Temporary hiatus!

I’m on a temporary hiatus till I sort out a few things, but fear not! I’m still actively thinking up blog posts, I just need to concentrate on getting into university for a few months!
In addition to that I’m working on an indie RPG game, in the vein of a few others that I have played and enjoyed – and I am also working on an LP channel on YouTube, possibly just to play the games, but also maybe to discuss and talk of themes etc. It’ll primarily be focusing upon indie and freeware games, but also maybe some SNES era ones (to get a bit of history in there) so keep your eyes peeled for that.

The representation of women in video games

First of all, before starting off this blog post I would like to make several things clear, to abolish the primary “backlash” arguments against what is, admittedly, a controversial topic amongst the gaming community.

One can be a fan of things and then go on to criticise their problematic elements – enjoying something is not mutually exclusive of realising a media product has issues, and problems. Indeed, I enjoy many television shows that have problematic elements (but seen as this is primarily a video game blog I shall not go into those). I can, and do, consider myself a gamer. However there is no denying that the gaming community, and games themselves, have significant aspects that are problematic. Be it sexism, racism, or other such bigotries, the majority of video games do not, in fact, cater to an equal audience.

Secondly there is a well-worn out stereotype amongst many gamers, who leap to the defence of their favourite games, that there are no female gamers. This is incredibly inaccurate – it is not that there are no female gamers; it is that nobody pays attention to them. In the online world female gamers are chastised and sexually harassed so it is not a case of there being no female gamers, it is more that they are demeaned, and called “fake fans” if they do speak out in favour of games. (See here for more).  Similarly, the demographic of female gamers is on the rise and many women do in fact play video games.

Thirdly, I would pose to you a question: would you, as a gamer, play a game where your gender was constantly at the folly of horny gamers, clad in a bikini whilst also expected to fight off hoards of evil? How about almost always being killed off to forward another character’s plotline? My guess is no. So apply that to female gamers. (I would also add that large, muscle-bound men in video games are part of a male power fantasy, and it is not sexist. After all, you play and enjoy these games as a gamer).

Now, to the bulk of my argument, or rather, maybe, a breaking down of a controversial topic. Sexism in video games. Yes, it exists. Yes I enjoy games. I am, however, tired of the stale stereotypes that abound about women in video games and, what’s more, their outdated representation. Women in video games are generally, as a rule of thumb, killed, raped, abused, or there to be rescued by the male heroes. This is incredibly outdated, especially as the role of women in society is constantly in flux, and changing- they have more standing than they did, say, ten years ago yet the representation stays the same. If media is seen to reflect real life then why the outdated stereotypes? Come on, people!

For as long as anyone can remember there has been a significant neglect for women in video games – just as there is in cinema, and comics, and indeed geek culture as a whole. Women in video games tend to be typecast as pretty, busty and over and above all, sexualised – in other words, women in video games exist rarely as anything but the means to provide “fan service” for what is presumed to be a male audience, and what’s more, they rarely do anything within the games but look pretty. Here, I am going to go into detail about several of the issues implicit within video games.Image[Source]

Image

[Source]

Image 
[Source]

One of the major flaws within video games is a lack of equal representation – if you look into promotional images surrounding games you will almost always see a man in a position of power, clutching a weapon or generally looking cool, suave, and in control. Now switch to a woman. She is indeed clutching a weapon, if, er, we can call that clutching. No, my mistaken, she is seductively leaning against a weapon, in a pose that fully shows off her assets, staring directly at the audience (essentially telling them she’s fair game) – whereas Dante is seen in control of both his weapon, and as a hero, she is seen as submissive, passive, and her strength is undermined both by how submissive she looks next to the weapon, and her attire. Furthermore, Dante’s positioning and the positioning of the camera underneath him in a low-angle shot affirms his dominance and strength over both the game and the audience themselves. The female character in this case is Lady and she is not granted equal standing, despite her strength within the video game – she doesn’t even get a name, she is labelled literally as her gender. Lady. Because of this she is dehumanised and thus, easier to objectify and make into an identifiable fantasy for the audience.

Of course this would, perhaps, be considered harmless but unfortunately that isn’t how sexism works. If that were a one-off example. No, therein lies the issue of representation of women in video games, the representation of that character is almost exactly the same as the representation of many other characters within video game franchises. A simple Google  will show you not only that women in video games are sexually available to their audience (as fantasies) but also, that; their role within the game is little but to add a little eye candy. There is a running pattern here: thin, busty, pouty, clad in pseudo-BDSM gear. Now, if you Google the same, but for men, the results are quite different. Bar the BDSM gear. Maybe game designers like leather? Anyway, that’s beside the point- here you see men clutching weapons, with shades and capes and muscles, looking cool, domineering and in control, a stark contrast to the simpering women shown.

And, what’s more this isn’t just a trend amongst adult gamers. One of the most prolific game series’ to come out of the noughties was Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter, a game with the target demographic of younger children – their first game was aimed at those 7 and up. Gamers are exposed to harmful, and damaging, representations of women from a very early age,( through this they are taught that woman are all sexual objects) – all of the women in this game are scantily clad, busty babes. They all have simpering, “come hither” expressions and, bluntly put, are there purely as fantasy for anyone that way inclined. In themselves, the women are incredibly well-written and shirk stereotypes – Keira is a mechanic, and is incredibly good at working with machinery; Ashelin is an accomplished fighter and finally, Tess is another suitably well-written character. Yet, despite this, the general consensus amongst script-writers seems to be that we cannot have strong female characters without the sexualisation. In other words, in order for a woman to be strong in a video game, she must also function as eye candy. This not only means that very few gamers will take her seriously (as detailed below) but it completely demeans what little power she may have held, as she can easily be projected as nothing but a fantasy.

Image

[Source]

Now, what, you may say, is so bad about having a little eye candy in my video games? Well, for starters, a quick browse of top-ten characters lists shows a few eye-opening things. First of all, female characters are almost always judged by their physical appeal to gamers, in other words they may well be a well-rounded, well-written character but to gamers that doesn’t matter, as long as they’re hot and available as sexual objects.
Take Yuna, from FFX, for example. She is a well-written character, arguably the hero of the story, and a strong female character – she holds her own in the game, even rescues herself (which is incredibly rare for video games). What did reviewers have to say about her?
“[…] the star heroine whose soft features, kindness, and her unique story makes her one of the better beauties to love.” [Source]
“The graceful demeanour can only mean one thing, inside is a wild, bad girl just waiting to summon some type of beast of horniness on the poor sap of her choosing.” [Source] (This entire article features one man on a mission to demean and turn every female character into a sexual object. Truly inspirational.)
“Fine eye-candy” (The IGN article this quote was featured in has since been taken down. Quote taken from this Wiki)
As you can see despite her standing as a good example of a female character, reviewers don’t care because she’s sexually attractive, and to them, that is all that matters; there are numerous mentions of her beauty, her sex appeal, and how attractive she is and yet very little about her character development, or strength. This is a direct side-effect of objectification within video games, and if you thought relatively “harmless” comments were where that ended, you’d be sorely mistaken. The representation of female characters in video games directly overlaps with sexism in real life, the audiences’ attitudes to female gamers, and gamers themselves are incredibly vitriolic towards female gamers or those seeking to criticise games from a feminist perspective (the author would like to note that anyone acting in such a way shall be blocked).

