Imagine wandering through shadowy hallways, with monsters stalking closely behind, desperately running, screaming at the screen for a hallowed "save point." We've come so far, encountered so many clues, overcome so many obstacles, and feel the urgent need to save our progress. How else can we save ourselves?
Two years ago, we presented a psychoanalytic interpretation of the survival horror series Resident Evil and Silent Hill entitled "Playing with Ourselves." Drawing on Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, and Ian, we attempted to illuminate the overlap survival horror games shared with psychoanalytic theorists. The Resident Evil series conservatively positions a player as a defender of Lacanian "symbolic order," the psychological force constituting subjectivity (discussed further below). On the other hand, Silent Hill subverts our anticipation to occupy this position. If Resident Evil comfortably positions us as analyst, then Silent Hill mischievously collapses the distinction between analyst and analysand-undermining with it the surrounding symbolic order upon which such distinctions rely.
This investigation breaks into three distinct sections. The first section further explicates how the poststructuralist divide between Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis plays out in the differences between the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series. We hope to make clear that Silent Hill, like an avant-garde artist, undermines the genre conventions established by Resident Evil. The middle section explores how this divide manifests itself in the two recent additions to each franchise (Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill 4: The Room). The final section examines the diegetic nature of save points in each series, paying playful attention to how saving (as a rite) records (writes) our progress as we progress toward saving the proper (right) subject. And, following the pattern we discuss in the first section, Resident Evil establishes a more conservative (Freudian) position that Silent Hill playfully (Lacanian-ly) problematizes.
Resident Evil: Authorizing the Kill
In Resident Evil, players and avatars work symbiotically to uphold what Jacques Lacan calls the "symbolic order," the fragile web of symbols that both shapes and limits our psychosocial experiences. Lacanian psychoanalysis often refers to the discursive constitution of the subject-emphasizing the important role that language plays in the instantiation of psychic order. Lacan's writing is often dense and cryptic, but we offer the following passage from his essay "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis" stresses the symbolic constitution of subjectivity:
Symbols in fact envelop the life of man with a network so total that they join together those who are going to engender him "by bone and flesh" before he comes into the world; so total that they bring to his birth, along with the gift of the stars, if not with the gifts of the fairies, the shape of his destiny; so total that they provide the words that will make him faithful or renegade, the law of the acts that will follow him right to the place where he is not yet and beyond his very death; and so total the through them his end finds its meaning in the last judgment, where the Word absolves his being or condemns it-unless he reaches the subjective realization of being-toward-death. (67)
Lacan stresses the power of the Word as structural agent of the subject (writing's role in establishing the right rite). Born into the infinity of existence, it is through the Word (language, culture, history--that into which the subject is thrown) that the infinite presents itself a discrete and finite being--a subject.
Symbolic order, discursively constructed, averts our eyes from seeing the impossible, cataclysmic infinity of existence, known as "the Real." Symbolic order reduces the infinite possibilities of existence into a rationally coherent whole, all the while working to erase any indication of this reduction. Judith Butler explicates the trauma that awareness of this reduction can generate:
This trauma subsists as the permanent possibility of disrupting and rendering contingent any discursive formation that lays claim to a coherent or seamless account of reality. It persists as the real, where the real is always that which any account of "reality" fails to include. The real constitutes the contingency or lack in any discursive formation. (192)
In these survival-horror worlds, the monsters we encounter signify a return of the Real, their near-sexual drive for consumption a constant reminder of the discursive construction of our own desire. A healthy psyche submits to the Law of the Father-the law authorizing conformity to symbolic order, the law demanding we desire. Desire distracts our attention from a nihilistic drive to end symbolically-constructed desire, the law that averts our eyes from the gaze of femininity (understood as something which stresses connection over distinction--this will be addressed further below in our discussion of Saddler, the antagonist in Resident Evil 4).
Furthermore, their abject and freakish forms embody Žižek's description of the Real:
the Real which returns has the status of a(nother) semblance: precisely because it is real, that is, on account of its traumatic / excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (what we experience as) our reality, and are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition. (Welcome 19) (emphasis original)
The abject plays an even more important role in the worlds of Silent Hill--worlds that frequently oscillate between normal realities and nightmarish Otherworlds. As players, we are left questioning whether such horrific worlds represent objective realities or are subjective, traumatic manifestations of our avatars' psychotic minds.
