Before I even start this article, I have to give the biggest props and recognition to RagnarRox on Youtube. The videos on this channel are so well thought out and done, and ultimately it was this channel’s theoretical videos that inspired me to write this piece. Go check out the channel and watch some videos, even donate to the patreon! Really great stuff, trust me!
The first real horror love that I had in the realm of video games was and will always be the Silent Hill franchise. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, this won’t be a reiteration of my previous article on Akira Yamaoka’s beautiful contribution to the series. Rather, one thing I’ve always loved about this series (apart from Yamaoka’s amazing sound production) has been the multitude of symbolic meanings and hidden gems to read into throughout the better parts of the series. Despite a few not-so-good additions to the game-franchise, a “decent” film adaptation, and what some would refer to as a dreadful sequel to that film, the notoriously symbolic spirit behind Silent Hill will always be one that I cherish.
Considering somewhat of a decline in the franchise’s reception as of late, it was a great surprise and moment of true hype when gamers across the globe finally managed to finish a playable trailer published by Konami in mid-2014 called “P.T.” - to find that not only would Silent Hill be back, but under the envisioning of mastermind game designer Hideo Kojima, classic horror director Guillermo del Toro, trend-setting writer/artist Ito Junji, and highly acclaimed actor Norman Reedus. The playable trailer itself was amazing in its depth and just-vague-enough symbolism, and after watching a more cinematic trailer of what would be “Silent Hills”, the whole project seemed to be a little too good to be true… and it was. Soon enough, not only would the game be announced as cancelled by Konami, but the P.T. game itself would be removed from the Playstation Network.
The cancellation and removal was taken as a huge loss in the gaming community, and a huge loss to the horror and overall multimedia art community as a whole. I mean, imagine it. The powers behind the Metal Gear series, Snatcher, Pan’s Labyrinth, Mimic, Uzumaki, Gyo, altogether working along with the likeness and acting of Norman Reedus (known mostly now for his role in The Walking Dead, but who was also great in other Del Toro features like Mimic and Blade II). From watching the trailer cinematic, this game looked extremely creative, new, and overall a gorgeously horrific return to Silent Hill that many fans have been waiting for.
Along with this, the playable trailer of P.T. alone created so many sleepless nights in the minds of theorists and interested parties due to its use of vaguery and symbolism notoriously used often by Kojima, and fittingly Silent Hill as well. From possibly being a reference to M.K. Ultra Mind Control, to even being theorized as being a message to fans about Kojima’s self-predicted departure from Konami. Both are theories that are really well articulated and mapped out by RagnarRox in these two Youtube videos listed. I highly suggest watching them and looking into it yourselves. It’s really captivating and (in my opinion) so rewarding to go through and let the mind wander throughout this mere glimpse of what would have been a new step into the sometimes theorized “multiverse” of Silent Hill.
So, the game was cancelled. However, the drama didn’t end there, as one would hope it wouldn’t. Soon, Hideo Kojima would leave Konami for good, Guillermo would be quoted righteously referencing the often present limitations to art made by the “bastards with the money”, and in a relatively short time Kojima started his own independent company, Kojima Productions, which would announce working with Sony for a PS4 exclusive game.
While it was great to hear Kojima’s departure from Konami and later collaboration with Sony as an independent company, a space yearning for closure was still left behind concerning the cancellation of Silent Hills. It just seemed like too much of a loss that due to Konami owning the rights, the public would not see another well-thought out return of the franchise Silent Hill. And then, E3 happened.
“I’m back!” I nearly cried when I heard him say that. The rise in cheers that occurred when it was discovered that Norman Reedus would also be in this project rose emotions once again. Overall, the landscape, music, and symbolism looked and sounded beautiful! While it would not be the “Silent Hills” everyone hoped for, the title “Death Stranding” would come with great applause and now anticipations. But, let me explain further why this presentation could be considered jaw droppingly emotional; why it is truly a big victory for Kojima and so many others.
First, consider the unprofessional petty-behavior from Konami. First, they cancel a well-hyped project, and then (as reported here by IGN) they deny Kojima attendance to accept his own award for the project he (and they) are most known for: Metal Gear. It really brings a whole new feeling to “I’m back!” when he re-enters the E3 stage with a grand welcome from Sony with not one, but two gigantic banners with the Kojima Productions logo.