Image

[Source]

Image

[Source]

Image

[Source]

This sexualisation isn’t limited to humans, either. Numerous examples of sexualised non-human creatures in video games exist. And, when it comes to it, would it be viable for an alien species such as the Asari to have secondary sexual characteristic of human features? Why do alien women need boobs? Especially when male aliens will be suitably inhuman, such as Garrus who is grotesque and inhuman in every sense of the word. As a side point, would it make sense for females of non-human species to genuinely have the secondary sexual characteristics of human women? Probably not. This isn’t limited to Mass Effect either – Ratchet and Clank has Angela the Lombax, another curvaceous alien and Final Fantasy has numerous dubiously-clad, and non-human summons, such as Shiva and Siren. Similarly, whilst male characters will have entirely viable armour to protect them with, their female counterparts will often be clad in what is commonly called an “iron bikini”, which would offer them no protection in the slightest.

Of course, there are examples of strong women in video games: Ada Wong, Rynn, Heather Mason, Lara Croft and numerous women in Final Fantasy. However, as previously touched upon, these women are not without their flaws. And, nine times out of ten they are nothing but sexualised, despite their strength – we need to be able to write female characters, without objectification.

Image

[Source]

Lara Croft was a character specifically designed to be strong, and female, as displayed in the quote “He also claimed a desire to counter stereotypical female characters, which he has characterized as “bimbos” or “dominatrix” types.” Of course she succeeds at being strong, and is a well-written character in her own right- she is independent, rarely a damsel in distress, and can more than hold her own. Having said that, gamers were far too swift to relegate her to sex symbol status, because of her portrayal in video games, and the obvious anatomical issues that come with that. The writer may have intended her to be a counterbalance to the rampant sexualisation, but she was just another dominatrix to many gamers.

Image

[Source]

Similarly, Rynn from Drakan is another strong female character – her storyline in the first game subverts traditional “damsel in distress” tropes, and she infact has to rescue her brother. She is another example of a lone female within video games who can hold her own, but she suffers from similar pitfalls to that of Ms Croft. She is curvaceous, sexualised, and her armor is less-than practical, to put it lightly (all those gaps around her navel sure look good, but they’re an adequate target for mortal blows). She also falls prey to the weary trope of having a strong female character who is only strong because of a tortured past – many female characters are only as strong as they are because they are emotionally distant, due to past traumas. There are few strong and emotional female characters.

Those are just two examples of female in video games, who are well-written. As previously mentioned, it seems that script-writers cannot write a strong female character without then making her busty, curvaceous, and clad in little more than a bikini. There are numerous women in video games, such as Trish from the first DMC, and Aerith in FFVII, who are present within the game literally only to be killed off. And, as seen, sexism in games negatively effects perceptions of women in real life, transforming the gaming community into one rife with sexism. 

Intertextuality between video games and cinema

Although it may not at first be apparent, there are many intertextual links between films and video games – and what’s more, it goes both ways. Although many films that use intertextual links between them and video games tend to be strictly relegated to adaptions, so the link between them is obvious and used to garner more fan attention, there are intertextual links that video games take directly from films.

In the late 90s many video games began to create more games geared towards an adult audience, and with it they also began to shift towards a more adult way of presentation, and as such many games began nodding towards cinema, novelists, and other such materials. This was both to simulate the maturity that video games now wished to present – to get many of these references pre-internet; one would have to have consumed these texts in the first place. They were also a way for many game designers to nod towards their influences, inspirations, and truly, a form of flattery for those concerned. There are numerous examples of intertextuality within video games.

Many aspects of Silent Hill, for example, are direct nods towards Steven King novels – there are posters for The Shining, and one of the more obvious nods would be the ever-present mist, an obvious nod to a King work. A more obvious link towards film within Silent Hill would be the presence of Valtiel, who’s shaking head, is an obvious nod to the infamous Jacob’s Ladder scene.  There are also many other examples present within the film, many linking to popular horror culture. This would have the double whammy of also creating a sense of inclusion for the audience as many of these aspects were present directly as nods towards horror-culture, and obviously the main target audience of these films would be those who enjoy horror.

Of other PSX-era games, there are many other intertextual links. Resident Evil, whilst not directly linking towards any other texts – except, perhaps, the works of Romero in the obvious presence of zombies – used many cinematic camera angles. This was done both to emulate cinema, and to heighten dramatic effect as before the game was released, very few games used cinematic-styled cutscenes or angles. Although the fixed angle may have presented several gameplay issues, it in itself was widely praised and the games set the benchmark for years to come, especially in terms of the use of cinematic stylings for video games.  
The use of cinematic framing in Resident Evil heighten atmosphere, suspense, and deliberate inclusion as a nod to the genres that the game was alluding to. Resident Evil was in itself a tribute to American action films, and used camp dialogue, over-the-top-action and horror by the way of a tribute towards the genre. It was archetypal, but also mocked the archetypes and featured many quotable lines such as “You were almost a Jill sandwich” (although this was down to poor translation). Here are several examples of aforementioned angles, in use within the game.

Image

Here, in a shot from the original Resident Evil we have an example of a mid-shot being used for dramatic effect – the zombie is shambling towards the player character, and the use of a mid-shot not only aids the player who can see how close they are to becoming a zombie take-out, but directly mimics cinematic shots. It was a fixed angle, so would not move for the entirety of the scene. This angle would then zoom into the hallway from an over-the-shoulder perspective to heighten audience empathy with the character, and include them directly in the narrative.

Image

In this screenshot from Resident Evil 4 the angle, is again, an over-the shoulder shot although this time the camera has panned out to reveal both main characters and uses a tilt to create a sense of imposing fear, and danger, in relation to the church. This would increase suspense, alludes to the threatening state of the church and creates the sense that the church is looming over Leon – he is dwarfed by it. This creates fear and tension, and more actively makes it easier for the player to shoot any Ganados (the monster within the game) they encounter.

A cutscene within Resident Evil 4 also directly links in with Jaws. In it, you are being pursued by Del Lago, a giant newt.  The use of a chaotic camera, and shots including the infamous Dutch Angle creates a sense of confusion, and many of the scenes themselves are direct tributes to Jaws, which obviously features another giant monster in a body of water. Initially the shot uses a point-of-view shot to show that Leon is being hunted by something, a device used here to emulate fear and to portray the perspective of the monster you will soon be hunting. It is also a dramatic example of using a POV shot to create tension, suspense, and fear and this angle is in itself a direct link to Horror films; film such as Predator have previously included similar shots.

Image

Yet again, another obvious link between film and gaming would be present in the form of Lara Croft, who is a female hero – one of the first to grace player screens – and an obvious nod towards Indiana Jones, another hands-on treasure hunter with attitude. Other games within the PSX era that seek to emulate cinema, and cinematic styled angles include Final Fantasy VII (and VIII), Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and Metal Gear Solid, which deliberately alluded to films within its text. MGS was perhaps the most obvious allusion, with its main character being Solid Snake, an obvious allusion to Snake Plissken.  He even [in later games] dons an eyepatch.