In Resident Evil, we defend symbolic order by killing monstrous zombies. Part of these games' terror stems from approaching that which challenges our own symbolic economies-the Real, the abject vilified maternal that threatens the paternal psychological structures upon which subjectivity is founded.[i] In our first article, we analyzed the encounter the first zombie in the Resident Evil series thusly:
The horror of this encounter stems not only from the carnage...but also from the intensity of the perfectly normal blue eyes staring into/through us. They acknowledge us not as another subject, nor even as a fantasy screen...but as a thing to be utterly consumed. The human eyes on the hideously monstrous face horrify us because they reflect a repressed aspect of our desire back at us-the deep repressed desire for nihilistic assimilation, the desire to be reunited with the maternal body, to be consumed (literally in this case) by the Other. ("Playing with Ourselves" 71)
Unfortunately, our wording here was imprecise -rather than referring to "desire" (symbolically constructed), we should have referred to "drive" (that which resists symbolic economy). Also, the word "repressed" failed to adequately capture the implications of Lacan's pronouncement that the unconscious operates like a language. Repression, a key mark of Freudian psychodynamics, implies a repressor, an active agent responsible for excluding the potentially traumatic. It is inconsequential if such an agent is a lone force or a collection of forces, accessible to consciousness or beyond its reach. Regardless of these issues, a repressor ironically acts as a guarantor-ensuring that somewhere in the psychic arena some entity ensures a mythic unity and security. Whether we can address him directly, a Father watches over us, assuring order and control. Poststructural in orientation, Lacan's psychic economy admits no one agent responsible for "repression"; language contains no singularity responsible for masking the play of its signifiers; words drift meaning according to their very substance.[ii] Furthermore, such inherent ambiguity of meaning is a condition of language's very possibility-all existence is predicated upon lack in a generative sense. Consequently, however, Lacan's dynamics lack the comfort of a totalizing Other guaranteeing order. And some of the most traumatic intrusions of the Real concern those moments when we realize that our psychic economies lack any kind of reassuring Father figure who keeps the Real in check.
We chose to work with Resident Evil and Silent Hill since they are the two most significant series in the survival horror genre. Only once we started filtering these games through our psychoanalytic lenses did we recognize that they are significant for entirely different reasons: Resident Evil establishes the genre's primary conventions- creaking door loading screens,[iii] cinematic camera angles, echoing footsteps, conserving of ammo, the sudden "popping out" of monsters, and (as the final section of this examination addresses) diegetic save points. Theoretically, however, the entire Resident Evil series remains extremely conservative-players, through their avatars, were positioned to preserve symbolic order. In no way did it challenge traditional psychic boundaries-as is epitomized in the final battle of Code Veronica: "take your linear launcher, destroy the phallic mother, and your journey to self-preservation will be complete."
Resident Evil further positions us as a defender of symbolic order through our role as what Peter Brooks identifies as the narrative's "sovereign judge." In Reading for the Plot, Brooks argues that every narrative projects a "sovereign judge"-a character or entity capable of piecing the story together, of stitching it whole. The Freudian nature of this projection should be clear: it is that which, even if deferred, ensures the possibility for a totalizing and united meaning. In Resident Evil, surrounded by characters too insipid for description, players come to occupy this role-players collect are the various disconnected clues and order them into one linear narrative. No matter the extent of the insanity in the diegetic world, Resident Evil always assures us that order can be restored.
