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Alessa Gillespie: Child Star or Monster?

Looking at issues of monstrosity and gender in the universe of Silent Hill.
May contain spoilers. Beware.

It's pretty obvious that I'm a big Silent Hill fan. I'm hoping to do a lot with the series (along with the Fatal Frame series, Rule of Rose, the Final Fantasy series and Ico/Shadow of the Colossus/Unnamed New Game) academically. I'm thinking up topics for papers right now actually. Anyway, whenever I come across a scholarly look at a video game, I take note. Well, guess what I found.

The May issue of Camera Obscura contains an article called Masculinity in Video Games: The Gendered Gameplay of Silent Hill. Ewan Kirkland, a lecturer at Kingston University in the UK, has written a number of articles on video games and seems to focus on the Silent Hill series and survival horror in general. Here's the abstract for the forthcoming (I say forthcoming because it's not available to me yet) article:


The article looks at the concept of masculinity in the video game "Silent Hill 2," created by Konami. It delves in the issues concerning the ending to "Silent Hill 2," such as the player agency, the structuring of gameplay, and the gendering of the role that video-game players are invited to perform. It notes that the only way to finish the game is for the protagonist James to kill his wife Mary. The author points out that such portion in the game may be perceived as a video-game misogyny which features a male protagonist killing creatures of monstrous femininity, or presented a perverted world defining the psychological interior of a tortured man consumed by bitterness, resentment, and conflicting feelings of love and hatred toward a woman he had to kill at the end.
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the author's claim, or even what his opinion of it is. Unfortunately, right now, I can't access the full article. Whenever I can, I'll be sure to do a write-up. I suppose it could be seen as misogynistic if you look at the face value of James killing nurses, but it's deeper than that, as the end of the abstract indicates. It's complicated. That's why it's a good topic to study.

In the meantime, Ewan has written a very interested piece on Alessa Gillespie, the child/teenager/monster/driving force behind Silent Hill in the first and third releases in the series. It's called Alessa Unbound: The Monstrous Daughter of Silent Hill and is the first piece in section two of Dark Reflections, Monstrous Reflections: Essays on the Monster in Culture. Click here for the PDF. There's some other really interesting stuff in the ebook, so check it out. Here's the abstract for Ewan's piece on Alissa:


This paper explores the figure of Alessa, the ambiguous monster of the Silent Hill videogame series. Focusing on the game's first and third installments, Alessa is discussed as revealing interconnected anxieties surrounding motherhood and childhood. Horrific images of birth, abortion and maternity pervade the games, together with unsettling signifiers of children and childhood. Firstly Barbra Creed's psychoanalytic discussion of the monstrous feminine is used to examine Silent Hill in terms of maternity. Accordingly, Alessa embodies the abject mother, evident in pervading imagery of bodily fluids, particularly blood and excrement, across the series. Next I explore Alessa as monstrous child, employing Robin Wood's discussion of children in horror cinema. Here Alessa's monstrousness resides in her horrific childhood, communicated through Silent Hill's dark and malignant alternative dimensions. This ambiguous disposition toward the arcane mother and parental authority is partially resolved through the games' endings, involving the re-assertion of patriarchal power. Finally, I argue, Alessa symbolises cultural fears that adult/child distinctions may be disrupted as children transcend their infant or adolescent status, by becoming parents themselves.

I will say that Kirkland takes the right approach to studying these games, inasfar as he takes them seriously. Case in point, he says the following things in the introduction (p.74) of Alessa Unbound:

  • I will not be justifying the study of videogames.
  • I shall not be relating figures concerning the revenues the industry accrues, nor drawing apologetic parallels between videogames [and other] media.
  • I shall be exploring [the games] as narratives....
  • I shall be taking these games seriously for the complex cultural texts I believe them to be.
Couldn't agree more. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work, especially on Silent Hill. For anyone interested, a user by the name of SilentPyramind (and a number of others) on GameFAQs have put together a rather extensive and deep look into the mythology and logic of the Silent Hill universe which, unfortunately, hasn't been updated since 2007 and thus is not containing the newest additions to the series. Still, as far as Silent Hill and Silent Hill 3 go, it's worth a look.

Citations:

Kirkland, E. (2006). Alessa Unbound: The Monstrous Daughter of Silent Hill. In Dark Reflections, Monstrous Reflections: Essays on the Monster in Culture (pp. 73-78). Presented at the Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil, Mansifled College, Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Kirkland, E. (2009). Masculinity in Video Games: The Gendered Gameplay of Silent Hill. Camera Obscura, 24(71), 161-183.

 

(This post originally appeared on Teach Video Games, September 6, 2009.)

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