Within the PS2 era, with improved graphics and the ability to include fully animated cutscenes came more improvements to the intertextuality present, and video games widened their links to cinema. The most humorous, perhaps, was the penultimate scene of Jak 3; an obvious nod to the Wizard of Oz. Other inclusions to the Jak series also had not only cinematic allusions but dynamic camera angles which followed the player character as they walked, and mimicked tracking shots. This has the effect of drawing the player into the action and keeping the flow of the game steady and paced.

A lesser known game, Forbidden Siren 2, deliberately emulated B-Movies and horror films in particular and as such included a grainy filter upon the majority of its cutscenes. (I apologise for the god-awful dub in this video, there was no Japanese-language/English sub walkthrough available on YouTube). Much in the way that Tarantino included “pixel burn” and grainy filters in his Grindhouse films, these games included similar aspects to create a specific feel.  Although not directly intertextual with any film specifically, as many b-movies only had poor production values because of budget concerns and available equipment at the time, the grainy filters evoke a certain feel and fit in with the “found footage” aspect of this genre. Indeed, Forbidden Siren is one of the only video games to directly emulate found footage for a horrific aspect – although you do have the choice to swap between first and third person perspective within, so this in itself is a tenuous link.

Much in the vein of Resident Evil, Final Fantasy X included many fixed camera angles to focus upon character reactions, background scenery or specific events.

Image

In this case the camera shot is a close-up to show the reactions of the two main characters – Tidus and Yuna within a suitably emotional cutscene, intended to heighten audience empathy with the scene, as well as increasing the emotional connection between the audience and the player characters.

Image

In this FMV (full motion video) the shot is a mid-shot, close enough to show the reactions of the characters but also far enough zoomed out for the company to not only show off their superior graphics engine (which has always been a major selling point of the game) but heightens both setting and atmosphere of the film.

Many other examples of intertextuality are present within video games, both directly in the form of tributes to genre/inspiration, and indirectly through the use of cinematic camera angles and filters. 

Video Games as Art

The debate regarding video games as art rages on, and with both the hardcore gamer and the hardcore artist arguing their side, I am here to argue for the former. Please note that I am also an artist (although, foremost a gamer), perhaps not an accomplished one – and certainly not one who has ever had their art hung in a gallery, but an artist nonetheless. After having read this article I decided to stage a retaliation article, of sorts. Not to attack or demean, but to argue my own points regarding this issue, especially as a budding games designer.

I take fault with this article for several reasons, not least quoting papers that are nearly 200 years old. 200 years ago society was much different to the society we now find ourselves in, and with societal progression comes redefinition and change. After all, why classify games as non-artistic based in the philosophy of peoples who had no idea of what video games even are? But this is besides the point.

The debate surrounding video games as art is an ever-swirling mass of toing and froing from both sides, and the arguments are complicated and ever-going on. To begin with we should find a definition of art.
Art:
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture,…: “the art of the Renaissance”
Works produced by such skill and imagination.
Synonyms for art include craft, skill, science and workmanship.
So, in the simplest terms, video games would then be considered as art – they are expressions of human creative skill and are the product of imagination. They also require craft, skill and science to create: they take years to write, develop, and produce. However, to look for a more defined concept of what art is would widen, and deepen, the argument for video games as art. 

Image

I would also argue that art is interpreted through user interaction and integration – how an audience may view a piece, much art is open to interpretation and brings into play wider themes. There is art regarding sexuality, feminism, politics and philosophy and it takes many, many forms, not just a painting. Writing, poetry, even now visual cinema are all considered viable art forms. In this case, video games would again be consider an art if you were to take these aspects into play – video games are the ultimate interactive art form, as you take on an avatar and guide them through whichever scenarios take place within the narrative. Video games too, bring into play politics, philosophy and many other wide-reaching themes; games such as Fallout tackle war, and the standout phrase of that series is “War. War never changes.”  This isn’t even a modern development- in the mid-nineties, Final Fantasy was tackling themes of war and human slavery in their epic RPG Final Fantasy VI and in the late 90s, survival horror was born in the form of Silent Hill which tackled mature themes such as bullying, social alienation, and religion. These may, initially, not be considered artistic themes but these themes have been tackled in literature, painting, and cinema for decades, years even. Whilst they may not themselves, specifically, be artistic themes, the fact that they appear within an art piece is enough to define them as such.

Image

So, in the basest terms of what the generalised definitions of art are, you could in this case, consider a video game a form of art. I would, however, like to back up my argument and put forward several other arguments, and considerations, not just personal opinions. For example, video games are not a simplistic process, simply putting words into a computer to form a finished product. Months, if not years, of writing, developing, and designing will go into a game before it is a finished product. This includes writing, scoring, developmental designing and a whole host of other aspects which produce a finished product that could, in itself be considered an art-form.

Indeed, many video games are in themselves comprised of many different art forms, put together into a larger art form. Concept art is much like the art you may find in a gallery, and is eventually animated and put into a game in the form of characters, settings, and scenarios. The music of a game has long since changed from chiptune to include full orchestral scores – such as BioShock and Shadow of the Colossus. Then of course there are cutscene and full motion videos, which in themselves seek to emulate cinema and often do.  As is evident, there are many aspects that go towards putting a game together and not only this, these individual elements are often considered an artform in themselves – so why is it that video games carry such stigma? Personally I believe it is to do with the old stereotypes and the personal stigma many people hold towards gamers.

Image

A piece of concept art from Final Fantasy XII.

One of the foremost arguments against video games being classified as art is that games such as The Sims exist. This, in itself, shows ignorance to what video games are – The Sims are, infact, one of the most successful franchises, yes. But they are not the only example of a successful game franchise – BioShock, Fallout, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy and Mass Effect are all examples of well-made video games, well-received by critics and audiences alike, that encompass many more adult themes. In this, the stereotype of the teenage boy sat alone in his bedroom playing video games is far from accurate –it may have been accurate 10, 20 years ago but these gamers grew up and with their ageing, so their tastes too developed. An ageing audience requires games more suited to their demographic, just as comics in the 80s became an adult market, so to have video games now become a more grown-up market. By including games such as The Sims and Call of Duty, many people arguing against video games as art are infact manipulating their audience and perpetuating old stereotypes as to what games are. They not only ignore that the industry has evolved and produced some stunning works of art, but neglect to mention the wider range of video games in the first place. I am a firm believer in the fact that one cannot argue against something without being fully aware of both sides – and by neglecting to even learn of video games, some people face a downfall.

Now, onto some of the very games themselves. I may hear you ask just what games could be considered art – why, I have mentioned several of them on this blog alone. Silent Hill and Shadow of the Colossus are two such games which contain adult themes, open to interpretation, and beautifully put together. But there are many such games besides that could be considered art. Perhaps my favourite here is Okami, a game based in Japanese folklore and telling the tale of a Japanese god, Amaterasu. She is the Mother of All, God of the Sun, and in the game you seek out to banish evil from the land- and in doing so, much of the game’s beautiful scenery comes to life. What sets this game out from the rest is that the art style emulates traditional Japanese brush art, so the entire world is literally put forward as a painting. This brings into play an interesting dynamic, wherein you “paint” the world; you in a sense become an artist, shaping the world for the better, around you. Not only is the art in Okami beautiful but the score, too, and the adherence to traditional mythology and wide themes such as environmentalism, love, and heroism.