Silent Hill significance stems from its avant-garde status: it anticipates our familiarity with these conventions and works to subvert them, problematizing our desire for stability and coherence. These subversions work by collapsing the distances between player, avatar, and game unsettling our expectation to retain a clinical distance between the twisted world of our avatars and the sacred normality of our own real world. This is epitomized near the end of Silent Hill 3 when a professorial character inquisitively questions the "enjoyment" that Heather, our avatar, draws from killing the threatening abjections around her. When she responds that she has only killed monsters, Vincent replies with "they look like monsters to you..." Our game play, which until this point has been comfortably positioned as an analytic activity helping Heather work through her traumas, becomes traumatic. Vincent punctures the fictional fantasy screen, speaking not only to Heather, but also to us. Suddenly the game world collapses around us-for a moment we are subjected as murders, potentially as psychotic as our avatar and/or as one of the very psychopaths we so confidently believed we were killing. Nothing can be trusted. No longer is it clear that we are working to uphold symbolic order. No longer is it clear that any such order ever has or could so securely exist. Put simply, Resident Evil maintains desire for a Freudian dynamic (one in which order is out there), Silent Hill opens us up to a Lacanian one (one in which, to quote Derrida, "order is no longer assured" (Archive Fever 5). [iv]
The remainder of this article is divided into two sections: the next section explores how Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill 4: "The Room" relate to the psychoanalytic framework sketched out above. The article's concluding section examines the development of save points over the two series, paying particular attention to how Resident Evil establishes and Silent Hill subverts a presumed relationship between the stability of writing and the stability of subjectivity.
Returning to the New Releases
Let us begin by asserting, pre-theorizing, that as a game Resident Evil 4 is excellent. Theoretically, the game is more of the same-perhaps even more conservative than past installments and clearly a post-9/11 game. Umbrella, the transnational corporation responsible for the horror of the first four games, is mostly gone. In its place, the antagonists of Res 4 are a small Eastern-European religious cult, "Los Illuminados," attempting, through the use of an ancient alien parasitic organism called "Las Plagas," to mentally enslave first America, and then, of course, the rest of the world. Their leader, the enigmatic Saddler, epitomizes the perverted Father that seeks to submit the entire world to a certain desire. Order by any means necessary. This submission works to displace desire from the idiosyncratic individual to his will for a collective unity. Saddler's paternal order is perverted in that, akin to the maternal, it aims to cease desire (annihilating subjectivity along with it, since, for Lacan, we are what we enjoy). Thus the members of Saddler's collective are just as zombie-like as the undead automatons produced by Umbrella's dreaded T-virus.
Saddler's physical form is indefinite, and for a while, we toyed with the idea of whether he could be considered as a "threatening maternal figure."[v] Julia Kristeva makes connections between "abjection" and the maternal body--"mother" can be found in things that lack boundaries, blur lines, and defy categorization. Furthermore, the maternal threatens us with the very terror that Saddler does-the temptation of ending desire by giving up the distinctions of subjectivity, by returning to the womb, by relinquishing language:
The abject confronts us [...] and this time within our personal archeology, with our earliest attempts to release hold of the maternal entity even before our ex-isting outside of her, thanks to the autonomy of language. It is a violent, clumsy breaking away, with the constant risk of falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling. (13)
From this perspective, Saddler's long tentacles could be considered maternal, representing the "umbilical" (discussed further below) rather than the traditional phallic. However, Saddler's forms usually emphasize dominance rather than connection (his tentacles kill various characters in cut scenes). Additionally, his domination is a manifestation of his own desire for power, his desire to control. Thus, he is the Freudian repressor, working to establish and ensure his totalizing economy. His "followers" are not reconnected to a lost center or reunited with an originating creator; Saddler clearly occupies a hierarchical position above them.
One dimension of Resident Evil 4 intrigued us: players' changed hermeneutic role. Previously, we argued that Resident Evil positions players in the role of sovereign judge. Resident Evil 4, however, undermines this position: players are no longer the entity ensuring narrative cohesion. We previously remarked that Umbrella was mostly gone because throughout the game we periodically see cut-scenes of Resident Evil's franchise antagonist Albert Wesker. Wesker watches everything from behind an array of screens (scenes recall both Dr. Claw and Father from Matrix: Unloaded). It becomes clear that Wesker is doing more than watching-beyond Saddler-Wesker has orchestrated a large part of the story. Despite this orchestration, Wesker's role does not receive full disclosure at the story's end. Thus, our role as sovereign judge is at least partially transferred to Wesker.[vi]
If Resident Evil 4 is overtly paternal (phallo-logocentric) in its defense of symbolic order, then Silent Hill 4 is unequivocally "maternal" in its themes. In this game, our protagonist, Henry Townshend, awakes in his apartment one day to find a mass of padlocks across his front door, locking him in his room-from the inside. Initially in a first-person shot, players wander around the room and discover certain significant clues (including whom we are, how long we've been trapped in the apartment, whether we are awake or dreaming, why our neighbors cannot hear us banging on the door, how close our apartment is to the nearby town of Silent Hill). He finds a story on his coffee table concerning a mother and her child: "There once was a baby and a mother who were connected by a magical cord. But one day the cord was cut, and the mother went to sleep. The baby was left all alone." This is our first introduction to the mystical "umbilical cord" that reappears throughout our journey through the twisted world of the game. The story continues: "When he thought of the mother, he remembered the feelings of being connected to her through the magical cord" and ends with the phrase "With the cord clutched in his hand, the baby went happily to sleep."
