A troubled man travels to a mysterious town from his past after receiving a letter from his wife... who's been dead for years. And while our "hero" explores dark corridors and battles countless disturbing enemies, his journey offers more psychological horror than survival horror. Welcome to Silent Hill, where the monster is you.
Silent Hill 2 doubles down on what made the first game so compelling: The feeling of being lost in a foggy, upside-down town as unsettling as it is familiar. Nearly two decades after first experiencing Silent Hill 2, writer and comedian Mike Drucker returns to its dark depths to explore how this bold video game delivers an experience that is tense, nightmarish, and anything but fun.
With an in-depth and highly personal study of its tragic cast of characters, and a critical examination of developer Konami’s world design and uneven marketing strategy, Drucker examines how Silent Hill 2 forces its players to grapple with the fact that very real-world terrors of trauma, abuse, shame, and guilt are far more threatening than any pyramid-headed monster could ever be.
SH2 is a good example of a Boss Fight Book done right. This has to be said, because as much as I love this series, a lot of potentially interesting game explorations have been ruined by the egos of BFB authors who chose to put themselves rather than the game in the spotlights. Fortunately, Mike Drucker has put serious work into exploring the haunting tale of James Sunderland's visit to that spooky town.
Which is a good thing, because if there is any game deserving of a thorough, in-depth analysis, it is Silent Hill 2. After a brief introduction, Drucker goes through the game scene by scene and meticulously points out or speculates about what demons are hiding in the fog. SH2 is still much talked about, not least because it is ambiguous by design, meaning that every location, every monster, every dialogue (hell, even the peculiar way in which the dialogue is spoken) can mean something other that its surface appearance, or can even mean multiple things. There's a lot going on between the lines, and everyone you encounter has his or her reasons for coming to the titular town.
It is in these muddy waters where Drucker does an excellent job going through many speculations, canon interpretations, and fan theories. I did not always agree with his perspective, but that's fine because SH2 is a never-ending investigation which allows (even invites) the player to make up his or her own mind about what is going on.
Like all vivisections, this analysis is a bloody and painful mess. SH2 may be a game, but we should be weary of calling it entertainment. And that's precisely the point: it's a classic for many reasons, but certainly not because it's fun. Not only does the game deal with many controversial issues that have rarely, if ever, been touched upon in video games (such as: euthanasia, rape, and incest), it also offers no silver linings or unambiguously happy endings.
As said, this is a Boss Fight Book done right. Still, there are a few complaints. The first is that it could have been a lot longer. SH2 is incredibly rich in meaningful detail, and although the amount of research that went into this book is admirable, a lot was still left unsaid. The second is that the text is too "academic" at times, meaning that it does that postmodern thing where it considers a fairly obvious aspect of the game (example: the protagonist being not a superhero but an average guy) and then turns it into social commentary using academically fashionable, pretentious phrases like "subverting male power fantasies". The third is not so much failure on part of the author, but rather a limitation of the medium. The artistic value of SH2 is very much depended on its visuals. This is especially true in the design of the monsters who all reflect, in sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle ways, the tortured psyche of the protagonist. Because of this, a perfect analysis can only take place when it is supported by imagery, meaning that a book without illustrations only works if the reader has sufficiently committed the game to memory.
To end on a positive note: Drucker has done an excellent job exploring what SH2 means from the perspective of each character, what the game itself meant to the medium, and not least of all: what it can mean to us. SH2 is not a game I would quickly recommend to any gamer, but this book is one I easily recommend to all the fans of SH2.
I have a huge appetite for video games analysis. And I think it's likely that Silent Hill 2 is the most ripe for analysis in all of video games. There's just so much to say about this weird and haunting title. And over the last 20 years, a huge amount of ink has already been spilled. You could probably spend the rest of your life reading blogs and forum posts, listening to podcasts, and watching video essays about this game. So coming out with a *new* book on the subject is kind of a bold move.
But the author does a great job of paying respects to this existing body of work by acknowledging it and blending it with his own analysis and personal experience. The book is very much from the author's point of view, but some sections feel almost like a greatest hits version of the existing analysis. Dozens of sources are cited, ranging from contemporary games journalism to recently uploaded YouTube videos. And I think this was an incredibly smart move that allowed the author to say his piece without neglecting the mountains of work the fan community has done over the years.
While diehard fans may not learn anything new from this book, it's still very much worth reading if you just want *more.* It's a very quick read, and while it was satisfying, I did wish it was a bit longer. (But it makes sense as is and fits in with the Boss Fight Books series.) Even though it covers some expectedly heavy and dark subjects, the book never loses its sense of humor. And the author does a great job of balancing the heavy and the light-hearted, just like the game (see the Dog Ending). This has made me a fan of Mike Drucker, who I only barely knew from Twitter. He has some good tweets, too.
It's arguable that video essays and podcasts are the best mediums for video games analysis, but it's also extremely nice to just sit down and read a paperback once in a while. I'm very glad that Boss Fight Books and their authors are filling up bookshelves with such great work. This is my second Boss Fight book — my first was Resident Evil, also great — and I definitely plan on getting and reading more of their catalog.
This one lands hard in "not for me, but great for someone else."