Image

And another game, BioShock, encompasses wide philosophical and societal themes, with a dash of politics. It takes place in Rapture, a city under the sea overseen by Andrew Ryan (a nod to Ayn Rand, whose objectivist themes are recurrent throughout the game) a dictator who wanted to get away from the government, and rule, to create his own land where people were free to do what they liked. However, things did not go as planned, and Rapture fell – you follow the wishes of a man named Atlas, trying to save his family, and escape Rapture. The game encompasses so many wide themes that to go into it requires its own blog post, but the themes in the game are not only adult, but bring into play an interesting dynamic when a certain act comes to pass. Do not read the following paragraph if you do not wish to have the game spoiled for you.

Within the game, the question of “what makes man a man” and free will come into play frequently – it is man’s free will that let Rapture fall, but was also the catalyst for the creation of a great city in the first place. Throughout the entire game the phrase “Would You Kindly” is repeated by Atlas, as he asks you to do certain things. You control the faceless protagonist under the guise of free will – you as a player are committing these acts off of your own back. Or are you? About half way through the game it is revealed your character has no free will, and the phrase “would you kindly” is a trigger to control you. Not only is your avatar within the game actually being controlled, but the player, as an extension of you, is also being controlled. You thought you were playing the game on your terms. You weren’t. The game itself manipulates you.

Image

It is themes such as these that bring into play the wider question of video games as art. Not only do some games include themes of politics, philosophy, and art – such as BioShock and Mass Effect, but some games seek to emulate cinema –such as Resident Evil. Other games tackle issues of love and morality, such as Final Fantasy, and finally some games such as Shadow of the Colossus and Okami are simply artistic in their design, execution, and presentation.

Whatever your viewpoint on this very issue, you cannot deny that video games are becoming more prominent, more developed, and are certainly leaning towards artistic direction moreso than at any other time.

Thematic Analysis of Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is a game at the forefront of the debate as to whether video games are truly an art form, due to the experience, themes, and overall feel of the game. In the guise of an action-puzzle-adventure-RPG, Shadow of the Colossus creates much food for thought in this debate. The main argument for this is that the game itself includes a wide array of themes, and depends itself upon a large amount of audience speculation – many questions are left unanswered, deliberately, to provoke thought, much like art itself. Created by Team Ico as the spiritual successor to another of their games, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus is a truly beautiful game.

Of the many themes featured within the game, all are open to speculation and impossible to fully answer – the themes of rebirth, death, love and futility are all touched upon, even to the point where the audience themselves are drawn into the game’s events. This, of course, deepens the emotional impact of the storyline, although the lines between the interactivity of the game and the futility of certain scenes are frequently blurred. The player must act upon the selfish wishes of the avatar, Wanda, despite their better judgment – and, even, begin to justify just what he commits.

Image

Shadow of the Colossus poses as a traditional fairytale – the stoic hero must rescue the beautiful maiden, and the maiden herself, Mono, is the epitome of innocence. Killed for something she cannot control, clad in a white dress, surrounded by doves and soft white light, she is the literal embodiment of innocence within the game, directly juxtaposed to a cruel, injust world around her. The cruelty of the world- where she is killed in cold blood, where Wanda himself kills in cold blood, and eventually dies, is softened by her presence. Wanda, the hero, rarely speaks, and though he is presented as the hero even he eventually becomes corrupt (throughout the game his appearance becomes slowly more monstrous as his humanity is eroded) and acts in increasingly selfish ways. Mono is the only one to stay pure and innocent throughout the entire game. Wanda’s eventual demise is his fault and it is here the theme of love comes into play, along with the theme of futility as a narrative device. The futility becomes apparent for the player, who will inevitably notice Wanda’s degrading physical state, which is used as foreshadowing for the tragic culmination of events.

Wanda’s love for Mono leads him on an epic quest, but also leads him to break several of the laws of mortals, a fact re-iterated by the God Dormin, and in doing so, by the end of the game he is merely being punished for his sins. Wanda had the choice to walk away, but he instead chooses to cling on to his love, refusing to let her die – if he had let go, he could have walked away with his pride, his life, and much more besides. Here the theme of undying love comes into play, another traditional fairytale archetype. However, much more like the darker, older fairytales, Shadow of the Colossus, though seemingly innocent, is in fact quite a dark, cynical tale. The hero of the tale could have chosen to let go and move on, but instead he sacrifices his freedom and his life in order to protect, and cherish, the one he loves. There is no stereotypical “happy ending” for them, for the end; although in a sense, the ending is bittersweet. Although Wanda is reincarnated as a horned baby, Mono brings him up, and thus they can never truly be together. In trying to save her and rekindle their romance, he forsakes their own relationship. His refusal to let go sacrifices not only his life, but the romance he was trying to save – instead of preserving his memories and moving on, he goes out and presumably upon his reincarnation, has forgotten entirely about their romance.  The events of the game are also needlessly cruel, and suggest, perhaps, that revenge never pays – in a sense Wanda is avenging the death of his love, as well as trying to bring her back.

We start the game with Wanda entering the temple, and engaging the God Dormin, who awakens and offers Wanda an immense task in a trade-off for the life of his lover. The price for his wish?  He must kill 16 Colossi (that’s giants to you and me), dotted throughout the land, in order to bring her back. The majority of these colossi are gentle, lumbering (and sometimes slumbering) throughout the land, until they are roused by Wanda, and thoughtlessly slaughtered. Some act in self-defence, but others simply walk around whilst the player scales, then kills them. Their deaths are not kind. The player is compliant in this, ultimately the one who causes Wanda to act as he does, as the player controls him.

In many ways, Wanda is the villain of this game, and this is not realised till the penultimate scenes, in which the Shaman divulges several facts. Dormin, the God who Wanda answers to during the events of this game, is an evil being, manipulating Wanda for his own gain (each Colossi is a segment of his soul) – namely his own resurrection. Wanda himself flaunted the rules of his tribe, stealing their sacred sword, and breaching the seal to this “cursed land” he finds himself in. Adding to this the fact that he slaughters these individual colossi, essentially bringing extinction upon a unique species, and he isn’t as innocent as initially considered. Furthermore, he breaks one of the most sacred rules of Mortals: he brings back the dead. Clearly, though you as a player sympathise with him, he is not the hero of our story, but rather an antihero. This subverts many of the themes present within many popular fairytale stories, and furthermore, presents an interesting moral dilemma for the audience.

Image

It is we who control him throughout, we who kill the Colossi, essentially setting into motion the events of the game and the ending. Yet we had no choice – there is no alternative, we are manipulated by the events of the story and in doing so, the story draws its audience in and creates an engaging, and emotional, narrative. The killings of the Colossi themselves are not pleasant – they roar in pain, shake their bodies and huge plumes of blood gush out of the wounds. We feel sorry for the Colossi as we are killing them, in a way, perhaps, that we do not feel sorry for Wanda. This, in itself, is another form of emotional manipulation for the audience, and shirks the trend of many RPGs, wherein the player character slaughters creatures without much thought. We, instead, are put in an uncomfortable position, feeling empathy for the very creatures we are killing, as opposed to the player character, whose plight we are serving. This adds weight to their deaths, their sacrifices and adds to the realism and narration of the entire game. The Colossi are brought to life, just as the land Wanda finds himself in is brought to life by weather, animals, and a realistic topography.