The game's title, "The Room," takes on special significance: much to our disbelief, we learn through a series of text files that an abandoned orphan, Walter Sullivan, fetishistically believes that Henry Townshend's apartment room is his very own mother. And he desperately wants to return to a happy sleep (so much so that in his later years he begins a series brutal ritualistic murders to reunite with her "body"). Walter's fetishistic investment operates according to the logic of Lacan's petit object a:
I propose that the interest the subject takes in his own split is bound up with that which determines it-namely, a privileged object, which has emerged from some primal separation, from some self-mutilation induced by the very approach of the real, whose name, in our algebra, is the object a. (83).
The object a is something from which the subject, in order to constitute itself, has separated itself off as organ" (103)
Walter desires to be reconstituted with other, that prohibited, pre-Oedipal union of "self" to "other," before the primal separation birth; a reunion which effectively annihilates subjectivity by threatening to return that which, by differentiating it, determines it. Eventually, you discover Walter's umbilical cord wrapped in a bloodied rag; the umbilical cord is needed to kill him in the final boss battle. Using the umbilical cord as a type of "weapon" supports Marcia Ian's notions that the phallus stands as a threat to Paternal separation, since it is the "only universal biological organ of connection" (34). It is the re-attachment of the umbilical cord that annihilates the distance between child and mother, itself and other. So although the maternal is used as a weapon, it is not a traditional weapon of phallic dominance (separation)-instead of asserting boundaries, it threatens to collapse them.
We were also quite interested in how Silent Hill 4 plays with perspective. Whenever we are in our apartment (the supposed "real" world-also this reality falls prey to the same nightmarish anomalies as the game progresses), we operate in a first person shot. However, whenever we travel into the monstrous world of the hole, we play from a third-person perspective. We connect this to the confusion surrounding Henry's subjectivity. In the first person, surrounded by the temptation of mother, his subjectivity is less clear: and players never see him as an avatar. This is emphasized by some of the game's hermeneutic suspense: for much of the game we are unsure if Henry "really" exists-it is quite possible that he is only a manifestation of the young Walter's psychotic mind, that he is a ghost-a victim of the psychopathic Walter's killing spree, or that he is Walter as an adult slowly coming to terms with his murderous childhood (some of these remain possibilities even after we finish the game!). It makes sense, then, that we see from a first person view whenever we are confined to "the room" (this maternal space). We don't see Henry, rather, we see through his eyes. In the Otherworld, when upholding symbolic order and eradicating the ambiguous creatures that threaten the boundaries protecting both his and our selfhood, he is more easily recognizable as a subject. Hence, we see him from a third-person perspective. It is also worth noting that the movement from the first-person/subjective maternal/"womb" apartment to the third-person Other / Real / monstrous / psychotic / paternal third-person realm takes place through a long, winding, twisting passage that clearly represents an umbilical cord.
This article's concluding section examines how the different framing and treatment of saving and save points in these games respectively resembles Freud and Lacan's split regarding the relationship between language's (in)stability and the structural properties of the unconscious. Following the model we have discussed so far, Resident Evil will establish a more conservative (Freudian) position, the expectation for which will be subverted by the more radical (Lacanian) Silent Hill.
