Gaming's Greatest Spooks: Silent Hill

A Story by Hugo Aranzaes 

I am what you would call, a skeptic. I tend to base my arguments on empirical evidence and a rational way of thinking. This wasn't always the case though. As a teenager I had a strong interest in the supernatural. I devoured magazines and books about mythical creatures and alien encounters. During my early adulthood though I developed a habit of asking people if they had ever seen a ghost and, if so, if they could tell me their stories. I asked family members, friends, and even taxi drivers. By my early 20s I had probably heard dozens of personal tales about apparitions, and seen none. While my skeptic attitude was slowly starting to develop, I was still intrigued by the subject. I was about to enter a period of big changes in my life. But before that, came Silent Hill.

It was the early 2000s and I had recently acquired a PlayStation. If you lived in a third world country at the time, this meant two things: Games were insanely cheap, and there was little to no information about them. My university granted me one hour of Internet access a day, and I spent most of that time downloading Anime JPEGs and custom Duke Nukem 3D maps to my dying collection of floppy disks. So, for most game purchases, I was forced to judge the book by its cover. One day, while browsing through some games, I found a very intriguing CD. The screenshots weren't particularly helpful and the cover was confusing to say the least. The only thing clear on it was a short title in red letters: Silent Hill. The name ringed a bell. I had heard things about this game. Good things.

The first areas of Silent Hill put you in control of a character in a third person perspective. You are in the middle of an abandoned town, surrounded by mist. This prevents you from seeing a few feet ahead of you. Early in the game though you are given couple of tools to protect yourself. A gun, some type of melee weapon, and a radio that produces static every time an enemy is near. The sense of threat is present during the whole game. In fact, it's the only thing keeping you alive. Later, Silent Hill introduces you to a new unexpected feature. Every now and then a loud and creepy alarm can be heard. The environment turns from a misty abandoned town to nightmarish dark and deteriorated streets. On this new world, the first building you find is an abandoned school.

The halls and classrooms are particularly dark. But luckily, you have a flashlight. The weak beam can only illuminate a few steps ahead. As opposed to what happened with the mist, now you can only see what is right in front of you. Turn, and whatever you were looking at becomes engulfed in darkness. And from this darkness, in a particular room of this building, I heard a strange and weak noise.

The high pitch sound lasted only an instant. I barely noticed it and thought it was just part of the background. But then it happened again. It sounded almost like a very light squeaky toy. It became clear then that, whatever it was, it was coming from the same room I was exploring. I slowly moved the flashlight to the right to face whatever was making that noise. I was expecting movement; maybe an object falling to the floor, as a sign of a ghostly presence. And, to some extent, that is what I got. A small figure, not taller than a toddler, appeared in front of me. Its shape was hard to distinguish. It was like a small child made out of shadows. I didn't have time to react. I barely got a glimpse of it, walking and stumbling forward. It let a small whine out, and then, it was gone.

We remained still for a couple of seconds. Both me and my avatar. I didn't know how to react to what I just saw. It was unexpected and eerie, but there was something else about it. Something I couldn't figure out right away. The sounds, the sudden appearance of a figure, the confusing dark shapes, and the quick departure. It was all just so familiar. And then it hit me. These were all elements I had heard before. But not from gamers, but from people all around the city. People opening about their own lives. Telling me their very own personal stories of fear and confusion. These elements were what all those ghost stories had in common. "That's how it felt!" I thought, "It felt like seeing a ghost!". I un-paused the game and continued playing. Now more interested in the mysteries of Silent Hill than ever. A couple of weeks later, I had finished the game. 

Through the years I have come to appreciate Silent Hill and the work their developers put into it. I still wonder though: How did they manage to replicate the experience of seeing a ghost? Who did they interview? More importantly: What did they see?

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