Wanda himself suffers from very little characterisation – he is never shown emotive. Even when his horse, his sole companion for the entire game, dies (well not really, but we don’t know this at the time), he does not shed a tear. As a protagonist, he is relatively unemotional, and you feel distant and disconnected from him as a result, which, again, creates more empathy for the Colossi. However, this could be turned on its head. Of the noises that Wanda does emit throughout the events of the game, they are all pained grunts – he trips and stumbles when walking, gasps when he climbs, and cries out when struck. This brings the immense task that he is subjecting himself to, to the forefront of the player’s mind, and indeed, the suffering he must have gone through to act upon these wishes.

Image

Image

Image

The land of Shadow of the Colossus is as varied as one would come to expect, comprised of deserts, lakes, and small pockets of greenery. This not only brings the world to life, presenting it as realistic, but encourages exploration and increases the isolation felt by the player. The land eclipses Wanda, and his steed Agro, and often the player will find themselves lost. This as a device is implemented not only to increase the isolation, and the desolate appeal of the land, but also to shirk the trend of traditional linear RPGs wherein the destination is immediately apparent. Alongside this, it brings to mind the idea that Wanda isn’t seeking out these Colossi, but hunting them – they are tucked away, hidden, in lost civilisations and caves, atop mountains and at the bottom of dried up lakes. Wanda is not seeking them out; he does not encounter them unless he searches high and low. He is the predator, not these immense beasts. The size of the beasts is juxtaposed by their gentile demeanour, whereas Wanda is small, and violent. The land itself is also breathtakingly beautiful, and painstakingly realistic – a small beach, found only after traversing a cliff, has wind that blows the water and sand about. A forest has pockets where the sun breaks through the canopy, and water is murky, and mysterious. The landscapes themselves are presented as a part of the game – the Colossi are often hidden by the landscape, or even comprise of the landscape itself. Everything in the game eclipses Wanda, evoking the thought of just how against-the-odds his quest really is, and just how futile everything could indeed be. Everything is against Wanda – his tribe, the land, the Colossi, even, eventually, the creature he thought was his ally.

It is here the theme of futility comes into play, and there are several aspects of this present within the game:

  • The player is futile to resist Wanda’s quest as there is no alternative. This is presented in various ways – the clear setting of the scenario, of which there is no escape; the way in which Wanda dies every time he defeats a Colossi and several “interactive” cutscenes, present later within the game.
  • Wanda’s futility in his quest. Faced with invincible odds, he is destined to fail, and in many respects he does.

The story is set into motion quickly, and Dormin wastes no words telling Wanda just what he wants, and the immensity of the task at hand. The player simply listens to his wishes, and obeys, seeking out and killing their first Colossi within the first ten minutes of gameplay. After killing the Colossi, Wanda can run about for a short amount of time, but inevitably, he is killed. Wanda cannot escape this, the tentacle-like appendages that emerge from the Colossi upon defeat hunt down and mercilessly kill Wanda, just as he hunts down and kills the Colossi. It is futile to escape, as the player will inevitably try to do the first few times this occurs – midway through the game, the player may well give up, allowing the tentacles to pierce Wanda without running away. This brings into play the futility of Wanda’s quest, the sheer size of his sacrifice. This, as a device, also allows for the player to be brought back to the Temple where he begins his quest each time, without more needless exploration of the landscape. The player is also a partner in crime to this futility – they control Wanda, it is they who slaughter the beast, yet they have no choice. This draws them into the narrative, and upon their viewing of the deaths of countless creatures, they observe the reactions from a first-hand view. This interactivity is backed up by how the player must hold down R1 (a shoulder button) to cling on for dear life each time Wanda stabs a beast – they shake the corresponding body part, and to avoid falling off, Wanda must hold on, through the player’s interaction.

Image

Of the many interactive cutscenes in the game one of the most poignant occurs at the end of the game. Wanda is dead, after having killed the final Colossi, and Dormin possesses his body to bring themself back to life (their identity is obscure- they speak with both female and male voices). Dormin then acts out revenge on the tribe that trapped him there, chasing them slowly, and smashing down. There is no tutorial for the controls, the player is left to themselves to discover how to move, and buttons that once did one thing may do another, or not respond in the slightest. Furthermore, this subversion of the games events; namely that Wanda, who spent an entire game killing the Colossi, is now the physical embodiment of all of them, is an example of dramatic irony. When controlling the Colossi, the player becomes aware of just how heavy, slow, and difficult it is to control them – whilst they may assume they will have power, they do not. Dormin is slow, each step takes controlled effort – in excess of 15 seconds for each – and his movements are painfully emphasised. This acts to put the player in the position of the Colossi, and again, creates empathy for them rather than Wanda, who slaughters these cumbersome beasts.

The following cutscene grants the player control of Wanda once more, for the final, interactive cutscene in which Wanda, now alive again, struggles in vain to run towards Mono, who has now awoken. She is brought back to life, but Wanda, now the physical embodiment of the beasts he slaughtered – pale-skinned, with horns – is unable to get to her. The player can attempt to get to her, running against the gale that blows Wanda towards his fate: a portal in a pool created by the very sword he killed the Colossi with, again, dramatic irony. But, the gale is too strong, and Wanda will never reach her. He stumbles, catches himself on bits of stone and uneven pathway, and hurls himself against the force, but never reaches her. This scene is much more emotional than a simple scene where one sits back and watches, because the player is brought into the scene and truly feels the pain, the need, of the character. This interactivity, this futility, makes the cutscene one of the most powerful, and for once the character feels sorry for Wanda, as he sacrifices himself for the love of his life.

Of course, Wanda does not die, but is reborn- just as Dormin was reborn in the Colossi, he is reborn in the guise of a child with horns. And Mono takes him up, through to a small Eden where they can live in peace, Agro is revealed to have survived and joins them there. In a sense, the events of the game end on a happy note. But, they are still alone, they are still unable to be together, and in that sense, nothing has changed, and Wanda’s sacrifice was for nothing. This is the final example of dramatic irony, the last futile blow in the entire game. Despite everything, nothing has changed, Wanda still finds himself in the same position as he did at the start of the game.

Silent Hill 2 Thematic Analysis

The Silent Hill games are notorious for their broad range of psychological themes, present mostly in the presentation of the monsters, which changes from game to game. In the original, the monsters are indicative of a little girl’s fears; in 2, they present the sexual frustrations of the main character; and in 3, they again, represent fears, albeit in a different form entirely. The latter is, of course, linked with the original Silent Hill. In addition to this, the concept of the Fog and Otherworld present interesting thematic material – and how an entire town can be haunted, the literal embodiment of evil. Another question posed in the series is that of the following: is Silent Hill even real or are the monsters you are killing real people, the events within all part of some delusion? The theories surrounding the games themselves are based largely on audience interpretation, and multiple themes come into play in several of the games. Silent Hill practically established the survival horror genre as we know it today, and though the vastly more popular Resident Evil may have paved the way, none is so imitated as Silent Hill.

