female being rescued by the male protagonist. Laura challenges this trope. James believes he is rescuing her from danger in many different scenes of the game, but in reality, she is never in any real danger. She is perceived as a child who is ill-equipped to be roaming the town by herself, but her lack of guilt and inability to see the evil in the town keeps her safe. Her blindness to evil works to her advantage, preventing her from experiencing the same hardships the adults face in Silent Hill. Compared to James and Angela who both have troubled pasts and guilt to absolve, Laura is in far less danger because she is not haunted in the same way.
A Woman Trapped in her Past
Angela’s experiences in Silent Hill act as a stark contrast to Laura’s. Due to her troubling and abusive past, she can see the monsters that Laura cannot. Instead of learning Angela's story from her directly, the player discovers why she behaves so peculiarly in dangerous situations through newspapers or paintings, clues that the player must put together like a puzzle. As Laurie Taylor discussed in Gothic Bloodlines in Survival Horror Gaming, Angela’s storyline resembles a gothic narrative in that information is revealed through hidden texts, the
Figure 4: James meeting Angela in the cemetery outside of Silent Hill
setting is a dark and “haunted” place, and paintings show the world is inhabited by the past (53).
Angela, a sixteen-year-old girl, straddles the line between childhood and adulthood. In appearance, she is a teenager, but, according to the creators of Silent Hill 2, a voice actor in her forties played Angela in order to give the impression that
Figure 5: Angela asks James to hold the knife, which she intended to use for suicide
she is much older than she truly is. A scene in a cemetery is the first instance where the player witnesses this dual personality. She appears as a mature young woman at first but reverts to acting more childlike and innocent. Despite her advising James against going into the town due to its dangers, James still decides to go, making her defensive because she thinks he suspects her of lying. Angela’s traumatic past of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse causes her to see the world as inherently antagonistic, contributing to her defensive reaction when James pays no mind to her warnings. Her past forced her to grow up quickly and
protect herself from potential beatings and contributes to her survivability in Silent Hill. Her childlike nature is also evident in her perceptions of her mother. Her mother contributed to Angela’s repression by convincing her that she deserved her abuse. However, Angela constantly refers to her mother as “mama,” implying that she believes her mother cares about her (Janisse 110). These clashing realities imply that Angela may suffer from Stockholm syndrome. These symptoms contribute to the childlike nature she portrays, showing that she still holds onto her childhood mannerisms in situations where she feels she needs to defend herself.
Angela, unlike Laura, can experience danger while in the town, but her methods of defense are more in her control. While Laura’s survival relies on her inability to see the danger, Angela reverts to a childlike state in a dangerous situation, revealing her state of mind when she was abused and had to fend for herself. In Sheri Graner Ray’s Gender Inclusive Game Design, she discusses the limited narrative possibilities for female characters in video games, which
include damsel-and-distress narratives or empowerment by being highly sexualized, neither of which resemble Angela’s narrative (18-21). Angela usually saves herself rather than waiting for someone else to do it. This behavior is especially apparent during a scene when she is holding a knife, staring longingly at it while contemplating suicide. Rather than needing James to rush in and save her from killing herself, she makes the choice to give him the knife. In this way, she makes the choice to save her own life. She displays full control of her life, which reinforces the idea that her innocence is responsible for keeping her alive, not James or the player.
Figure 6: Angela asks James to hold onto the knife she intended to use for suicide
Several cut-scenes show Angela's agency as a non-playable character as well as how her childhood innocence serves as a means of protection. In Storytelling in Survival Horror Videogames, Kirkland stresses that the actions of characters in cut-scenes assume a symbolic or metaphoric representation, bridging the gap between "gaming" and "storytelling." (66). At one point, James finds her in a room constructed of skin that is covered in blood. The setting represents her inward trauma regarding her father spilling out into reality. Mark Santos and Sarah White explain in “Playing With Ourselves: A Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill,” that trauma in the Silent Hill universe is capable of “producing not only monsters, but also an entire perverse alternate reality full of bleeding walls . . . and an increase in gory, graphic details” (75-76). During this scene, Angela is face-to-face with a creature called Abstract Daddy, a monster who looks like a nondescript, gray, humanoid figure trapped within what appears to be a door frame. Abstract Daddy is a representation of the trauma she has experienced and repressed in relation to her father. She is petrified, unable to move in the presence of the horrific creature that is a reflection of her abusive father. She is forced to relive her innocent childhood, conflicted with the fear of a possible beating. The scene with the Abstract Daddy establishes Angela’s past abuse.
Ultimately, however, Angela is able to overcome the Abstract Daddy. Even though she cowers in fear from the creature
Figure 7: Angela kills the Abstract Daddy, a terrifying metaphor of her past abuse
at first, she ultimately finishes it off. The player must fight the Abstract Daddy in order to progress the story, but theplayer is not the one who kills it: during a cut-scene, Angela throws a TV on the Abstract Daddy, ending its life. In Tanya Krzywinska’s “Hands-On Horror,” she explains that because cut scenes are out of the player’s control (207), they represent moments of self-determination for non-player characters. Angela has complete control over her fate in this moment. Angela’s past literally returns to haunt her, but she displays control over the situation, relying on her own strength rather than an outside force. Because she
learned how to survive during her child years, she is able to mentally revert to this point in her life despitebeing a teenager.