Unlike many games of its era, Resident Evil made overt efforts to make saving an integral part of its ludic action, and hence, a more coherent part of its fictional world.[vii] Most 3D action-platform games of its kind required players to save only after reaching certain predetermined areas. Saving was rarely strategic; players had very little choice in exactly where or when to save, simply saving whenever the opportunity arose (in Tomb Raider, for instance, whenever you discovered a large, blue crystal). Resident Evil worked saving into the action of the game-in order to save, players had to find ink ribbons. Ink ribbons could then be used at typewriters located throughout the game. When saving, the typewriter recorded players' progress one letter at a time, marking where and when they were in our story (for instance, "Mansion Lobby-4 hours, 32 minutes"); any player of the series will forever remember that clickety-clack sound. Save points in Resident Evil were strategic for two reasons: first, players were extremely limited in how many items they could carry-picking up or carrying around an ink ribbon sacrificed a slot that could be dedicated to either ammunition or health; second, a player had to judiciously determine when to use a save, else she might not have one before a critical boss battle!
In addition to incorporating these ludic dimensions into saving, Resident Evil tied saving to its diegetic world. By attempting to formulate a logical connection between the our method of saving and our method for solving the hermeneutic questions surrounding the game's fictional world, Resident Evil attempted to make its method of saving a more coherent part of the game's fictional world. Jesper Juul in Half-Real explains how "many video games present game worlds that are incoherent worlds, where the game contradicts itself or prevents the player from imagining a complete fictional world" (123). Such contradictions can interrupt our ability to immerse ourselves into the game world, potentially shattering the constructed ambiance. Resident Evil's survival horror experience relies on our immersion into the game. Not surprising, then, that the game makes an effort to incorporate saving into the logic of its world.
Comprehending how Resident Evil grounds saving into the logic of its fictional world requires highlighting the pivotal role texts play in players' understanding of that fictional world. Throughout not only the first installment, but also the entire Resident Evil series, players discover text files that provide clues to the mysterious nature of the game world. Text has a privileged role through the series. The opening cut-scenes of every installment of the series positions game play as a story being typed out-the break to the typewriter is a break to an inevitable future in which we are recording our progress. From this perspective, our game play is positioned as a flashback; we are recording events that have already happened. Why are their zombies eating people? Who financed the experiments producing such nightmarish creatures? How can they be killed? How can we escape from the lab (the mansion, the police station, the city, etc.)? While some answers are provided in cut-scenes, most of the answers stem from text files-typed files discovered during exploration.[viii] Save files, then, have a seemingly logical place in the world; they represent another textual file contributing the mystery's solution- our hermeneutic solving of the narrative's puzzles often relies on finding other pieces of typed text; of stitching together disjointed texts into a unified, linear whole. The way we save ourselves (our progress), from a ludic perspective, contributes to our experience saving, from a psychoanalytic conception, ourselves (our conception of self). Writing is presented as a stabilizing, life affirming force. In a nightmarish, apocalyptic moment, Resident Evil allows us to fall back into the secure embrace of writing.
This explicit symbiosis between saving and narrating, when considered along side Resident Evil's consciousness of the role of language in perpetuation of the symbolic order, displays their awareness of narrative as a life affirming force. Saving, then, becomes an act of maintaining psychic boundaries; it is the way that we save our selves. This saving mechanism doesn't change throughout the series-every game includes the comforting clickety-clack. Finally, as regards saving in the Resident Evil series, we thought it was too coincidental that the ultimate weapon in Resident Evil 4, a Tommy-Gun style automatic weapon with infinite ammo capable of killing virtually anything in the game with a shot or two, is referred to as the "Chicago Typewriter"... the ultimate textual weapon in ordering the world and protecting selfhood.