The lore and mythology of Silent Hill itself is long and convoluted, and a strange mix of Western and Eastern mythology, the child of a Global society where cultures blend into one another. Though the setting of the games is the titular Silent Hill, a stereotypical American town akin to those you may view in films, the lore is much different. Much like the similar franchise, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill features strange monsters inspired by Eastern lore and myths – specifically those of the Yurei, a vengeful spirit that remains in situe long after its death. Whilst Fatal Frame features ghosts, the entire town of Silent Hill has been tainted by Alessa Gillespie, who draws characters into the town, and indeed the entire town itself is often viewed as the embodiment of evil. Alessa Gillespie’s portrayal in the video games – that of a gaunt, long-haired young woman, is the embodiment of the Japanese Yurei, as seen in The Grudge, The Ring, and many other J-Horrors. This mixture of American culture and Japanese horror creates a hybridised horror genre and draws from plot devices, and archetypes, from both. And although many of the themes covered in Silent Hill, those of loss and love, are universal motifs, they are done in a distinctly different manner to the archetypes of American horror. The consequence of this is that it brings further fear into the game, as audiences are lulled to a false sense of security by the familiarity of the setting, which is then turned on its head by the strangeness of the horror and the ambiguity of the scenarios. The fact that there is no one answer to the questions Silent Hill evokes brings further unease to an audience used to straight-cut endings and explanations at every turn.

Perhaps the most obscure of the games is Silent Hill 2, which features many obtuse and strange characters and monsters, as well as a meandering plot and as such, the entire game may well be viewed differently by different audiences. Many theories abound as to the meanings behind monsters, the actions of characters, and this openness to interpretation is what hooked audiences in the first place.  Of the many characters, monsters, and settings present within the series, 2 does not continue the storyline of the original, bringing an entirely different set of characters to the table. Indeed, several aspects of Silent Hill 2 go entirely against the canon present in the original instalment. Whilst the original instalment suggested that the entire reason Silent Hill was tainted was because of the actions of a cult, and their abuse of a particular child, the child herself is not present in Silent Hill 2 in any form, and whilst evidence of the cult is present, the plot distances itself from the original. This puts doubt upon the entire narrative, which twinned with the fact that the player character is the embodiment of unreliable narrator, in turn puts doubt upon the entire story.

Image

The presence of evil in the original is justified, and explained, through the presence of Alessa, but she is nowhere to be seen in 2. This creates doubt for the player character, especially considering how James is later presented – is the entire game a hallucination on his part, a delusion? This, twinned with multiple ambiguous endings, makes Silent Hill 2 one of the best instalments in the series, to date.

The protagonist of the game – James Sunderland – and his development as a character throughout the narrative presents much food for thought. We first encounter James in a dingy bathroom, surveying his reflection and contemplating the situation he finds himself in, lost, and very alone; he is even somewhat faceless, obscured in shadow. This as an initial presentation is interesting, as he is at this point, intimidating to look at – glowering at himself, he is presented as damaged, alone, an everyman. The themes of self-reflection, and discovering one’s true self are recurrent in this game, and the series as a whole as every character has ventured to Silent Hill and eventually uncovers something about themselves that they had previously hidden, some repressed memory. The mirror itself could be an apt metaphor for self-reflection, as James looks at himself, yet still hides away from the truth; the James in the mirror is very different from the James we come to discover throughout the game.

James himself is not portrayed as an unreliable narrator right from the very beginning, but there are vague allusions to this present right at the very start. A letter from his dead wife, which eventually fades as the game goes on, is first read here – James even doubts himself, asking himself why he is in Silent Hill, calling himself crazy. The presence of mystery pills, and his insistence that he must go to Silent Hill despite the road being blocked off further allude to his rapidly eroding sanity. He is desperate.  The subsequent fading of the letter throughout the narrative further puts into doubt his real intentions, as does the eventual revelation that his wife died three days ago, not three years ago as is stated by him, and at James’ very hand. Could the three years James means really be the three years of Mary’s illness, and she was really dead to him long ago, the statement a justification of a murderer?

Although his actions at the start of the game may not be narrated by someone completely unreliable at this stage, his actions, the actions of us, the players, can be put into question as the game progresses. He slowly becomes more unreliable, and other characters within the game become more aware of this as the time goes by. Other characters are present both to add to the ambiguity, and to contribute to the narrative devices, making things clearly evident for the audience.  James is of course a murderer, but that is not something Eddie, who accuses James of being “just as bad”, knows at this point. Neither does the audience, for that matter, so this cutscene is also a narrative device. The ambiguity of the statement puts doubt in the audiences’ mind as to the real status of the “monsters”, especially considering that there are dead human bodies littered throughout Silent Hill. Is James killing monsters, or people? The human cries the monsters emit upon being slaughtered further puts this doubt into the audiences’ mind – and this point is raised by a character in a later instalment. Vincent later says, in Silent Hill 3, in response to Heather’s inquiries about the monsters she has seen, “they look like monsters to you?” This in turn puts doubt upon the sanity of every character within the Silent Hill series.

James becomes steadily more unreliable as the game progresses – Mary’s letter disappears, as does his photograph of her. This further emphasises that the monsters he encounters may be the start of an elaborate break down, or worse, real people he has killed. This status as an unreliable narrator further hits home the point that James is not as innocent as he appears, nor as sane. In turn, this puts the events of the game into question as the time goes by – they become less believable, more strange, more ambiguous, and the game becomes less real, more delusion, as time goes by. Of course, this is only a possible reading.

Image

The idea that the monsters of the game are a hallucination are further emphasised by the presence of dead bodies, all clad in James’ own clothing. James is viewing himself dead, or perhaps, wishing himself dead – this links in with the perceived canon ending, wherein he throws himself into the lake after discovering the truth. A different reading to this could be that one of those bodies is James himself, and he is indeed in a form of purgatory – the presence of religious paraphernalia, in the form of cult objects, backs this up. Several characters exist to antagonise James – Laura frequently teases him and Maria the physical double of Mary also taunts him. Silent Hill, as an entire town, and with the presence of an alternate reality, is a form of punishment for evil sinners – calling them in to punish them.

The alternate reality in question, the ambiguously named “Otherworld”, is full of grotesque imagery, of walls made from skin, bodies strung up in torment, and lots of violent, harsh imagery – such as barbed wire and death is a constant in this world. The presence of the Otherworld is often thought to present the warped dimension that the original residents of Silent Hill are trapped in, as punishment for their treatment of Alessa. This is revealed in the first game, and this idea carries through into subsequent sequels. The idea that the Otherworld is now open, tormenting sinners regardless of their connection to Silent Hill, appears in several sequels. The fact that the Otherworld is full of hellish imagery, and symbolism, backs up the allusion that James is undergoing a form of divine punishment, albeit punishment from the Gods of Silent Hill.

