Analysis – Of Monsters, Radios, and Flashlights: The Globalization of “Silent Hill”

Written by guest writer: contracosta

The year is 2002. I pop in Silent Hill 2 into our Playstation 2 out of curiosity and for the first time, I delve into the foggy, disturbing town known as Silent Hill. Silent Hill 2 introduced me to the world of survival horror; a man who receives a letter invitation from his wife who had passed away three years prior, a woman who is subjected to multiple grotesque deaths, and who could forget the infamous Pyramid Head rape scene? What is it exactly that draws us along with the characters of each respective game to the tourist location known as Silent Hill? Can it be the gorgeous views of Toluca Lake, the Lake Side Amusement Park, or possibly the abundance of monsters and conveniently placed radios, flashlights, and weapons? Whatever it is, the Silent Hill franchise has definitely found an audience in both the east and west. The Silent Hill franchise has been critically lauded overall, commercially successful. Its popularity has led to its adaptation into print media, feature films, and spin-off video games. Silent Hill has made its presence known on Anime, Comics, and Game (ACG) globalization and culture through multimedia.

Globalization is defined as the process by which businesses or organizations develop international influence.[1] Indeed, the past two decades has seen ACG culture grow to be ubiquitous worldwide, and its popularity serves as both a supplement and alternative to the acknowledged American pop culture dominance.[2] While this paper does not serve to tease apart the underlying causes and effects of widespread popularity of ACG culture, it does intend to shed light onto how a single game can have effects felt around the world through explaining its involvement across different mediums.

A Foggy Town of Monsters, Radios, and Flashlights

Silent Hill games share a common setting in the series’ eponymous tourist setting, Silent Hill. There are at three different universes that the town encompasses: the “Real World,” a peaceful tourist destination, the “Fog World” sparsely populated by monsters, and the “Otherworld,” populated by monsters, blood rusted chain link fences, and body bags. The fog represents the ambiguity of the game, leaving fans across forums and websites to speculate widely about interpretations.
The games stress a feeling of helplessness. Silent Hill and Silent Hill 3 intentionally start off with a dream sequence in which the main character is meant to die. All of the games (except Silent Hill 4: The Room) require the use of radios and flashlights. Radio white noise signals the proximity of a monster and flashlights and the use of fog and darkness make it hard for the player to see what can lie ahead. Players are aware of danger but they can’t visualize it, creating nervousness and anxiety. The non-diegetic music aptly expresses mood, setting the tone for panic, stress, or subtle gloom, supplemented by quiet sobbing, bloody footsteps, and occasionally by diegetic scare noises (for example, the cat in the locker at Midwich Elementary School).
The town serves as a subconscious, reflexive, and liminal area for characters, representing and reflecting their desires and feelings though monsters. In Silent Hill 2, the provocatively dressed bubble-headed nurses are interpreted to reflect the main character’s sexually deprived state and his wife’s hospitalization. Silent Hill features monsters from a child’s fears and feelings of alienation. Guilt is a common theme, carried through 2, Origins, Homecoming, and Downpour, with each character having their own personal monsters, both literally and metaphorically. The most iconic of these is Pyramid Head, who wields a spear or great knife and persistently pursues the character through Silent Hill 2. As a transitional arena, players learn more about the history of characters as they learn about themselves, and the dark history of the town. The games are known to have plot twists and multiple endings, based on the decisions the player makes, adding to the layers of depth.
Silent-Hill-2-HD-Pyramid-Head

Exporting Silent Hill

Recently, global audiences have grown to appreciate art that “acknowledges and even embraces the complexities of life.”[3] Also, ACG culture has been widely accepted due to its complex themes and characters as well as its “lack of simplistic endings.”[4] Silent Hill’s complex and psychological horror status has led to its further development outside of Japan in the form of games and films.

