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  • Fear And Emotion In Silent Hill 2

    [01.26.12]
    - Demitrius James Pennebaker

  • Highlight

    (Spoilers)

    The classic narrative highlight is when a cut scene finally reveals Maria as a manifestation of Mary. Throughout the game, conflicting information keeps the player guessing. For example, Maria was sometimes flattered and sometimes offended when the disoriented James would confuse her for Mary.

    The biggest turning point, however, is when a cut scene near the end reveals James as Mary's killer.

    (End of Spoiler)


    Critical Reception

    Generally, critics and players received the narrative in Silent Hill 2 very well. Critics called it "just as intriguing as the original... "(3), "a good, surreal story that's strangely heartbreaking"(2), and in a negative review (from an apparent Resident Evil fan), "never creates the pressing need to understand [the story] (1)."

    (1) http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/adventure/silenthill2/review.html, Joe Fielder, score 7.7

    (2) http://ps2.ign.com/articles/164/164904p1.html, Doug Perry, score 9.0 + Editor's Choice

    (3) http://www.gamezone.com/reviews/item/silent_hill_2_ps2_review, jkmedia(admin), score 9.0

    Lessons

    Silent Hill 2 illustrates successful solutions to what may be the single most common barrier to invoking emotion through game narratives. Historian and moralist Lord Acton originated the saying "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are always bad men." Designers commonly and often strongly believe they should always give player characters special abilities, special status, and great advantages. However, pandering is not the only one way, and not always the most effective way to make players want to play.

    Lesson 1

    When the player character is the most interesting and/or special character in the game world, the player is very likely to feel more important than other characters within it. This is bad when seeking to invoke an emotional response.

    Silent Hill 2 makes Maria the most interesting character, and gives her the most ‘special' position, so players have more opportunity to react to her emotionally.

    Lesson 2

    Players are real. By making the player feel more powerful and important than other game characters, they are likely to assume the roles and attitudes that may be more common in many powerful and important people in the real world.

    Silent Hill 2 makes the player feel vulnerable. As with many games, often the player is actually far more powerful than his enemies are, so this is only a façade. However, it is an effective one. The result is that players feel tense and fearful throughout.

    Summation

    Admittedly, survival horror games have an advantage in that by definition they tend to place player characters in vulnerable situations. Silent Hill 2 is no exception. However, challenge is a core component of any good game, providing a consistent element that a game's narrative may be able to leverage.

    In addition, in any game the player is by definition the most important entity. It may not be true however, that player characters should always be the most obviously special, powerful, or interesting entity in the game world. This is particularly important to address in games that intend to invoke an emotional response.

    For example, the player character might be only one of a group of apparently equal super heroes, or super heroes in training. The player character may be an upstart among equal or even superior mentors, competitors, or enemies. The survival of another character, group of characters, or other entity in the game can be more important to the game world than the survival of the player character himself. In any of these scenarios, there is far greater opportunity for the player to have an emotional response than the common approach. In this way, the player, through the player character, becomes a part of the game world, not a demigod of it.

    Good narrative in games helps suspend disbelief, enhances immersion, encourages the player to invest more time, effort, and money into the game world, and most importantly can add meaning and value to the game experience. One possible way to increase the opportunity for effective game narrative; do not put the player character on a pedestal.

    Additional Info

    Game Title: Silent Hill 2

    Platform: PlayStation 2

    Genre: Survival Horror

    Release Date: America/Japan - September 2001, Europe - November 2002

    Developer: Konami, Team Silent, Creature Labs (PC)

    Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment

    Director: Masashi Tsuboyama

    Art Director: Masahiro Ito

    Scenario Writer: Hiroyuki Owaku

    Drama Director: Suguru Murakoshi

    Sound Director: Akira Yamaoka

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