I played Silent Hill 2 when I was a wee lad and it was a pretty frightening experience since it had an oppressive atmosphere and spooky oggaboogas. Knowing that a dedicated team of fans was working on the Enhanced Edition that fixes a lot of the issues with the PC version and makes it run really well on current hardware, I decided to experience this as an adult with more perspective.
I just want to start by saying that the Enhanced Edition team has done a sensational job with their work. The fog looks incredible. The textures are excellent. The sound design is better than most contemporary releases. This is one of the best examples of updating an older title without making any changes to its core design. Silent Hill 2 is still an incredible experience that explores individual trauma and uses both gameplay and narrative to offer a sense of purification to the player.
James goes to the town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife who died of a “disease” three years prior and has to traverse through the nightmarish town and combat its hellish inhabitants. Without digging deeper, Silent Hill 2 still succeeds on the surface level as a startling horror title.
But that isn’t really what made it so frightening to play years later.
What’s really terrifying about this experience is its psychology. About halfway through the game, it becomes apparent that the town manifests the trauma and guilt that James and the other individuals he meets to deal with. Angela was abused (perhaps sexually) by her father, killed him, and now contemplates suicide. Eddie was bullied and has debilitating insecurities and lives in a constant state of paranoia. James’s tragic backstory underlines all of this.
Carl Jung, an influential Swiss psychiatrist, noted that humans are often driven by their libido.
“[Libido] denotes a desire or impulse unchecked by any kind of authority, moral or otherwise. Libido is appetite in its natural state” – Carl Jung
Jung observed that our psyche is self-regulating and that our libido naturally knows where to go to help the psyche. It is a subconscious drive.
You find out later in the game that James’s wife Mary didn’t just die of an illness, James selfishly killed her because he felt trapped by her sickness—seeing it as a roadblock—and admits that he wanted his life back. This is why James travels to Silent Hill to pursue his wife, even while knowing that she is dead. He has repressed the guilt he feels from murdering her and has developed a subconscious desire to reconcile this guided by his libido. James’s libido is aware that this culpability is creating a mental clog that is negating him from moving on and finding contentment in life.
The monsters within Silent Hill represent different facets of his guilt, but Pyramid Head is the prime example of this. Pyramid Head is a physical expression of James’s desire to be punished for his actions; a poor coping mechanism in penance. He even has to watch Maria, an imagined representation of his wife, die multiple times at the hands of Pyramid Head, forcing him to relive his wife’s murder.
Reinforcing this is knowing that the other people James encounters don’t always see what James sees and vice versa. When confronted about a body in the same room as him upon meeting Eddie for the first time, Eddie notes that he has no idea what James talking about. Angela seems to see James as someone else (her father, mother, and partner) on multiple occasions.
The town of Silent Hill manifests itself in unique ways to each individual to represent their trauma. The last time James meets with Angela, she is surrounded by fire and notices that James can also see it. She comments that this is how it always is for her. She exists in a permanent Hell.
It’s a scene of absolute dejection that represents how people with trauma can draw sympathy from many but receive meaningful help from very few. The emotional and physical damage that she has suffered has left her in a state of disrepair as she walks off into the flames, never to be seen again.
Replaying Silent Hill 2 was vastly rewarding. This is because of another Jungian concept in the cathartic method; also called abreaction, or the release of repressed emotions through reliving the experience that caused them. Typically, this is done by talking through it, but in Silent Hill, James literally relives the trauma.
As the game progresses, he fully confesses his deeds and is finally able to forgive himself. While part of the reason James killed Marie is because he no longer wanted to see her suffer, he admits to himself that there was also the selfish motivation of wanting his life back.
“The goal of the cathartic method is full confession. Not merely the intellectual recognition of the facts with the mind, but their confirmation with the heart.” – Carl Jung
This results in a purging of the repressed emotions from the psyche and allows James to come to terms with himself.
Silent Hill 2 is still the most purifying game I’ve ever played, and I feel more confident in being able to face my own demons because of it. It’s a horror masterpiece because of the way it uses the genre to underpin its psychological themes resulting in a truly human experience that perfectly encapsulates not only how hellish trauma can be but also how liberating it is to confront it and win.