When I got serious enough about my writing career that I started feeling guilty for spending a bunch of my time playing video games, I started to rationalize my pass time by calling it research. Example:
“Yeah… I can play Final Fantasy XII today because, hey, maybe it’ll give me some inspiration.”
Not the worst logic. Until it’s applied to something without a strong fantasy element, like Bionic Commando: Rearmed.
Or, ya know, Hexic.
But there were times where I felt justified. There were games that had sound stories and characters that I’m glad I didn’t miss for the impact they’ve had on me not just as a fantasy writer, but a writer in general. In retrospect, I call them Games for Writers.
And when I thought of blogging about them, there was no competition for which came first.
Okay. I know. You’ve probably seen the movie and know how lackluster it was. Or you didn’t see the movie because you thought it looked horrible or because you played the first game and either quit early or (God forbid) beat it and discovered that the story made no-and I mean NO-sense at all. Ya know what? On all counts, I don’t blame you. Seriously. Both game and movie go off the deep end with weird, mystic, hell lingo that took many viewers and gamers right out of the experience.
Silent Hill 2, however, was nothing like that. From the start, it’s story, characters, and mood grab you and never really let go.
You play as James Sunderland who’s received a letter from his wife, Mary, who died years before the game starts. In the letter, she urges him to come to Silent Hill, the resort town where they spent their honeymoon, where she’s waiting for him. Needless to say, an amazing hook.
It only gets better when you start playing and the fog sets in along with Akira Yamaoka’s eerie music. It creates enough intensity and dread with its mood that it’s easily a lesson in setting and tone. And also, because it can get so, so far out there, it doubles as a huge, huge lesson in originality. One that keeps going for the rest of the game.
But I think where things really pick up is when you meet Maria, a woman who looks exactly like James’ dead wife but acts nothing like her.
Suddenly, the situation changes. Cinemas and dialog become more interesting and frightening; James might be falling for Maria. He might be forgetting about Mary. But either way, the game does something surprising. It stops being about a town that’s cursed or a gateway to hell or whatever. It starts being about James. And Maria. And Mary. And the other people you meet in town, all scary in their own ways because each of them seems like they’re the worst in us. So then, Silent Hill 2 becomes about us and the terrible things we do. Yes, there are monsters you have to kill and puzzles to solve, but they don’t get in the way of the story the same way the story doesn’t get in the way of Silent Hill 2 being a game.
I won’t go on and spoil anything, but I will say that Silent Hill 2 is definitely worth a play for writers, especially if they’re already gamers. There’s a surprisingly intense and original emotional journey here that too many people have missed.
4 thoughts on “Games for Writers: Silent Hill 2”
This definitely adds on to my wanting to play this game. I’ve heard so much about it. But this emphasis on the story, on character development, then plot device or following a game’s gameplay mechanics for enjoyment, this is something many games keep forgetting.
Some games don’t seem to need much of a story, like fighting games, racing games, and the like, but I think the industry is seeing that the better the story, the more it resonates within the psyche of its players, and the more it resounds through the halls of game history time and time again.
Horrow games have often fallen prey to faulty storylines because horror games, like horror movies, begin to rely on the scary images then the story. But they fail to realize that the better the story, the more the gamer is drawn into it. The more you can affect their mind. We become apart of that world and we feel the consequences of those choices. When Maria I guess mixes up James’ world, we too feel it.
And then of course you throw in all the other cool stuff, like solid gameplay, and it’s only better. I hear Pyramid Head is quite the king of monsters.
Yeah, on top of everything else, the game is the first appearance of Pyramid Head, who’s still, in my opinion, the most striking horror antagonist to come along in a while. Also, he’s the only saving grace of the movie, if there was one.
But again, from a writer’s standpoint, Silent Hill 2 also has a bunch of endings that are mostly determined by minute differences in your actions. Example: if you’re often hurt but don’t heal, you’re on a steady course for the worst ending. If you spend a lot of time with Maria, you’ll likely unlock yet another bad ending (these endings are rarely good, btw). That nuances there wind up being interesting distinctions of mood and levels of character development that most games ignore when they make you, say, KILL DARTH VADER OR KILL THE EMPEROR! at the very last moment to decide what fate your character will face (regardless of how you’ve played your character). It may be more of a video game writing lesson there, but it’s still interesting.