When we are first given control over James, the camera cuts to an over-the-shoulder perspective, inviting us to once again view his face in the mirror. However, as this is now part of the game proper and we as players are in now in control of James, we are also in this moment looking into the mirror at “our own” face. A lot of games, either you’re invited to admire or to want to be the character, or at least to enjoy pretending to be them and getting to act the kind of way that they’re able to act; so much as games are designed to be exciting and varied and stark, their characters are designed to be fantastic, exotic and impossible, sufficient that you wish you could be them, and then but also they’re given personalities that are thin or simplistic enough that you can easily transpose yourself into their place. The intellectual slash emotional compulsions of most videogame characters are a variation or combination of “survive”, “kill”, “win” or “protect”. Mechanically, in terms of inputs and interactions, most games inhibit players to likewise be only able to complete those kinds of tasks, or fewer, and so mentally “becoming” a character feels quite natural. Other games go further, supplying, in place of true characters empty, mute vessels, essentially proxies or implements through which the player can manoeuvre the world of the videogame –- virtual anthropomorphisations of the control pad. The sweet allure of videogames, which over generations marked by successively competent software and hardware, leagues of talented and underpaid and overworked people (excluded from this praise: the exploitative and pecunious basking sharks residing at the apexes of all the world’s premier game studios) have strived to further sweeten is that they allow you to escape to fantasy in a way that is both more tactile and impassive than a film, and thus arguably more convincing and gratifying, if escape is what you seek, and also that requires a lot less attention and utilisation of your imagination than a book, and thus is certainly lazier and funner. Most videogame characters come to personify the sweet allure. Dizzying, magical and impossible, and owing to a complete or more-or-less complete lack of convictions or principles — or convictions and principles that are abstracted and or caveated to the point they’re basically irrelevant, and so present no competition to your will or personality as a player, and so are easy to inhabit — videogame characters help accentuate games’ embracive nature, epitomising that this fantasy is our fantasy and that we’re being given the tools to completely enjoy it pretty much in our own way, and also through their lack of discernible actual characteristics serving to lubricate our entry into the fantasy.
It’s simple to turn on a videogame, begin playing and drown yourself in its fantasy quicksand. Videogame characters are afferently designed to vectorise that process. In many ways James Sunderland is no different. Silent Hill 2 presents as a pretty fucked up game where you do pretty fucked up stuff, and so if we’re talking about handling to us a conducive and occupiable avatar who a) doesn’t impede on our mental ingression and occupation of the fucked up fantasy world and in fact b) smooths and expedites it, it follows we’re handed a pretty fucked up guy. The experience of Silent Hill 2 is not, to the extent of say a Resident Evil or a Last of Us or a BioShock an experience of enjoying vicarious/artificial skills or powers or heroism: between murdering his wife, his depleted, sub-Everyman appearance and the stiff and feeble way he uses his weapons, there’s little superficially denoting James as a fantasy figure; Joel can’t or doesn’t want to try to control his grief and so he robs Ellie of her chance to be the woman she wants to be and lies to her about it, but the game still makes sure he looks tough and strong and has a sexy voice and in a fight that he can still take all comers, so there’s a lot about him you can’t help but desiring there was about yourself especially if like me you’re a young man with some ego, whereas James, alongside being a man driven (by his own being a man) to the betrayal and murder of the woman he’s meant to love, consistently behaves cowardly and pathetically, and in terms of actionable strength or courage seems to struggle to even kill monsters that are usually standing still and not attacking him back much and are also, rather than buff guys with guns, the imagined ghosts of his own sexual dysfunction, and so even morality and narrative put aside just presentationally it’s hard to assume him as our hero like we might other videogame ostensible heroes. The fantasy of say Call of Duty is the fantasy of being a highly lethal special forces hero capable of accomplishing acts of spectacular violence but also without ever accruing any moral or emotional burdens, so it’s useful, contributive, that we play essentially a voiceless pair of hands wielding accurately a succession of machineguns and grenades and screens for launching drones and missiles. By contrast the fantasy of Silent Hill 2, a fantasy of ghosts, monsters, the supernatural and psychological horror, although it may be called a “negative” as opposed to a Call of Duty’s “positive” fantasy, insofar as it’s offered as something you wouldn’t want to experience rather than something you would, saving the world and being lauded as a skillful inveterate soldier more likely anyone’s idea of a fantasy over murdering your terminally-ill spouse and being tortured by monsters for it as punishment, but it’s still a fantasy, a heightened reality, an irrealisable, phantasmagoric version of either something we’ve imagined or dreamed or nightmared or all three at some point. And so like in Call of Duty it helps us feel capable and fantastic and enjoy more totally the game’s efforts it goes to to make us feel capable and fantastic when we play as Soap MacTavish and compadres, when we play Silent Hill 2 for the horror to be effective and for us to be subsumed by it it is helpful if we feel like the character we’re playing is scared and weak and in a lot of ways himself internally horrible, hence James. At some level he presumably regards himself highly, his own comfort and ejaculatory frequency taking precedent for him over his love for his Mary and her own continuing to be alive. As players of Silent Hill 2 he is ideal for us to inhabit, a character who personi- and typifies the game’s major themes and allows us access to them. A walking metaphor for everything we expected when we bought the game to experience and explore. A character who embodies and allows us as audience to assonantly embody the attributes of his impossible realm. A fantasy figure of an awful but nevertheless fantasy.
Next time: But we are also not James. Not James.
The more money I get on Patreon the more pressure I feel to deliver what I have promised by writing this book to the end