CAM

It’s darker when you leave the church and the fog is much denser. Compared to the initial downhill section, the road towards Silent Hill at this point becomes even more featureless, just wire fences and brown mud and a few small sections of pavement. More distinctive here is the camera — so much as a videogame like Silent Hill 2 can be described as including a “camera” — which is both very similar and very different to the cameras in other 90s/early 00s horror games. When the first Silent Hill came out in 1999, either through its adverts or reviews or general word-of-mouth reputation I seem to remember it being described and regarded as a rival to the Resident Evil games. They were both survival horror, both from Japan, both for the Playstation, both using this obstructive, deliberate, kind of distant fixed camera. You couldn’t always see what was in front of or around you, the idea, I think, being to make you feel more vulnerable and suspicious — less powerful. In the original Resident Evil and in 2 and 3, I can certify that this effect is illusory. At one hour, 16 minutes and six seconds, my speedrun for Resident Evil 2: Leon A was, until fairly recently, equal to the ninth fastest in the world — I’ve re- and overplayed it to the extent that I can calculate, broadly, how many bullets there are available to collect in each mode versus how many enemies in each mode there are to kill and how many bullets it takes in order to kill them, and even on the hardest speedrun which is Claire B the ratio is still something like five-to-one, so you’re never truly vulnerable — then again, are you ever truly vulnerable in any game? This effect is illusory. The enemies may be off-screen meaning — and particularly if you’ve not encountered that enemy type before and don’t recognise the sound effects they make — that you can only imagine where they might be and what they might do and when it might happen, which, no question, lends drama to the whole thing, but you can still always kill them, or backtrack to find enough ammunition in order to kill them, or kill them and barely survive then find something to heal and kill some others, or fail to kill them and load your game and keep doing that until you kill them, so in the same way the monsters from Amnesia or Outlast or Slender are really only frightening to the point that you’ve seen them full-form and they’ve killed you and you’ve just pressed a button to try again, the fear effect of Resident Evil’s and to a lesser, more mitigatable extent Silent Hill’s camera cannot survive contact with videogame conventions. But the Silent Hill, or at least Silent Hill 2 camera I would argue adds more and is for more than the camera in Resident Evil, used for obfuscating perspective, temporarily raising tension and conveniently deepening and equivocating 2D backgrounds. 

For one thing, the Silent Hill 2 camera moves. It cuts as well, in the same was as the camera in Resident Evil, whereby, once James crosses some invisible trigger line the perspective jumps from maybe an over-the-shoulder panorama to something narrower and side-on, but it also pans and tracks and follows James around like as if on some impossibly nimble dolly rail. Manipulating the right-side analogue stick can also, variably, enable you to manipulate the camera. Sometimes you can just about barely shimmy it back and forth. Other times you can arch and re-angle it entirely, flipping, in a smooth, uncut motion, from the front of James to the back. It isn’t versatile. Versatile means that it’s useful; that it can be easily adapted to suit multiple uses. A useful camera in a game is a camera that stably and reliably provides an advantageous perspective, encompasses and elucidates the action so you can see where you’re shooting or driving or jumping, a camera that doesn’t get in the way and that you only really notice if it bugs out. A useful game camera, and therefore one that could be called versatile, highlights where items may be found or to which area within a level you should try to navigate towards next. There are bound to be exceptions, but largely I think the game camera is created to be useful and that what useful means in most games is useful to and facilitating, lubricative of mechanics. The Silent Hill 2 camera moves a lot and does a lot and there is quite a lot that you can do with it, but none of these actions necessarily contribute to your, as a player’s, comprehension of the game world or ability to identify and engage with that world mechanically. So it isn’t versatile. It’s more like active, unpredictable, a paradox in the sense of being consistently esoteric — it does a lot of different stuff in a lot of different parts of the game. Like in this scene when you’re leaving the church and carrying on to Silent Hill, as in, the town. For parts of this section, the camera hangs tightly behind James, capturing and centring and moving with him like the camera in any third-person videogame. In other parts, and without any significant shift in location or situation, a load screen that might usually herald a fresh camera angle, it suddenly flips to face him, or stops dead for a couple of seconds so that he accelerates away from it and becomes on the screen much smaller. My most basic summary would be that the camera behaves almost as if it were alive somehow itself, energised, intuitive, but also occasionally wrong and taken by flights of fancy — it moves around and changes a lot and in the process loses sight of James or anything within the environment that might be deemed meaningful. It’s active but capricious, what I might describe as “emotional”, insofar as it responds very subjectively to what’s going on and what you’re trying to achieve as a player. This sort of animation, consciousness on the camera’s behalf, I’d feel like I was letting myself down attaching it now to an idea so hackneyed as “the town is alive; the camera represents its mind and how it’s reacting to and watching James”. You can reach up and grab that one without even going on your tiptoes. The way I feel about it is probably simpler. Silent Hill 2 is emotional and not so much about themes or genre or complex ideas as it is about people, maybe even a person, and so it follows that the camera, our lens, has a sophisticated heart and mind of its own, that it’s so mobile and sometimes counter-intuitive that it feels like it’s being used to contend the deference games pay to practicality and functionality, how the nature of games — mechanical, comprehensible, unequivocal — is incompatible with any single truth about being alive.

Alongside RETWEETS, the RESTLESS DREAMS PATREON is the best measure I have of whether this writing means anything to anyone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: