Picture it: 1999, a small desert city in America. Little 11 year old Ash and her big sister at home in the dark. We start up the Playstation (it was just Playstation back then, not PS1!) and we pop in the new game we rented at Blockbuster – Silent Hill. The old tube TV is dark so we can barely see. The game starts with this great cinematic opening and then….silence. Until the giant winged demon thing from hell attacks and my sister and I are screaming murder at 11pm!
The truth is, Silent Hill was probably the last real horror game series I had seriously played. I love horror movies, and I enjoy watching people play horror games. But playing them now is just something I cannot do.
See, Silent Hill was one of the first horror games of its kind: psychological horror. It is not your typical shoot and kill Resident Evil type horror. Silent Hill built an environment that put you, the player, directly into the setting. While horror games are notoriously quiet, Silent Hill uses silence! This game started so silently, there was not even the sound of wind. It was a heavy quiet that was used to create a feeling of solitude as oppressive as the fog.
Building the environment, Silent Hill’s use of everyday sounds heighten the experience of horror. Unlike RE where the moaning of zombie or its footsteps and a chainsaw can be heard, it was a normal sound you were used to hearing. Silent Hill uses the white noise of a small radio to warn you of danger. Not that you knew WHAT the danger was until it was right on you did you hear the flapping wings of a demon or the claws of demon dogs.
Silent Hill is a visceral experience – the sounds and visuals were phenomenally lifelike [no music, white noise, inability to see through fog, limited weapons, unhelpful bus maps(!!!), terrible stamina and health].
It was the first time I thought about how would I survive. It was the first time I felt like I was in the game. And I was screwed. Fast forward nearly 18 years and one bad movie later and I still cannot play horror games. I’ll gladly watch someone play. It’s like watching a horror film. I enjoy when the anxiety is not my own! Playing RE4 and beyond – nope. Silent Hill sequels – hell no. Why I chose to play Hellblade I have no idea! I gave up on playing the horror game genre. I dabbled with a few PC titles. And for a while I thought I could play horror games again; But then RE7 came out and it was obvious I was beyond help. Honestly, what the heck is that game?! It’s terrifying!!!
So if you get the chance, I suggest you go back and play the original Silent Hill to experience real, personal horror. It really sent the pace and ~~tone for horror games from that point on. And who knows, maybe I’ll try it again!