Formal Properties of a Video Game – Silent Hill 2

One of the first essays I had to do for my Game Design course. I think I got a fairly good mark with decent comments. I’m pretty sure one of the criticisms for this was that it read more like a review at the beginning rather than an exploration of the game’s mechanics. Anyways enjoy 🙂

Silent Hill 2 is a survival horror game which is the second instalment in the Silent Hill series, it was developed by a group called Team Silent within Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo.  It was released in September 2001. As stated in the article “the Heresy of Zone Defense”, in basketball, “there must be a ball, and it should be large” (p. 4). That is one of defining principles in basketball. Basketball like Silent Hill 2 is made up of principles. The Silent Hill genre is defined by principles such as avoiding combat when needed, the radio to show the player when monsters are nearby and the lack of a heads-up-display. This leads to an immersive, terrifying experience.

The principle of being encouraged to run away from the fights is supported by the mechanics that the enemies have quite a bit of health depending on the difficulty setting the player chooses at the beginning of the game and the mechanic where the main character, James swings weapons slowly. In the article “‘MDA: A Formal Approach to Games Design and Research ”, the author talks about the “mechanics”, “dynamics” and “aesthetics” related to games. The mechanics in the combat support the aesthetics the developers were trying to create. The player feels the awkwardness of the character because the main character is just an average person who has been thrust into a terrifying world created by their own subconscious.

The developers use of fog and darkness to hinder the players view of their surroundings means that having a device that tells the player when monsters are near is extremely useful. Especially since the combat is hard and makes the player want to avoid it altogether. But on the other hand, it really helps with the atmosphere of the game. It can provoke feelings of paranoia, even just the thought that there is a monster crawling around out there causes the player to always be alert. There was one section in the game that really used it effectively: the player is running down a corridor, the flooring is something like grates with fog everywhere and the radio is going on and on telling them that there is a monster really close. But they cannot see any creatures anywhere. But then they look down and there is a monster right below them. The radio both helps the player but inconveniences them.

Silent Hill 2 lacks the usual heads-up-display that most games in the survival horror genre have. Instead the health is shown by an image in the pause menu, it does not state the exact value of health the player has at all during the game. The game shows the player how much damage they’re getting by how red the picture gets. This adds a sense of tension for the players because they have no way of knowing exactly if the next hit will kill them or not. The ammo for the weapons is not shown the screen either, rather the player has to again go into the pause menu to check the ammo manually. This encourages the player to be constantly aware of what is going on in their inventory.

The lack of heads-up-display immerses the player in the environment because there isn’t anything on the screen to distract the player from what is happening to the character.

Again mentioned in the “MDA ‘MDA: A Formal Approach to Games Design and Research ” article, it mentions the vocabulary to describe the gameplay. In the article there is eight words to describe the aesthetics of the game which are “Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression [and] Submision” (p. 2). Silent Hill 2 is focused on the sensation where the atmosphere really makes the game, followed closely by narrative which is explored through cutscenes, notes/ articles found around the town. The last two aesthetics are Fantasy and Challenge. The town itself relies on fantastical elements such as the monsters and the events of the game. The challenge is found through the combat and the puzzle-solving.

In ‘Deep Play: notes on the Balinese cockfight’ by Geertz, there is a discussion on the irrationality and social dynamics of cock-fighting. The irrationality is in the betting of the cock-fights, they prefer equally matched cock-fights that a lot of money is staked upon because the risk is what makes the game enjoyable. The social dynamics is in the competitors and their teams how the social norm for them is to back each other and in one example, if the cock-fighters were to go to another village to fight, they would back each other even if they were bitter rivals. Silent Hill 2 has its own forms of irrationality as in what the game forces the players to do that they would never do in real life. An example of this is when the player has the option to stick their arm into a gross looking hole. There is nothing saying that in the hole is any items, there is just the choice to do so. The game makes the players become emotionally invested in the story and the characters that when the new developers try to change the dynamics and principles established the first three games, the players irrationally go on the internet to rage about how “American horror” the games have become. Silent Hill 2 is a great game that uses mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics properly.

References-

Hickey, D 1995, ‘Heresy of Zone Defense’.

Hunicke, R, LeBlane, M & Zubek R, ‘MDA: A Formal Approach to Games Design and Research’

Geertz, C 2005, ‘Deep Play: notes on the Balinese cockfight’.

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