Secondly, if I haven’t reiterated it enough, the loss of that project - as well as the rights to it being taken in a heavy injustice impatiently waiting to be made right. When you hear “I’ll Keep Coming” by Low Roar playing in the trailer, you can feel that huge victory statement of “Even if you take the rights away from such a project, it will still be made.” Basically, you feel the song lyrics themselves,
"Soon I'll come around, lost but never found.
Waiting for my words, seen but never head.
Buried underground, but I'll keep coming."
This brings me to yet another theory presented by RagnarRox (or part of it) concerning the Death Stranding trailer. In the video, RagnarRox mentions possible symbolism used where Norman Reedus’ character is holding a baby crying, where the theory states that it is as if the perceivably dead infant represents something else - that perhaps this instance is in reference to the previously denied project “Silent Hills”. What a time for that image to be presented, as it is during the same time the audience first sees Reedus’ character in the trailer, creating a huge reaction from fans watching it live. Many probably assumed that because it was no longer Konami, it’d be hard to get Norman Reedus. Thusly, it is his presence that displays such a solidarity in rebellion towards Konami’s rejection of the previous project. It states that Kojima is in fact supported in his cause to make something meaningful, as he has often been quoted saying when asked about making games.
Diving further into RagnarRox’s theory, which again - go watch it, it’s easy to see that this project will be extensively intricate and complex. In the trailer alone, references are inferred to be coming from symbols of umbilical cords and connection, religion and revelation, species-specific indicators of ecological destruction, futuristic evolution and tech contrasted with nature, and so much more. The trailer itself, referencing William Blake, folklore concerning the iconicism of white sperm whales, and so many other themes and sources, give way to the possibilities and inspiration for interest-fueled theories and interpretations made by those who watch and play the upcoming game.
With so much disrespect pitted towards Kojima by large companies, denying him awards and the space to truly express himself and create the content he wants, I invite you to rewatch now not just the E3 trailer presentation, but the reactions to it. I rewatch it over and over again, and the tearful feelings of joy do not recede from me. It is a heavy thing to watch. Something that literally makes you want to pound your fist in the air. During one of the reaction videos made to it by The Super Best Friends, Zaibatsu member Woolie comedically states, “Be careful who you break up with.”
So, in the end, why does this all matter? Why does this one, rather rare case mean anything to the rest of the horror genre (since we don’t actually know for sure what the game is even about yet)? It matters because this one case represents rebellious creativity that has the opportunity to send a great message to larger production companies AND independent creators alike. It’s highly important to remember that Kojima’s resistance and persistence was to create something with deep thought and meaning.
Think of it this way, for at least 30+ years we have seen so many horror films and games with amazing concepts sell themselves short by lazily attempting to appeal to the cultural norms of mass society (or rather, what many companies believe to be what the masses of society adore, a mostly wrong assumption). This results in movie sequels not having the same integral charm as their first editions, problematic stereotypic tropes creating xenophobic and tokenizing plots/characters (see #NeverDeadDani’s amazing piece on Indian Burial Grounds), bastardizing some things via overutilization and neglecting other intricacies via underutilization, and so much more. However, with people like Hideo Kojima taking a real stand in doing things like creating their own companies in order to make the titles they truly want, with all of the well-thought out research and meaning placed into it, we as an audience face a new dawn of inspiration and (more importantly) respect for our intelligences and where we each come from.
So, maybe this game won’t be that good (though I highly doubt it’ll be anything less than amazing). Maybe Kojima actually won’t be yet working with Guillermo del Toro, Ito Junji, and other amazing minds in this project. Whatever the case may be, I’m heavily excited, because ultimately what it means is the start of an attitude of departure from large and controlling companies that regulate creativity, and a new arrival welcoming the leaps of faith that are experimental ideologic pieces of art. Maybe, with strong actions like this, and with companies like Sony placing better confidence in the creators they collaborate with, we as complex and multifaceted audiences will see more intricate and moving pieces in the future, as opposed to problematic representations that just don’t get it. Overall, it is my belief that inspirational people like Kojima are paving the way for more brave strides into creativity, and we as audiences should recognize and respect that.