Retro Review – Silent Hill 2: A Jungian Masterpiece

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.

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James arrives in Silent Hill

I just want to start off by saying that the Enhanced Edition team have done a sensational job with their work. The fog looks incredible. 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 probably the best example I’ve ever played of exploring individual trauma and using both gameplay and narrative to offer catharsis in the medium. James goes to the town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife who died of a “disease” three years prior and of course has to traverse through the nightmarish town and fight all kinds of nasties. Without digging deeper, Silent Hill 2 still succeeds as a startling horror title.

But that isn’t really what made it so frightening to play years later.

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The audio engineering in the hotel level is some of the best in the medium, even after almost 20 years.

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 deal with. Angela was abused by her father and killed him. Eddie was bullied and feels insecure about himself. James’s tragic backstory underlines all of this. Carl Jung, a 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, James 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 when knowing that she is dead. He has repressed the guilt from murdering her and has subconscious desire to reconcile this guided by his libido. James’s libido is aware that this trauma and guilt is creating a mental clog that is negating him from moving on and finding happiness in his 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 exhibition of James’s desire to be punished for his actions. A poor coping mechanism in penance. He even has to watch a representation of his wife in Maria die multiple times at the hands of Pyramid Head, forcing him to relive his wife’s murder.

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Penance is not a therapeutic coping mechanism

Reinforcing this is knowing that the other people you encounter don’t always see what you see and vice versa. When confronted about a body upon meeting Eddie for the first time, he notes that he has no idea what you’re talking about. Angela seems to see you as someone else (her father, mother, and a partner) on multiple occasions. The hallucinations or manifestations are unique to each person in Silent Hill. The last time you meet with Angela, she is surrounded by fire and notices that you can also see it. She comments on how this is how it always is for her. She exists in a permanent Hell.

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Angela exists in a permanent Hell

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 them. As the game progresses, he fully confesses his deeds and is finally able to forgive himself.

“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.

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James finally comes to terms with his guilt

Silent Hill 2 is the most cathartic 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 how hellish trauma can be but also how liberating it is to confront trauma and win.

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The game ends with a gut-wrenching reading of the letter Mary sent James

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