CHAPTER TWELVE: MOUTH

In that moment when the camera stops and James accelerates away from it, he appears, naturally, smaller and even more enveloped by the fog. If Silent Hill is “alive”, a malevolent but intangible sort of entity, designed after James’ own mind to consume, digest and excrete him remade, in this long, wide shot, of an expansive and gradually yawning-open space with a single thin tract down its centre, it is as if he is running directly down its throat, into its mouth. Another Konami game, released shortly after Silent Hill 2, deploys this metaphor more literally. In Metal Gear Solid 2, as Raiden tries to escape from the giant, robotic Arsenal Gear, he proceeds through areas which the loading screens tell us are named after digestive organs: the Jejunum, part of the small intestine, Stomach, for dissolution and absorption, and the Ascending Colon, a small pipe responsible for beginning the process of discharge. ANATOMY, released in 2016 by Kitty Horror Show, also makes the comparison between our environment, the game environment and physical bodies. When describing the concept – the spirit – of the typical domestic bedroom:

It is here, in the bedroom, that we are at our most vulnerable. Anything might stand beside us, watch us, keep us company until dawn and we would never perceive it. We can only pray that the house will not let such things carry on as we sleep. In this way, during these hours, the bedroom seems less like a mind and more like a mouth, for it is here that the house is most likely to betray us. It is here that we place ourselves most at the house’s mercy, and spend each night hoping that it will not bite down.

The depiction, or theme, of living and surviving within something that is conscious and may devour you is not novel to videogames – Jonah and the Whale, one of the most renowned of all Judeo-Christian parables, is told and retold by both the Old and New Testaments. Games – or at least the game Silent Hill 2; I resist making blanket assertions about what “games” are capable of formally or exceptionally, because the qualities of games or any given game are much more the results of talent, or lack of talent, among the people who make them, not a characteristic or benefit or tool inherent to games as a means of expression i.e. there are some creative things that can be achieved only through a videogame, but, contrary to the propaganda that we tend to hear at and around awards shows, this uniqueness from television, films or literature does not make games special; in fact, the ways that this uniqueness is wielded by game-makers typically results in art and entertainment that is distinctly unspecial – games, however, in rendering an “alive” environment, can, by their nature, abbreviate a central mannerism or disposition of what it means for something to be “alive”, and experience life, and this characteristic is mayhem.

For something to effectively masquerade as being alive, to perform a rendition or appropriation of “life”, it is helped by being able to be unpredictable – to cause some kind of experiential or statistical mayhem. In the same way that improvised dialogue in theatre and films can sound more human, or live music more immediate and “real”, the random elements that affect a videogame moment to moment, that can subtly change between each play-through, can make the world of that game seem perhaps conscious or sentient – and these elements may be the most insignificant. If during one play-through of Silent Hill 2 a monster you encounter sees you and attacks by running to the right-hand side of your character, in another play-through it may attack on the left, or use a completely different attack, or not attack, or not see you at all. There are strict limitations – the code or program or whatever of a game will only allow for so many permutations, so many ways for itself to impersonate being alive – but this, also, may be likened to the human body, subject to the mechanics of sense, physiognomy and electrical transmission. By its tendency towards small-scale mayhem, to react spontaneously and semi-intuitively to your stimulations as a player – an enemy that dodges rather than sustains an attack; a play-through that contains two explorations of the same area, as opposed to another play-through where this area is visited only once – the environment of Silent Hill and your experience of it inherit an, albeit highly analogous, kind of life. Although it never actually will, the illusion is sufficiently convincing that as James runs into the eponymous town’s widening mouth, it seems as if it could, at any moment, decide to bite down.

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