Several other characters in the narrative are also portrayed as insane as the game progresses, so there is the alternate reading that Silent Hill itself turns people mad – the only person saved from this is Laura. Laura is a little girl, the very embodiment of innocence: blonde, blue-eyed, tricked into thinking Mary is still alive, and seemingly unable to see the monsters. Only she escapes by the end of the game (in the canon ending). Indeed, the monsters are different to each character; whilst James sees nurses in low-cut tops that emit womanly cries as he hits them, Angela sees burning fires [also a form of hellish iconography] and embodiments of her father’s sexual abuse. Eddie doesn’t like to talk about what he sees. This further emphasises the point that maybe Silent Hill is a type of purgatory for the characters, their punishment for the evil deeds they committed, before they are all eventually killed. They are all, after all, murderers.  The presence of Pyramid Head, a strange and cruel monster who antagonises James throughout, is again testament to this. It would appear that none of the characters within Silent Hill 2 are mentally stable, and all of them equally unreliable. There is no reliable narrator present within the narrative, the entire game is a construct based around unreliable narration and no character can really be trusted, so the events of the entire game are questionable.

The monsters within the game are equally horrific, represent different things to different character and often have something to say about their mental state. The monsters present within Silent Hill 2 are all based around the mindset of the main character, but only because we as the audience see things from their perspective. James sees many monsters that could be construed as sexual [from mannequins made of legs, to nurses in low-cut tops], to represent his sexual frustration and lack of satisfaction during the months leading up to his wife’s death. Later on, when he is sucked into Angela’s delusion, he witnesses her fears – the monster represents her father’s rape of her. There is no one clear-cut form of Silent Hill; it gives different versions of monsters for each character. We can only elaborate upon what other character see.

Image

Perhaps the most interesting monster within the narrative is Pyramid Head, who never directly harms James, only monsters around him. He is portrayed as a large, hulking, angular monster, the very embodiment of violence. One of his first appearances within the game is during a scene in the apartment block – he stands at the end of the corridor, just out of reach, observing James, and from here on, represents James’ judgment. Perhaps James himself incurs Pyramid Head’s wrath, through his relentless guilt regarding Mary’s death. Pyramid Head is thought by many to represent an executioner; clad in a blood-stained apron, wielding a great knife, sent to punish James for his crimes. Indeed, the monsters do not stop harassing James till he accepts that he killed his wife.

The first interaction with Pyramid Head is shown through a grotesque cut scene in which he kills and possibly sexually assaults two “female” monsters, whilst James, a voyeur to this scene, watches. Just as the audience watches the scenario of the game unfold, at this point, James too becomes a voyeur. From here, he attacks James several times, but never kills him, choosing only to kill Maria several times, Maria who is the physical double of Mary, but also the exact opposite. Her death is violent, he pierces her through the heart with his large sword (which could be construed by some as a metaphor for sexual assault), whereas Mary’s death was relatively peaceful; she is smothered with a pillow. Maria acts as the exact juxtaposition to Mary’s constant presence throughout – sexually available to James, healthy, forthcoming, and physically present, and her death too, serves as juxtaposition.  The fact that Mary is resurrected, only to be killed again, several times throughout the narrative further intensifies the helplessness James feels, and his inability to protect those he cares about from things that harm them. Mary’s presence could itself be indicative of the punishment James feels he deserves, as in a way he is seeing his wife (or a lookalike, anyway) being murdered over and over.

Image

There are various themes present within Silent Hill 2; one of the most prominent of these is the loneliness present throughout the entire narrative. Although Silent Hill was once a tourist resort, it is now closed down, desolate, and lonely. James, once so full of life and love for his wife, is now alone- he ventures into Silent Hill alone, and though he meets characters along the way, remains alone for the majority of the game. Of the companionship he receives, it is very brief, and culminates in history “repeating itself” in a sense, as he is forced to witness the murder of his wife’s body-double time and time again. The other characters in Silent Hill are also alone. Angela’s parents are dead, Eddie has no friends, and Laura only serves to torment James. One of the first truly engulfing, and lonely, moments of Silent Hill is right at the start, where James runs through the forest, which overshadows and eclipses him. He runs for what seems like hours, right through to the town of Silent Hill; shops boarded up, a place of happiness reduced to a ghost-town. Silent Hill is a literal ghost town – filled with ghosts, and isolated in solitude. This loneliness is prominent throughout the entire game, and often James finds himself in the dark, the literal representation of his madness and solitude. The fog also alludes to the feeling, evoking a sense of claustrophobia, and isolation. It is clear that James will not receive help nor support in the town, and several of the characters work against him, fearful of him.

The theme of rebirth, whilst recurrent throughout the series, is relatively untouched during this instalment. Although in a sense, Mary is reborn through Maria, there is very little else of this theme present in the entire narration – the closest we come to this theme is during the penultimate scenes, where James battles either Mary or Maria, in the form of an angry, vengeful spirit. However, the theme of grief is touched upon more in Silent Hill 2, as it is grief that drives James to Silent Hill initially, grief that eventually drives him to suicide. Grief is also what drove the other characters to Silent Hill. Guilt is also further touched upon, as guilt is prominent throughout as another key motivation for the actions of the characters. Guilt is the reason James is so intent upon uncovering the truth, the reason Pyramid Head relentlessly pursues him, and again, a reason as to why he kills himself.

The canonical ending, in which James kills himself after learning of his murderous side, comes as a shock to the audience. It seems no character within the narrative is safe from the wrath of Silent Hill, which eventually drives all to death. This adds to the sombre tone of the game, and as the full content of the letter is revealed to the audience only as James dies, heightens the emotional impact of the scene. James is revealed to have hidden the truth from himself, and in a heartfelt apology, his wife wrote him one last letter before she died. The emotional connection with James, his questionable motives for killing his wife, and the subsequent emotional “big reveal” only emphasises the grief, as we the audience have bonded with the character we controlled. That he has killed himself (in a possible ending), is made all the more horrific due to the emotional connection we bore with him.

Silent Hill 2 Scene Analysis

Silent Hill is perhaps one of Konami’s most lucrative franchises, ironic considering that it was created by a team who were going to be booted out of Konami, yet created one of the most emotional, and interesting, video games to come out of the survival horror genre. It was one of the first games to invest in an emotional storyline where the audience felt connected with the characters, rather than sole emphasis upon plot. Open to multiple interpretations, and genuinely scary, although recent installments have dwindled in success and quality, the original four or five games are as beautiful as any art. Silent Hill 2 is perhaps their most popular installment, and tells the story of James Sunderland, who travels to the eponymous town to find his dead wife, and, in typical Silent Hill fashion, uncovers a lot more.

As many of the cutscenes are short, I will here analyse several opening cutscenes. This FMA (full-motion video, a type of video game cutscene, generally of a higher quality than in-game cutscenes) was also known as the teaser trailer for the game Silent Hill 2. The non-diegetic soundtrack is “Promise”, a song on the game’s soundtrack, recorded specifically for this introductory video. The purpose of the video is to introduce the scenario and main characters – namely James and Maria – to the audience, along with introducing monsters, and several other background characters to draw and advertise the game.