According to Mia Consalvo, Japanese companies like Konami have production companies around the world that offer products that will target local regions and areas in order to “broaden their markets [and] expand operations.”[5] Installments in the franchise began being produced in studios outside of Japan in 2007, a controversial decision prompting complaints from fans of the series. Team Silent, a developmental group within Konami responsible for the first four games disbanded and external Western companies Climax Studios and Double Helix Games developed the later games. Unfortunately, American game designers were stuck in a difficult position: design a game that is too similar to previous games or design a game that is too different, alienating the fan base directly responsible for the franchise’s success. The games have received mixed critical reactions, generally praising visuals but criticizing gameplay and plot.

The popularity of the series has led to its adaptation into Hollywood film, another example ACG globalization. Silent Hill (2006, Christopher Gans) is a retelling of the first video game and was met with mixed critical reception. Silent Hill Revelation 3D (2012, Michael Bassett) was released recently as a sequel to the first film, and served as a retelling of Silent Hill 3, and met with overwhelmingly negative reviews. Though the later games and films weren’t warmly received, it cannot be denied that exporting Silent Hill has extended its reach to further audiences.

The-Nurses-in-Silent-Hill-Revelation-2012-Movie-Image-2-600x337

Silent Hill Multimedia

Silent Hill is largely held to be a defining and innovating video game in the survival horror genre. The first game has been hailed as one of the scariest games of all times. It is highly influential in its genre, with many games sharing similar elements, like usage of atmosphere, reminiscent of art house and Japanese horror films like Ju-on (2000, Takashi Shimizu). The Siren series, developed a member of the now defunct Team Silent, Keiichiro Toyama, shares a dark atmosphere. Alan Wake is compared to Silent Hill 2 due to similarities in the dark atmosphere and in the plot in looking for a wife (though I must admit, dead wife sending a letter takes the cake for being much more macabre).

Soundtracks and art books have been produced. Akira Yamaoka, a fan favorite, composed soundtracks for the franchise (except for Downpour). Art books, like Drawing Block: Silent Hill 3 Program,filled with screenshots from the games were released as well. Lost Memories: The Art and Music of Silent Hill was released in 2003, including all of the soundtracks, creature galleries, music videos, and trailer collections.

The series has found itself adapted to different mediums including print media, films, and spin-off video games. A series of comics based on the Silent Hill series was released from 2004-2008, with all but two written by American author Scott Ciencin. Light novel adaptations of the first two games, written by Sadamu Yamashita, have been produced as well. As mentioned before, the films, though not particularly well received, have made the series more open outside of the gaming community and the exposure has introduced new fans to the games. Most people are now aware of Silent Hill as “the one where that one girl gets her skin ripped off.” Silent Hill: The Arcade was released in 2007, a departure from survival horror into a basic rail gun shooter. Silent Hill: Orphan and Orphan 2 were point and click games released for the mobile phone. Silent Hill’s impact on ACG culture can be felt through multimedia convergence and through its influence on the survival horror video game genre.

Conclusion

As a piece of ACG, the Silent Hill franchise has definitely earned its place as a one of the most popular and influential series in horror. Just writing about it makes me feel nostalgic; I would rush home after school to get sliced in half by Pyramid Head, impaled by ghost hands, and pulled into water by a tentacle monster. These games were frightening to play, but uncovering the plot was always so damn rewarding. It’s no wonder why Konami hoped to branch out to further audiences overseas, why Hollywood was so eager to make two terrible films, and why comics and other adaptations of the game were made. While I question the alterations, adaptations, and general decrease in quality of the recent installments, I am certainly a fan, and I eagerly anticipate the release of every new game in the series. I still find myself drawn to the seductive and mysterious town of Silent Hill.


[2] Susan Napier, From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 126.

[3] Ibid, 173.

[4] Mia Consalvo, “Convergence and Globalization in the Japanese Videogame Industry,” Cinema Journal, 48, no 3. (2009): 141.

[5] Ibid, 136

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