While having terrible nerve pain in my neck and back in October, I was stuck for a whole week sitting up on bedrest. This was when I picked up watching playthroughs of the Silent Hill series. It was Halloween season after all, so what better time to visit a series I had been meaning to consume since I was a teenager? The only exposure I’d had to the series was the occasional Pyramid Head and Bubble Nurse cosplayers wandering the hallways of various anime conventions, obligatory fanart, and casual mentions of the movies, most of which were received by fans with mixed reactions. I knew I had my hands full when deciding to visit the story and lore of Silent Hill, a series with eight main titles and several spinoffs, but I started with the one that was and still is the most highly praised of them all: Silent Hill 2.
What is there to say about Silent Hill that has not been said already? Yet here I am offering a perspective on the series from the voyeuristic approach of watching full playthroughs of all eight main games, knowing full well that I am only experiencing a fraction of the terror and intrigue that comes from physically playing the games firsthand.
The series acts mostly as an anthology, yet there are underlying story elements that remain consistent through most of the games. Starting with Silent Hill 2 allowed me to fully understand what makes the first three games so strong as a standalone trilogy. After watching Silent Hill 2 I ended up doing more research about the series, and realized there were connecting storylines between the first and third games, so in a way I was grateful that I chose to watch the first and third back to back rather than in order of release. Viewing them in this order also gave me immediate insight into what makes the second game so beloved and so special.
In the titular Silent Hill, whether manifesting as a physical place or a conjuring of the mind, there’s an evil cult attempting to summon a dark entity and bring it into the world of the living. This underlying story has been at the forefront of some of the games, while only casually mentioned in passing or through writings in others. In the opinion of this casual gamer and horror enthusiast, the care taken in crafting the narrative and themes of the first three games is nearly unmatched, save for Silent Hill: Homecoming—a game that is not among fan favorites, but one in which Pyramid Head appears again after a long absence in the series to provide a welcome reprieve. While it is true that the sequels are seen as standalone games, there are still a few bits of the lore that shine through from the original three that bleed into the sequels, like the mascots from the amusement park in Silent Hill 3, or the room number 302.
I encourage the notion of watching playthroughs because it’s the main way in which I and many others are able to consume horror games. This might be due to financial inaccessibility, a lack of time, or because some are squeamish when it comes to actually playing horror games, afraid of making errors in judgment that have ghastly consequences. All of these barriers are somewhat reduced thanks in part to the gracious efforts of people playing these games for us, so that we may enjoy them mainly from a story and aesthetic standpoint.
Keep in mind that when consuming horror games through sites like YouTube or Twitch, you are only getting one piece of that experience. It does not, of course, equate to actually playing the games and discovering the horrors at your own pace, which is arguably the main point of video games. But what makes playthroughs so wonderful is that even I, a person who is not “good” at most types of gaming, could finally experience part of the joy and catharsis of exploring the world of games like Silent Hill for myself. For further clarification, I watched all the games without commentary. Commentary or “Let’s Play”-style playthroughs can be enjoyable and entertaining in their own right, but I chose no commentary so I could be immersed in the story and atmosphere as fully as possible.
I have to say, after watching all eight games back to back (I was frozen in bed for a week with nothing else to do, after all), the first three games and Homecoming were my favorites, followed by The Room, Downpour, Origins, and Fractured Memories. I could almost not even watch the playthrough of Fractured Memories, as it was so chaotic in its gimmicky use of the Wii controller as the main character’s phone, through which most of the story information is relayed to the player. In the same vein, it was also a challenge to get through a playthrough of The Room, mostly because a vast majority of the game takes place within one singular apartment. But who knows, maybe actually playing through it yourself would make a difference in how those mechanics feel. In a sense, this confirmed my suspicion that not every game is worth watching or experiencing in a voyeuristic way, but rather directly playing is a more enriching experience.
I watched Silent Hill 2 specifically while in complete darkness, with headphones on, and in a lot of nerve pain. That is probably enough to give anyone anxiety and choose a different activity or type of video to watch altogether. But the sound design alone makes any quality earbud or headphone use absolutely worth it. The plot twist that makes the game and its monstrous symbolism so special is also something I was not ever aware of in my exposure to the series, so it came to me as a complete surprise. The letter read after most of the game’s endings had my heart breaking for the characters. Its nuance, its terror, is truly a gem among horror games.
Overall I did enjoy watching the playthroughs, and ended the journey with a playthrough of P.T. as a bonus. I would recommend watching the first three games in the way I did, but it’s up to you whether you might enjoy longer playthroughs of the sequels in this way. I don’t think I would have preferred watching the playthroughs on a big screen TV, as I liked having my headphones and a close distance between me and my laptop, although a larger laptop screen would have allowed me to better appreciate the detail in a higher definition. I was glad I could immerse myself in the world of Silent Hill for the week, and dare I say the cathartic nature of the series helped my nerve pain subside.
Natalia is a queer Latinx illustrator making queer horror art, comics, and zines. She runs MystoPress, a micropress that is home to her eerie and nightmarish works, and has been funding her comics on Kickstarter as of 2019. When she is not freelancing or working on new projects, she teaches classes to teens and adults in non-profit art centers around North Carolina.