Image

The first shot shows Maria, sitting behind bars, from a mid-shot. This automatically puts the audience in James’ position- it is a form of direct address, and she clearly knows something about the character she is addressing. Furthermore, her relaxed posture and revealing clothing suggest that we as an audience are familiar with her, which deepens the emotional connection to the narrative. The personal touch to her speech, and the information she relays also furthers the connection. Her speech introduces us to the ambiguity of her character; she resembles Mary, James’ dead wife, and speaks of their shared memories together before revealing that she is not all that she seems. This theme is recurrent throughout the entire game, and so introduces the audience to this concept, as well as acting as a hook. Emphasis is put upon her manner of speaking to deepen the impact and emphasis and so there is a lack of soundtrack at this point. The scene then swiftly jump-cuts to James’ reaction to this, again from a mid-shot, that is also shown over Maria’s shoulder. This is a common technique used to simulate conversation. This also serves to assert Maria’s dominance over the conversation, as even when she is not talking, she takes up most of the frame. James is simply confused.

Image

During the penultimate exchange in this scene, the camera slowly zooms in on Maria, showing her reaction in greater detail, and again putting emphasis upon her – there is no over-the-shoulder shot here. This establishes her as the important character within this exchange, as well as the one in control of the situation. James has no control, he is bemused, confused, and so the conventions that would be used here (over the shoulder shot) are instead flaunted. This final exchange also establishes the main scenario of the game, making it familiar to the audience and introducing them to the main plot. Through this conversation we learn that Maria looks like Mary, a person close to James, and the plot of the game is set into motion to familiarise it with an audience. James’ final statement: “aren’t you Maria?” is emphasised through the use of a close-up shot, showing how upset he is by all of this, and establishing him as the addressee, and main character of the game. This has the dual impact of introducing the scenario, as it is clear he is searching for someone.

The colour scheme used within this scene is very dull, and the filters used on-screen give a grimy, foggy feeling to the entire shot. The only colours to stand out are the top Maria wears, which is red, simultaneously putting emphasis upon her lustful tendencies, and impulsive nature. James, on the other hand, is dressed in very dull clothing that blends into the background of the scene and asserts his everyman nature.

Image

This shot then fades through to fog, an important aspect to Silent Hill, before revealing the name of the game. Following on from this, there is a zoom-out, to a mid-shot, to establish the scene and again, the colours used here are very dull. From there, there is a fluid shot, full of movement, of an incredibly ambiguous item – this again would act as a hook for the audience, who will be drawn in by the narrative, and the appeal of wanting answers. This scene is repeated several times throughout, increasing the suspense. From there, there is a shot of a hospital bed, establishing one of the key themes of the game; Mary’s hospitalisation. This shot is sepia in tone, and this is done both to evoke a sense of nostalgia, and as an emphasis upon the dull palette and grimy detail of the game. Hospitals are also a horror archetype, establishing the genre for a new audience.

Image

Image

Throughout these scenes, there is a filter similar to that of a hand-video recorder present. This is included both to simulate home-made footage (which is intrinsically linked to the plot) and to create an amateurish feel, and thus, a more personal feel. As the audience, you could almost have recorded this yourself. The next scene, that of an actual home video, establishes the game’s lore for the new audience; “this whole area used to be a sacred place”, as well as establishing that Mary, mentioned previously, is sick. This scene is shot in place and white, to create a sense of bleakness and depression, as well as to simulate real home recordings. The entire shot is intercut with shadowy footage of James carrying someone, possibly a body, to an unknown location, creating dramatic suspense and further reinforcing the horror aspect.

There are several other shots of Maria, displaying key plots within the game –the first meeting and the argument – which further introduces her character, as well as linking her to that of Mary and inferring that Mary is dead. Interestingly enough, the only characters emphasised within the opening portion of the video are female, displaying, perhaps, James’ issue with women. This scene then cuts to show the supporting characters, Angela, Eddie and Laura; following on from this are several scenes inferring that supporting characters may well be mentally unstable, with similar dark tone, a sudden change from the dull colours previously shown. The colours during this scene are incredibly dark, the faces obscured, which again establishes the genre as horror, by introducing a traditional horror archetype – darkness.

By the end of the trailer, the video has come full circle, showing Maria, once more, and further establishing her flirtatious ways with a close up shot, fully displaying her intentions to James. All the main characters have been established, as has the setting and scenario of the game.

The Bathroom Scene can be viewed here.

Image

Image

This first scene establishes James as the main character, showing him as pensive and reflective – both literally, and metaphorically, as he looks at himself in the mirror and then sighs remorsefully, whilst asking himself a question. The music at this point, obviously non-diegetic, is strange, and surreal, just as the filters overlayed in the scene do not feel realistic. The scene jumps from close-up to mid-shot, arcing over from a Dutch angle to fully set the camera straight for a moment. This is done to emphasise the confusion of the scene, how lost James feels, and also to portray the bathroom – it is shown as dirty, littered, and this establishes the scene of Silent Hill to an audience familiar with it. By the end of this scene it has once again moved on to a Dutch angle and the camera has panned across a full arc. At this point James addresses himself, asking himself a key question: “Mary, could you really be in this town?” His confusion is mirrored in the angles used during this shot, which are deliberate in that they are used to portray confusion. The constant movement of the cameras emulates this, as it is disorientating and confusing for the audience.

At this point, control is given momentarily over to the player, so that they can get used to the controls and move James out of the bathroom, and into the car-park, setting off another cutscene.

The Car Park scene can be viewed here.

Image

This cutscene begins with James, mid-shot, showing him stood alone. This scene emphasises how alone he is, and how alone he feels, and eventually zooms out to create an establishing shot of the town of Silent Hill, and more importantly, Toluca Lake, which is James’ first destination. This also acts to show that James has come here alone, whilst he ruminates on the letter that drove him there. The aforementioned letter is read out, in non-diegetic (or possibly diegetic, if James is thinking about his wife’s voice) by Mary, who is never seen. This creates a connection with Mary as a character, as though you do not interact with her, you have now heard her voice, and personal dreams, creating a more human and emotional character. You can instantly connect with her. This scene also portrays how desolate, and alone, Silent Hill is, and how alone James is. He stands alone in Silent Hill, thinking about his wife, which links back to the first scene wherein he wonders about her whereabouts. At this point the soundtrack, also non-diegetic, changes from surreal to emotional – the music, once synthesised, is now a string instrument, an instrument traditionally associated with sadness.

Untitled

 

The entire shot that follows is an extreme long shot, portraying James as small, insignificant, swamped by both the town, and his emotions. It is here that he sets the scene, establishing the basic motives, and location of where he currently is. This is done to make it obvious to the audience as to where they are, and what they are doing, and is clearly a form of goal-setting. Furthermore, the internal dialogue the audience can hear (in which James is talking to himself) creates an emotional connection with James, as his grief is witnessed for the first time. This grief is emphasised with the use of a stereotypically “sad” instrument, along with an internal monologue where he thinks things over and reveals personal information, creates empathy for him. James’ grief, after losing a loved one, is something all can empathise with, and at this point he is a sympathetic character. The audiences’ emotions are manipulated by the scene itself. At this point, the town is not scary, but sad and desolate, reflecting back in James’ emotions – the town is, to an extent, an extension of him, and when he later loses his mind, the town becomes more horrific.

After this the character once again gains control and begins guiding James on his journey, encountering the first of the supporting characters along the way, and creating a vague sense of unease through the gameplay.