The Silent Hill series problematizes this conception of saving established in the Resident Evil series. Just as Silent Hill frustrates our expectation to unquestionably secure symbolic order and provide narrative closure, so does it subvert any conception of saving (or writing) as an unquestionably life-affirming force. In the original Silent Hill players record their progress with notepads rather than with typewriters. Given our inclination to see psychoanalytic theory at play in these games, these notepads reminded us of Freud's essay "Notes Upon the ‘Mystic Writing Pad'." A toy writing-machine, the mystic writing pad was a special tablet which separated temporary marks on a celluloid surface from permanent marks impressed upon a wax surface underneath (think Etch-a-Sketch meets carbon paper or more contemporary technologies such as the Logitech digital pens). Freud describes it thusly: "the surface of the Mystic Writing Pad is clear of writing and once more clear of impressions. But it is easy to discover that the permanent trace of what is written is retained upon the wax slab itself and is legible in suitable lights" (210-211). Explicating Freud's metaphor, the role of the analyst is to enlighten the subject toward these underlying impressions, recorded far below the level of consciousness, that are traumatizing them. For our study, the most intriguing aspect of the brief essay is its opening discussion of writing:
If I distrust my memory-neurotics, as we know, do so to a remarkable extent, but normal people have every reason for doing so as well-I am able to supplement and guarantee its working by making a note in writing...I have only to bear in mind the place where this "memory" has been deposited and I can then "reproduce" it at any time I like, with the certainty that it will have remained unaltered and so have escaped the possible distortions to which it might have been subjected in my actual memory. (207)
Again, returning to the metaphor, while consciousness copes with the insecurity of its memory, its inability to completely recall (perhaps we should spell it out and say "load") that which it has saved, the unconscious records all. (Of course, since some of them might be Real). While consciousness might not be stable, writing is. Freud, like Resident Evil, conceptualizes writing as stable and permanent. We were surprised, given this perspective, that Silent Hill might grant such a secure ontological status to writing, especially given the series' disdain for narrative coherence.
We concluded that Silent Hill, along with Lacan's poststructuralist rendering of Freudian psychoanalysis, acknowledges that the proposed stability of writing is itself a fetishistic investment, a petit object a. Furthermore, the phallic totalization that writing proposes is as potentially threatening as the maternal abject since its "perfect" record risks a return of the Real. Butler reminds us that myriad memories escaping conscious reflection need to be overlooked to maintain a symbolic order and avoid a traumatic interruption. In Lacanian theory, those objects in reality that instantiate such threats return to us as stains upon our subjectivity. Seemingly undermining the Freudian connotations of the notepads in the series' first installment, the save points in Silent Hill 2 appear as glowing red blotches-stains appearing in an otherwise normal reality. Often, these stains will be incorporated into the environment-players might not initially see them. They appear in window panes, as chair cushions, in television screens, as placemats on tables. We argue that these save points represent the Lacanian "stain"-"strange, suspended, oblique objects"-anamorphic disruptions of everyday reality.[ix] Žižek explicates the implications of these Real intrusions:
The detail that "does not fit," that sticks out from the idyllic surface scene and denatures it, renders it uncanny...the element that, when viewed straightforwardly, remains a meaningless stain...that "denatures"...rendering all its constituents "suspicious," and thus opens up the abyss of the search for a meaning-nothing is what it seems to be, everything is to be interpreted, everything is supposed to possess some supplementary meaning. The ground of the established, familiar signification opens up; we find ourselves in a realm of total ambiguity, but this very lack propels us to produce ever new "hidden meanings": it is a driving force of endless compulsion. (Awry 90-91)
The save points in Silent Hill 2 are anamorphic intrusions-disrupting an otherwise "normal" environment (extending even into the murderous and abject Otherworlds). Whenever we use one of these stained save points, the screen is washed over by its uncannily bright red taking us to the save screen. Unlike the Resident Evil series and the original Silent Hill, there is no clear effort here to rationally position saving as a part of the fictional world. It is violently disconnected, and at the save screen, rather than looking at a typewriter or notepad (instruments of stability); we stare into our avatars face as we blankly stares at us. The titles of our save file are distorted and superimposed onto the background, he looks through them at us. For a moment, in the rite that writes our progress, our play gazes back at us, blankly questioning if our subjectivity is any righter (more proper, Žižek might interrupt), more secure, than that of the character we direct. The game itself becomes a stain, potentially interrupting the security of our own symbolic orders, leading us to question if anything orders our movements, or if we are merely subjects of (by, through) play.