Angela’s encounter with the Abstract Daddy is only the beginning of what the player sees of the world around her. Her final scene, when she is standing on a burning staircase while looking at a portrait on the wall, shows an explicit view of
how she perceives the world. After James walks into the room, he notices Angela looking at a portrait on the wall, and takes a few steps up the stairs to approach her. When she notices that he is there, she exclaims "mama" and climbs down the stairs toward him. She says, "Mama, I was looking for you; you're the only one left. Maybe then, maybe then I can rest." She then touches his face tenderly, looking the happiest she has looked throughout the entire game, but then gasps and backs away when she realizes it's actually James. She apologizes for her mistake, and goes on to explain that she didn't deserve to be saved
Figure 8: Angela's final scene, where we see the hellfire in her mind
by him, and that she also doesn't deserve any pity for the situation she is in. The camera is now in James's point of view, focusing on her before her voice takes a sinister turn. Her voice sounds deeper, and more pointed as she says, "or maybe you think you can save me. Will you love me? Take care of me? Heal all my pain?" When James doesn't answer, she says "that's what I thought." She then asks for the knife that James took from her earlier, and after he refuses to give it to her, she begins her slow ascension up the stairs to her implied death. Her final words, which she says after James mentions that it's "hot as Hell in here," she says "You see it, too? For me, it's always like this."
At this point in the game, James has realized that he murdered his wife for selfish reasons and, in a sense, is in a living Hell. Angela's last line to James shows that their psyches have aligned, as she has always been in this "Hell" because of her past trauma. In this scene, the player is now aware of what Angela has seen for her entire life, and her final moments are loaded with important details of how she perceives the world. This scene demonstrates a complete loss of innocence, ultimately contributing to her death. Until this point, Angela had been portrayed as timid and scared. However, her questions to James mark a change in her. This remarkable change in attitude shows that the childlike innocence she once retained no longer had a place in her life. Being “taken care of” is something she lacked as a child, so asking James if he would take care of her feels more like she's mocking those who have told her that before, as opposed to genuinely asking him to care. Her spiral into “Hell” shows that she has realized that living in her past is keeping her in a state of childlike innocence, which she addresses in this scene as a burden. Instead of expecting someone to come in and "heal all of her pain," she makes the decision to ditch her previous disposition, and walk into the flames.
When Angela asks for the knife, the player is not given a choice to hand it to her. James refuses to do so as a part of the pre-written story. The scene is done by “restricting interactivity, and by constructing play as a process of storytelling,” revealed as a seemingly antagonistic relation between narrative and gameplay (Kirkland 65). Disabling the player's choice to save Angela portrays her death as a means of demonstrating what her loss of innocence did to her. Angela’s reversion into childhood innocence is what protected her until she threw it away to the hellfire in the room around her. By giving up her quest to survive, which meant getting rid of the only thing that kept her alive, she loses the one thing she struggled to protect for sixteen years.
Silent Hill 2: An Escapism Parallel?
Silent Hill 2 implies that childhood innocence is the most effective escape from the dangers of adulthood. Because Laura is not an adult, the town is not a scary place where she has to deal with the “monsters” of her past. Angela, on the other hand, encounters monsters and torturous environments that test her ability to survive. She ultimately fails to do so when she loses her innocence. Though both have an innocent nature that protects them from the evils of the town, the origin of their personalities are much different but have the same, protective effect. Laura, as an orphan, was forced to raise herself, which meant she preserved a childlike view of the world because no one taught her how to see things differently. She was free to do what she wanted, whenever she wanted, even if it meant torturing a man she did not even know. Angela’s complicated, abusive past shows that, despite having parents who could have guided her morality, they instead created signs of trauma in her that made the town dangerous for her. However, because the methods she learned from childhood kept her alive in the past, she subconsciously resorts to using them as a means to protect herself. It was literally beaten into her to see the world as a malevolent place during her days as a child, and she uses her childhood perspective to survive in the suffocating, evil town.
Both Laura and Angela show that innocence is beneficial. Their “escape” into childhood mimics video gaming itself. Gamers often claim that playing video games gives them an escape from the trials of the real world because games often include situations that they would never have to face in reality. These forms of escapism vary widely, from rescuing a princess in the Super Mario franchise, saving an entire kingdom in the Legend of Zelda series, or uncovering mysteries in Silent Hill 2. But regardless of their differences, these heroic adventures provide a mental escape for gamers and a place where they can forget their troubles rooted in reality. Laura and Angela’s stories reflect this deflection of reality. They turn to childlike behaviors in response to the crises of their lives, just as ordinary people might use the innocent activity of playing video games as a means of protecting themselves from the poison-spewing, long-clawed "monsters" in their own realities.
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