I started writing this book about two years ago, and then owing to various other pressures and influences, like starting a new job, having newer and what I thought were better ideas, and giving up on the belief that videogames were worth talking about, put it aside and forgot that it existed — or rather tried to make myself forget that it existed, because I was guilty about not finishing it and having wasted so much time. Then about a week ago I was reading this book about Vladimir Putin, “Putin’s People” by Catherine Belton, and while doing it using the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack for background music. It made me want to play the game again and also share what I thought about it. Hence this quasi revival of Restless Dreams, an obsessive, probably impenetrably abstract essay (if I had an interpretation for something, I pretty much always included it, regardless of esotericism or how many words the explanation would take) on Silent Hill 2‘s dark psychology and violent sexuality. If you’re interested in the game enough to be reading this, it won’t surprise you that I see it primarily as about male ego, specifically what happens when it’s fractured and also how easily, readily even, it misunderstands women (and other men) as attempting to try and fracture it. I likewise see videogaming as a wounded culture determined to be victimised, which either ignores or viciously obliterates every attempt, especially by women, to challenge or change it. I’m interested in Silent Hill 2 first as a character study and visual metaphor, but also as a coincidentally prescient vision of why videogaming would eventually become a culture where, for example, people threaten to kill game designers because they don’t draw Tifa in Final Fantasy 7 Remake‘s tits big enough, or spend — presumably –hours programming mods for Fallout 4 or Skyrim where you can tie up and rape anime girls. The mindset, I think, has something in common with James Sunderland’s, the protagonist of Silent Hill 2. Trying to explain one could help explain the other.
And so here comes the book as it was originally written. As long as people are interested I’ll keep on posting successive chapters. If there’s a call for it, I’ll use this website to write and publish the rest.
— Ed Smith
Some time after she has ostensibly died from illness, James Sunderland’s wife, Mary, writes him a letter inviting him to meet her in Silent Hill. James arrives at the town but finds it covered by fog and populated by strange monsters. He later meets Maria, an uncanny facsimile of his dead wife; Eddie, an overweight blonde man who is convinced everyone in town is bullying him; Angela, an emotionally damaged young woman who is looking for her mother and father, and Laura, a little girl who, unlike everyone else, seems content in Silent Hill and blissfully unaware of its horrors.
The original Silent Hill game, from 1999, explained the town’s supernaturalism as the product of an ancient cult — it was all because of rituals, arcane magic and old gods. Silent Hill 2 explains it differently. The town is the subjective product of each individuals’ neuroses, guilt and mental anguish: what James sees in Silent Hill is both a product and reflection of his unresolved feelings about Mary and his role in her death. We learn, toward the game’s end, that Mary did not die from her illness but was instead euthanised by James after he’d grown angry that she was too unwell to have sex with him any more. Though the chapters in this book follow the game narratively and chronologically, and don’t discuss the plot twist directly until later, the ideas and interpretations of the preceding sections only make sense if you already know what’s really going on. Seemingly innocuous moments in the early game eventually are tied to what we later learn of James’ past.
Also, this is an examination not of Silent Hill 2 so much as a play through of Silent Hill 2. To discuss the game as it exists conceptually and objectively and on paper for everyone, without discussing the errant or spontaneous instances that can occur during a single and specific “reading” would rob it of depth. By criticising a single play through of the game, it is still possible to debate its intended and static elements but alongside the subjective moments that add (and take away) to its meaning. Not in terms of personal significance, but rather literally, few videogames are ever the same for everybody who plays them. One person might steer the character left while the other will go right. I don’t say this as a compliment, or as testament to what I think is videogames’ unique capacity for deepness and range and meeting the tastes of its audience. If you analyse a game but then only talk about the parts of it that are true for everyone and consistent to every play through, the bits that are meant to happen, then there’s going to be a lot you’re not analysing. For me, as soon as the game begins the camera is rolling and the clock is running and whatever happens between the very opening and the very ending, every cutscene, boss fight and controller input, is part of the “text”. This book is a commentary on the last time I played Silent Hill 2, which was in July 2017.