In Silent Hill 3 save points, still uncannily red, appear as religious symbols tied to a mysterious cult. Thus, saving more tied to the fictional world than in the previous installment (although it is also simultaneously positioned as potentially mystical). This is not the only way that save points are tied to the diegetic world. Our avatar, Heather, searches for her lost (eventually murdered) father (Harry, the protagonist of the original Silent Hill). During her search, she finds several text files, appearing as the notepad save files from the series' first entry, to help her piece things together. Whenever Heather approaches a save point early in SH 3, she writhes in pain, grasping her head, overwhelmed. Saving, then, becomes associated with the return of the repressed. This association is cemented a few hours into the game in a key moment that spurred the present investigation. Early in the game, Heather enters an art studio. One painting hanging on the hall (at the time diegetically meaningless), a landscape of the lake surrounding Silent Hill, is entitled "The Repressor of Memories." We were intrigued by the insinuation of its title, but we only realized the extent of its significance later in the game. Heather revisits the studio while in the Otherworld. In the place of the uncannily named painting is a save point. A question lingered: what memories does saving repress?
As with Silent Hill 2, we believe that the answer to this question lies less within the diegetic realm or the psychic economy of our avatar than it does in the extra-diegetic realm of the player and her psychic economy. Here we draw again on the narratological work of Peter Brooks. Working through Freud's conception of the unconscious death drive and its opposition to the subconscious dynamics of the pleasure principle, Brooks articulates a relationship between narrative progression and our progression toward death. Each page we pleasurably read, each scene we enjoy, brings us closer to our narrative's end. To sustain our enjoyment, we must repress this movement toward finitude-else our pleasure be tainted by the oncoming inevitability. Thus, narrative engagements mirror our internal psychic struggles between a conscious desire for pleasure and a consciously repressed yet unconsciously welcomed movement toward the quiescence of desire.[x] Returning to our question, then, perhaps it is better framed as "who is repressing?" The answer is that we, players, are repressing, avoiding, postponing the fact that every save brings us closer to a virtual death, to the narrative's end, to the end of our play. Every cleared stage brings us closer to the end. Thus, this enacts Brook's statement that narrative progression (re)presents us with "the knowledge of death which in our own lives is denied to us" (95).
Although their appearance again transforms, save point mechanics remain consistent in Silent Hill 4. The screen still washes over red, severing us momentarily from the game world each time we save. There is one major change to the mechanics: during the game we can only save in one place-inside the uncanny confines of our apartment. The save point is a red notebook on end table-the irony here seems clear: writing, our hysterical scribbling, becomes just as unstable as everything else caught up in this undecidable nightmare world. Like the psychotic letters passed under our door (which often confuse us more than aid us), saving is only available in a first-person world that keeps the status of our subjectivity in question.
And there we sit as silhouettes in our rooms, the light of the television illuminating our gaze-existing as subjects both outside of the game in our own psychosocial realities, and within the digitized space of the game, where we are permitted to confront, and an illusory way, control our simulated ends each time we save. In the world beyond the screen, we can finish the game and buy yet another installment-we can "begin" and "end" our selves repeatedly within narrative after narrative-which in turn allows us to repress and avoid, for a few hours at least, our own inevitable ends.
Sarah White is a native of Bowling Green, Ohio who has her BFA from Bowling Green State University, her MA from Iowa State University, and her MFA from Purdue University. She has been teaching English for over six years and enjoys spending free time with her new XBox 360.
Marc C. Santos is currently pursuing a Ph.D in rhetoric and composition at Purdue University; his focus is on the intersections between postmodern theory, digitality, and sophistic rhetoric. He and Sarah have authored a previous article examining the relationship between survival horror and video games, "Playing With Ourselves," which appears in the collection Digital Gameplay.
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Santos, Marc C. and Sarah E. White. "Playing with Ourselves: A Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill." Digital Gameplay: Essays on the Nexus of Game and Gamer. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2005.
Žižek, Slavoj. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.
----. Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11th and Related Dates. New York: Verso, 2002..
Games Analyzed (all for Playstation or Playstation 2)
Resident Evil. Director's Cut Edition. U.S.A.: Capcom Co. LTD, 1998.
