Content warning for discussion of sexual assault and child abuse
Silent Hill is back in the headlines as rumours continue to circulate around multiple projects currently in the works. We are set to receive remakes, new titles, and individual short stories if leaks prove accurate, with Konami seemingly finding a newfound belief in a property it has for decades left on the backburner.
This is all hugely exciting news for huge survival horror fans like me, yet also a cause for concern when taking a deeper look at the rumours and who exactly is involved. I don’t want to keep beating the dead Bloober Team horse, with the studio responsible for Layers of Fear, Blair Witch, and The Medium now repeatedly attached to rumours that it will be helming a remake of Silent Hill 2. I’m not fond of its work, and I worry about how it will approach Silent Hill and understand the nuance of its themes and characters.
The Medium is a bad game. It fails to understand any of the reasons Silent Hill is a horror icon while continually trying to ape its aesthetic, themes, and characters with the grace and decorum of a reversing dump truck without its tyres on. Even before this game, the likes of Layers of Fear and Blair Witch handled stories of mental illness with an almost comical level of heavy-handedness, seeking to explore them in ways that were ultimately damaging and pointed to careless writing and a lack of knowledge on the subject.
The Medium further compounds these problems to an astonishing degree. Mechanically and visually it is a perfectly solid horror game, and those who aren’t interested in delving deeper might not see it as problematic, so allow me to explain why hardened Silent Hill fans are so concerned about Bloober Team taking the reins. The Medium follows a young woman called Marianne who finds herself drawn to the abandoned holiday resort of Niwa in Poland a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the surface this is a compelling setting, and one that draws on Bloober Team’s own culture.
Marianne soon stumbles upon a ghost called Sadness, who has taken the form of a little girl. In the coming hours it becomes clear that she is actually a representation of Lilianne, the daughter of the resort’s manager whose own trauma brought forth a monster that killed all those who once called this place home.
The birth of this monster was caused by sexual abuse at the hands of Thomas, a family friend who took advantage of his position to molest a vulnerable young girl while threatening her to remain silent. Soon it all comes out, resulting in further deaths, arson, and the arrival of the aforementioned monster. The presence of this subject matter isn’t inherently bad, and could have been an effective dramatic core if handled with some form of grace. Here, it’s disrespectful, damaging, and labels victims of abuse as beyond saving, as people who do little more than perpetuate cycles of abuse that have defined so much of their lives. It’s disgusting, and there’s no defending it.
Thomas was also abused as a child, and the reason for his own paedophilic tendencies spawned from an abusive past he has been unable to escape from. In a flashback sequence we catch a glimpse into his childhood and are very much expected to sympathise with a character who has already been revealed as an abuser. It’s terrible that he was subjected to abuse by his parents and was raised to be so fundamentally influenced by them, but that doesn’t justify raping a little girl and trying to cover it up, and seems to assume that those who experience abuse are doomed to repeat history and tie themselves up into a destiny that will always end in tragedy.
Many have been able to overcome abusive upbringings and become better people, raising children of their own and loving them. Their trauma might forever stay with them, but it’s not a vice to hold them down. The Medium assumes we aren’t capable of growth or recovery, and it should be ashamed of cobbling together a narrative with such a laughable misunderstanding of psychology and hurtful assumptions around cycles of abuse and how we can go about resolving them.
The game’s conclusion has Marianne and Lilianne reuniting at a dock by the river, handing our heroine a gun and begging her to end her life. In her eyes, it is the only way to silence the demon brought forth by her abusive past and bring balance to the world. The Medium ends with a girl who was sexually abused as a child begging someone to kill her because she has been so damaged by this incident that in Bloober Team’s eyes there is no way for her to be worthy of love anymore. No way to seek help or repair her fractured mind with the help of loved ones that she’d rather end it all.
This sends a harrowing message to real victims of abuse playing this game that they aren’t worth saving either, and whatever experiences they’ve been through are only capable of repeating cycles of abuse and hurting those around them as a consequence. Breaking the cycle is impossible without breaking ourselves in the process, with our own passing seen as the only solution to enacting change and making the world a better place. This view is insensitive, unrealistic, and unforgivable.
We don’t know the true conclusion, with the screen fading to black as the gunshot rings out, but the insinuation couldn’t be clearer. Silent Hill 2 – the game that Bloober Team is rumoured to be remaking with expanded endings, puzzles and gameplay – takes a far deeper and more delicate approach. Certain characters are hammed up to an obscene degree, but James Sunderland’s story of coming to terms with his own actions and continually facing up against toxic visions of his own guilty subconscious have aged beautifully because the game is able to justify its heavy themes.
Given it came out two decades ago and manages to string together a more meaningful narrative with confident psychological exploration is a bold achievement, and a further damnation of everything The Medium does so wrong. Silent Hill fans are a smart bunch for the most part, and appreciate horror that both doesn’t hold their hand and is willing to explore controversial subject matter with excellent writing to support all the risks it is willing to take. Silent Hill 2 is the height of that ambition, and to know Bloober Team is being given the freedom to not only remake this masterpiece, but reshape it, is a very worrying prospect.
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