Philosophy Through Video Games
Silent Hill (1999)

Konami’s legendary video game series Silent Hill is anything but mindless entertainment. Like any good story, the series has layers like an onion that the player slowly peels away at to reveal an ultimate truth. There are two important themes that are explored over the course of the the game. The first is of parental duty; what it means to truly be a parent and love your child. The second is a theme of humanity itself. There is certainly a lesson in philosophy to be learnt through Silent Hill.

Background

The year was 1999 when Silent Hill burst into the picture. The game was Konami’s answer to Resident Evil, but with a twist. Resident Evil kept the focus on action, whereas Silent Hill’s focus was on inducing fear. I’m not talking about jump scares or gore, either. Silent Hill introduced a fear that tapped deep into the psychology of the gamer and lingered. With this revolutionary approach, the game quickly achieved cult status.

Silent Hill was described as being a Japanese interpretation of Western horror and pulled its inspiration from various horror works. The sources for inspiration can be exemplified by the street names of the town on the map, each representing an author in horror.

Map of Silent Hill.
It’s an honor to know that at the young age of 11, I helped to inspire the game.

Perhaps the most notable inspiration for the game was the film Jacob’s Ladder, directed by Adrian Lyne. The film follows Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robins), a Vietnam vet that is plagued by visions of demons and hell as he struggles to cope with the war and the death of his son. The movie deals heavily with guilt and the internal struggle that goes on inside all of us as we cling to this precious gift called life. The entire concept that horror can be used to explore and exploit the nature of our humanity is the driving force of the Silent Hill series.

Parental Duty

The first game revolves around Harry Mason as he searches for his daughter Cheryl who ran off after he crashed his car in the town of Silent Hill.

“Damnit Cheryl, I don’t have time for your shit!”

Harry finds himself pushed to his absolute limitations as he searches her. It should be noted that Cheryl is his adopted daughter, making his love for her transcend the simplicity of a man doing what he does to ensure that his genes survive (coincidentally, a theme that was explored in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid). It makes his trials and tribulations have a deeper impact because he is doing it out of pure love for his daughter.

Love is one of those emotions that philosophers have struggled to explain for years. Emotions such as fear and love are usually attached to an object, causing us to act either rationally or irrationally. To put this simply: is it rational of Harry Mason to risk his own life to save the life of his adopted child? After all, the child is not his direct offspring, so it is rather irrational for him do such. Preserving our own genes is our evolutionary goal and this goes against our very nature as a species. His love for his daughter causes him to act irrationally – something that I think any parent would do.

The game expands on this concept through the antagonist of the story, Dahlia Gillespie. She was the leader of a cult called the Order that sacrificed her own daughter to give birth to the dark god, Samael. Her desire to bring about a paradise on earth through the birth of this god drove her to act irrationally, harming her own flesh and blood in the process. This goes hand-in-hand with parents that put their own religious belief over the welfare of their own child.

Harry Mason and Dahlia Gillespie are mirror images on one another, like any well written story should be. Harry does whatever he can to save his adopted daughter and Dahlia sacrifices her own. Love is considered to be the strongest force in the universe by this philosophy. It transcends genetics and in the end, good vanquishes evil and the gamer is taught a true lesson about what it truly means to be a parent.

Unless you get the bad ending, that is.

That’s a discussion for another day.

The Monsters

While Resident Evil with their mindless zombies, Team Silent was busy asking themselves, “What exactly is a monster?” Monsters really nothing new, they’ve been in literature dating back hundreds of years. They usually have the same qualities, which are the attributes of predators we would have encountered during our hunter gatherer days: sharp teeth, claws, night vision, etc. It’s encoded in our DNA to fear these things and naturally, when we come up with monsters to scare people, a lot of them will have these features.

For Silent Hill, Team Silent dove deep into the psyche of a child. The concept behind the story is that Dahlia Gillespie attempted a ritual on her daughter Alessa, by burning her. Alessa then unleashed a world of hell manifested out of her own fears. There are are numerous monsters in the game, but I only want to focus on the 3 that I believe to be the most important to the overall message of the story: The Puppet Nurse, The Grey Child, and The Romper.

Silent Hill. Harry Mason and Puppet Nurse.
The Puppet Nurse
Silent Hill. Harry Mason and Grey Child in Midwich Elementary School.
The Grey Child
Silent Hill. Harry Mason and The Romper.
The Romper

Each monster represents Alessa’s view of people. The Puppet Nurse is controlled by a large parasite on her back. She walks in slow staggered steps like a zombie, or more accurately, a marionette puppet. According to Silent Hill Fandom, this is because after being severely burned, Alessa was at the hospital and being kept alive by the nurses and doctors under the cults orders, thus acting as puppets.

The Grey Child is a deformed humanoid about the size child that laughs when it attacks you. So it’s basically a regular child.

Kindergarten cop.
Fun fact: Silent Hill was inspired by this movie. Look it up.

Though there is no official explanation for The Grey Child, it is widely accepted that they represent the twisted view of how Alessa viewed her classmates at school, who were always bullying her. This was further developed in the film adaptation of the game.

The Romper is basically a larger, stronger, and faster version of The Grey Child. This is because it is how Alessa viewed the adults that performed the ritual on her.

Like I said, there are numerous other monsters in the game, each of which stem from Alessa’s imagination from books she has read or pictures she saw, but these three have one thing in common: they were based on real people and real events. All of this pulls together for the underlying theme theme that humans are the real monsters.

Conclusion

Silent Hill is more than just a scary video game. Like any good piece of cinema, there is a lesson to be learnt and video games aren’t any different. Now days, video games have production values that rival that of a Hollywood movie. Join me next week when I discuss the philosophy of fan favorite Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams.

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