Resident Evil 2. U.S.A.: Capcom Co. LTD, 1998.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. U.S.A.: Capcom Co. LTD, 1999.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica. U.S.A.: Capcom Co. LTD, 2001.
Resident Evil 4. U.S.A.: Capcom Co. LTD, 2004.
Silent Hill. Greatest Hits Edition. U.S.A.: Konami of America, 2000.
Silent Hill 2. Greatest Hits Edition. U.S.A.: Konami of America, 2002.
Silent Hill 3. U.S.A.: Konami of America, 2003.
Silent Hill 4: "The Room." U.S.A.: Konami of America, 2004.
[i] In her article "Play Dead: Genre and Affect in Silent Hill and Planescape Torment, Diane Carr argues that "the success of the Silent Hill series is a result of its capacity to frighten its users." We are attempting to show how deep such fright runs: beyond the tension generated by directed game play (Carr), which is certainly effectively affective, Silent Hill engages, in subtle and sophisticated ways, the (anti-)foundational nature of Being and beings.
[ii] Here we are drawing on rhetorician Kenneth Burke's very readable chapter on language's "paradox of substance" in The Grammar of Motives. Burke points out the language can never exist objectively, without a "sub" (ground, context) upon which it stands (produces meaning). Those looking for a more conventional introduction to postructuralism should examine Saussure's canonical "Lectures on General Linguistics," Heidegger's Principle of Reason, or Derrida's Of Grammatology.
[iii] Recall Freud's comments from The Interpretation of Dreams, that "anyone, however, that has had a little experience in translating dreams will at once reflect that penetrating into narrow spaces and opening closed doors are among the most commonest sexual symbols" (433). Anticipating our concluding arguments, we can identify ways in which these games capture Peter Brook's narratological tying of narrative progression to sexual fulfillment.
[iv] For this reason, and many others, we both agree Silent Hill rivals the character, psychological, and narrative complexity of any of Shakespeare's plays. The game invites a player to question whether the world of the avatar is subjective or objective (shades of Hamlet), whether we are inside a psychotic mind or in a horrific reality, where each clue brings you closer to a repressed memory of our avatar, and (in Silent Hill 2) potentially ends in the main character's apparent suicide. We first entered into these investigations hoping to argue that video games were worthy of the high theoretical criticism often reserved for more canonical material. We hope this argument no longer needs to be made-we hope that the sophistication of Silent Hill, which we only begin to touch on in these articles, speaks for itself.
[v] In "Playing with Ourselves" we note that the final boss battle of both Resident Evil: Code Veronica and Silent Hill 3 involves "phallic mothers"-mothers who threaten to overthrow the Law of the Father, thereby annihilating symbolic order and subjectivity. We will address Marcia Ian's work on the maternal phallus below. The maternal phallus challenges phallic dominance through the threat of connection.
[vi] Of course, one could argue that rather than undermining psychic ordering, Res 4 simply makes a great pitch for the series' next installment!
[vii] For those not familiar with console gaming, "saving" allowed a player to record her progress in the story. If players died during a difficult episode, they could load their progress and try again. Furthermore, saving encourages much longer games that are not designed to be completed in a single gaming session. Games have/are consistently growing longer: Marc's first play of Resident Evil, for instance, took about 8 hours, while his first play of Resident Evil 4 took about 25 hours. This increase facilitates more complicated narratives and more intricate plots.
[viii] In our previous study, we addressed one such pivotal file: the "Keeper's Diary." As discussed below, this file is tremendously important since it makes an explicit connection between writing properly and maintaining the right subjectivity. Playing with echoes, it positions writing as a rite that rights us.
[ix] See Lacan's discussion of the skull in Hans Holbein's painting The Ambassadors in section 3 of his lecture on "Anamorphosis" in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.
[x] This is perhaps the most radical development of Freudian theory, one which Freud himself was never quite comfortable-the psychic existence of a nihilistic drive. See Beyond the Pleasure Principle 50-55, especially: "We...dealing not with the living substance but with the forces operating in it, have been led to distinguish two kinds of instincts: those which seek to lead what is living to death, and others, the sexual instincts, which are perpetually attempting and achieving a renewal of life" (55).