This article contains spoilers for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
Memories aren’t real. We can’t take them out of our head, crystallize and make them manifest. They’re slippery and uncertain things. Like icicles, melting through our fingers.
The horror of impermanence has been at the heart of Silent Hill since its inception. Konami’s series trades in queasy uncertainty over buckets of blood or pop scares. It’s one of the reasons why love for the franchise has persisted through a series lull that just hit one decade in October. Yet when people talk about Silent Hill, it’s usually doublespeak. The Silent Hill most people remember are the first few entries. They’ve cast a long shadow on each subsequent entry, with fans of the initial quartet quietly ignoring or dismissing anything else that came out after.
In other words: nobody’s out here making Bogeyman or Asphysxia skate decks.
Lost in this shuffle most often is Crimson’s 2009 Wii entry, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. It sits at a precarious place in the canon, being a sort-of remake of the first game, but otherwise totally original and distinct. Like the current glut of glitzy modern remakes, Shattered Memories sands off the edges of the aging PSOne title, in favor of making a more accessible and beatable experience for the average player.
Despite the mechanical overhauls, however, the most significant change to Shattered Memories is its presentation of the narrative. At the core, it’s similar—Harry Mason’s daughter goes missing in Silent Hill and he goes to find her. In the original game, Harry Mason is an unambiguous good guy—somebody players can graft themselves onto as they search for their videogame daughter. By contrast, Climax’s re-interpretation complicates uncritical fatherhood narratives by casting Harry as a problematic patriarch.
This is accomplished by the game’s framing device—first-person therapy sessions that break up the third-person exploration. After Harry has meandered through the frigid and hostile town enough, you enter the stagnant warmth of Dr. Michael Kauffman’s office. Kaufmann is menacing and invasive, presenting the player with loaded questions and casting doubt on their responses.
The big twist? These sections are actually from a grown up Cheryl’s perspective, now 25 and haunted by vague recollections of her father. Harry’s trip through Silent Hill is a Tommy Westphall situation. He’s a construction of Cheryl’s traumatized mind, which cast her father as a noble hero coming to save her. In reality, he died in a car crash in 1999, after a messy divorce that put a dark tinge on his daughter’s adolescence.
How good our fathers are is, sometimes, a selective construction. Odds are, our fathers have done objectively bad things at some point in their lives. My dad crashed an old Toyota pick-up—with me inside—into the car of my mom’s friend. Mom was in the throes of a BPD spiral after an ectopic pregnancy and dealing with a stalker. She needed new comfort, and this friend was that. But as she ran from my father, the weight of his own family’s abuse weighed on him. Blinded by anger, he had a momentary death spiral and thought that was the quickest way out.
My mom forgave him. He was going to get sentenced for child endangerment, and spent some time in jail. But I found this year—from her—that when it came time to testify against him, mom refused. So he got off, and moved back in with us. We moved around a while—from Las Vegas to Albuquerque to Winder—before settling back into Atlanta in 2005. Both parents began to spiral in tandem, but I saw it most from my dad’s end. He homeschooled me until I was 14, so we used to be a lot closer. Seeing mom was always a relief—a break from the norm. But even the cracks in her fun, nurturing demeanor even started to show.
Shattered Memories and its probing questions about family trauma defined a lot of my high school life. Most horror games up until that point I played for gross-out thrills and disturbing imagery. But this was one that felt personal—like it understood the trauma I was going through. By that point, my dad had cheated on my mom, and almost run off to start another family. My mom reacted with a persistent lie that she had stomach cancer for months, as her business partner robbed her blind and her husband’s family tried to have her locked up in a psych ward.
Suffice it to say, my family was fucked-up.
In Shattered Memories, people with fucked-up families are the narrative’s raison d’etre. Through its four endings, it takes a nuanced look at the narratives we construct about our childhoods. In one of four ways, Harry is exposed for the man he actually was. One is a loving father through a messy divorce. The other three are either a drunk, a serial adulterer, or an ineffectual and sad man abused by his wife. Cheryl can either choose to accept reality or embrace the constructed Harry, which dictates the conclusion of the main narrative arc.
Cheryl’s struggle mirrors my own as of late. It’s hard talking to my dad. He’s a sweet and nice guy at his core, who loves kids and likes listening to new music. His homeschooling—full of lit and critical thinking exercises—is why you’re reading this piece of writing. So much of his DNA is baked into who I am as a person, even as somebody who claims to take after her mom more. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to love those parts of myself more, instead of resent them.
Still, the struggle remains. I don’t know how I remember my dad. Do I embrace the dad who drove a hour to Mall of Georgia so we could see Hulk and Daredevil, or the one who habitually called me a faggot when I was growing up? The dad who sat me on his lap and let me play Tomb Raider with him, or the one who clawed under my eye until it bled? Who always loved to pick out movies when mom was gone and watch them with me for comfort, or who told me he’d “bury me in the backyard with your brothers and sisters” when I was four?
I don’t have the answer. Maybe I never will.
Shattered Memories speaks power to the idea that, on some level, all our recollections of our fathers are selective. Sometimes, we can accept why they did what they did, and try to embrace the person they are if they’ve changed. Others, the pain of just thinking about them hurts too much to consider building that bridge. Cheryl’s chance is robbed from her, which gives the story extra heft. It implores the player to consider their feelings about their own family, and to examine them on their own terms. Can we forgive their father’s sins, or is the hurt too great to consider it?
I love my dad. He supported my interests, expanded my mind, and always had time for a deep talk. He also tormented me—for my entire childhood—to cope with his own trauma. In turn, he gave me all sorts of weird hang-ups, personality traits, and kinks that he wasn’t planning on. I’m just as much a product of my father’s abuse as I am his love. A conflicted and confused set of animalistic urges with an addiction to pain and desire for unrestrained love.
Whether I can remember my dad as father or foe, the fact is he—quite literally—made me who I am. I hate him when I hate myself, and I love him when I love myself. So much of who I am is entangled in his own messy web of memories, now fading and changing form as he gets older. He still apologizes for who he was, and breaks down to my mom about how guilty he still feels.
These apologies and acceptances go a long way. Over time, he’s come to accept me as his daughter. Because of that, it’s easier these days to accept him as a father. A father who’s legitimately invested in my bylines and listens to good music. Who sends me random poetry and articles about queer rights.
A good father. Whatever that is.
Madeline Blondeau (formerly known as Bella) is a Georgia-born, PNW-based editor, writer & podcaster. Her words can be found on Anime Feminist, Anime News Network, Screen Queens, and Lost In Cult. She’s also the creator of Cinema Cauldron—a long-form audio essay series on film. You can follow her on Twitter and Letterboxd @VHSVVitch.