[The Guildhall at SMU student Daniel Kanigel examines the psychological narrative that drives Konami's survival horror classic Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams.]
Game Title: Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams
Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: Sept. 24, 2001
Developer: Konami/Team Silent
Game Writer/Creative Director/Narrative Designer: Hiroyuki Owaku/Masashi Tsuboyama
Author of This Review: David Kanigel
James Sunderland stares at his reflection in the mirror of a filthy public restroom. "Mary, could you really be here?" he mutters to himself. James recalls a letter he received from his dead wife Mary and sets off for the town from which it came, the town of Silent Hill. Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams is a survival horror game that pulls back the skin of James Sunderland's psyche exposing a metaphysical fog of horrors and a disturbing interpretation of a purgatory scenario.
Silent Hill 2 is very much a narrative-driven game. As the player progresses the town reveals itself as a nightmarish projection of James' inner torment and the unresolved guilt he feels for having murdered his wife. Silent Hill is sparsely populated by some memorable characters. Some of these people appear to be real beings but most are manifestations of James' emotional state used to further the narrative by stringing the player along their search for answers. The game plays much like any other survival title. As the player progresses, he or she must solve puzzles and keep an eye out for anything useful they may come across like health, ammo, and a variety of keys. James will also encounter some of the less desirable denizens of Silent Hill in the form of hellish creatures that are akin to something out of a Hieronymus Bosch or Francis Bacon painting. The aesthetic designs of these monsters are based on the psychological issues James is struggling with such as sexual frustration, guilt, and dominance. Once the player has navigated this Freudian landscape of psychological horrors and symbolism the player is rewarded with one of seven endings representing the choices he or she has made.
James Sunderland- This is the character that the player has control over. The story of Silent Hill 2 centers around James' return to the town of Silent Hill to search for his dead wife Mary. Later the player realizes James murdered Mary and that his journey and what he encounters actually reflects James' repressed psychological state.
Mary Sunderland- The object of James Sunderland's search. Three years prior to the timeframe of the game Mary was stricken ill with cancer. Either unable to deal with this burden or out of some twisted form of compassion, James suffocated Mary on their vacation to Silent Hill. Past memories of Mary haunt James and manifest themselves in the character of Maria.
Maria- An apparition created in James' mind to ease his guilt. Representing James' idealized view of Mary, Maria is an over-sexualized version of his late wife. In the course of the story Maria dies on different occasions forcing James to repent for what he has done over and over.
Laura- Another figment of Sunderland's mind, Laura is a child that roams the streets of Silent Hill taunting James. Laura represents the child James never had as well as the child-like emotional aspects he imputed to his wife.
Eddie- One of the few physical beings also in Silent Hill. Eddie, by appearances, is on a journey of his own to escape from his past crimes and is tormented by feelings of self-loathing and guilt. He is a representation of guilt, sloth, and later in the game, wrath.
Angela- Angela is an emotionally scarred childlike woman. Suffering from a childhood of abuse at the hands of her father, she roams Silent Hill in her own version of a private hell.
Pyramid Head- A pale blood-splattered hulking figure, Pyramid Head is portrayed as overtly masculine and carries a large rusty sword. PH relentlessly pursues James partly as a personification of guilt, and in a sense is the main villain of the game. Theories as to what PH is actually meant to represent within the context of James' psyche are wide and varied.