I was pumped to see Mike Drucker, who’s hilarious, was writing a book about a video game. I’ve been following him long enough that I knew he worked for Nintendo (I think doing localizations for a Kid Icarus game(?)), and this seemed like a match made in Heaven. Wait...Icarus wasn’t an angel, was he? Does that Heaven/Icarus thing actually work? I think Kid Icarus is an angel, but the real Icarus was just a guy, right? And when I say “real Icarus” I feel like I’m on thin ice...wax wings?
The first half of this book is mostly what I’ve come to call “The Academic Gaze.” You’re probably familiar with “The Male Gaze,” which is a way of writing women as they are seen by a sort of predatory male viewer.
The Academic Gaze is looking at everything as though it requires deconstruction, and as though any deconstruction of a thing is interesting.
Does everything require deconstruction?
No. The experience of the game Silent Hill 2 is a lot more powerful than its deconstruction, and that’s the sign that something doesn’t require deconstruction. If your deconstruction provides a different but less compelling take than the original material, it’s not my jam.
Is deconstruction always interesting?
No. For example, I think deconstruction of video games, pre-2015, that look at female side characters and use a lot of words like “agency” are not interesting. A lot of the points people make in these deconstructions are correct, but they’re not super insightful, and it’s nothing you couldn’t come up with on your own. And...I feel like I’ve seen it, understood it, and when I go through a game now, it’s ringing in my head. Pointing out that a female side character in a video game only exists as a carrot on a stick for a male character is a point well and thoroughly made.
When does deconstruction leave me bored?
Applying deconstructionist ideas and academic rigor to something of low culture, like a video game, usually leaves me bored. It was a very novel concept in the 90’s, around the time of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, but by now it feels a little tired.
Some deconstruction feels like English class when the teacher would wax on about potential hidden meanings in Shakespeare, and at some point you’re like, “Okay, when something is vague, ANYTHING could be a correct interpretation. Can we talk about LIKELY meanings?” It almost feels like a contest, who can come up with the most compelling idea and then scrape the original material to give it just enough scaffolding to stand. It feels academic-y and show-off-y, and let’s just measure dicks and move on.
What makes deconstruction work?
I think deconstruction CAN work, and it works best when: A)The original work hasn’t been discussed to death B)The original work has an abundance of evidence to prove that the theory is reasonable C)The theory feels “organic,” as though any reader going through the material might draw a similar conclusion D)The original work wasn’t obviously intending for the reader to draw the conclusion being posed as theory E)It doesn’t pose theories as fact F)The theory brings something new to the table G)The theory preserves the mysterious or ambiguous nature of a work without attempting to resolve it, provided that’s a key component of the original text. H)The theory isn’t an attempt to discuss an outdated idea with modern lenses. I)The theory makes the material more interesting, not less.
How does this one measure up?
A)I think it’s fair to say Silent Hill 2 hasn’t been discussed to death in average circles. However, the abundance of referenced academic papers in the book make me suspect it HAS been the subject of many a thesis or dissertation. I could see a more read-able translation of these works being of interest, but...
B)Drucker has several theories, and I think they oscillate between very supportable and super-not. I reckon it’s a mixed bag that’s appropriate.
C)I guess the theories are organic enough. I think most people who’d be inclined to write a book about a video game from that era can make a pretty good organic case for mose of what’s in the book.
D)This is where things go off the rails a bit. I think a lot of the theories in the book are really just summaries of the intent of the game designers.
E)One KEY theory posed by Drucker involves the main character murdering his wife as opposed to participating in her assisted suicide (which is a common theory, the game leaves it ambiguous). I am not a fan of this because I think Drucker’s other theories rely on this being true. I’m not on board with this theory, so many of the others that build on this one fall apart.
F)So far, I think that though these theories aren’t bad, they don’t go terribly deep. un-fleshed-out female characters, bullying, whiteness, the familiar/unfamiliar, these don’t feel like new territory to me.
G)I do think, for this set of ideas to work, the ambiguity of the game, which is a key component, has to be resolved. I think the experience of a one-way discussion of what those ambiguous items are and what they mean is uninteresting.
H)Lots of folks disagree with me on this one, but I think looking at something older with modern lenses lacks, for me, that feeling of “Can you believe this shit?” I don’t require further evidence to agree that there was some sexism and whatnot in regular practice in gaming culture, but I think that discussion is worn out for me. Maybe for me, this act is like the difference between developing a photo in a darkroom and applying an Instagram filter. There is a lot involved in that development process, and no two people will wind up with the same final product, even if they go in with the same film negative. Two people with the same original, applying the same Instagram filter, will wind up with an identical product. So...the discussion of topics like gender politics in video games might be important for that culture’s future and whatnot, but I do not consider myself part of that culture. I’ve never played anything online, I don’t follow gaming journalism. I mostly play the occasional game, by myself, for funsies. It’s like sneaker culture. I wear shoes, but I’m not involved in sneaker culture, I’m not a mover and shaker there, a tastemaker, or a creator in that field. So even if these discussions and theories do good in the industry, they aren’t of interest to me as a reader.
I)I found that by trying to resolve the unresolved, the theories in this book make the game’s narrative less interesting rather than more interesting. Especially the theory about the murder/assisted suicide because the assisted suicide is a far more interesting idea than murder. It's more complicated. When someone is in a longterm medical situation, the feelings you have about them and about yourself are unbelievably complex and horrible. And assisted suicide is such a terrible thing because it so often relies on the person's loved one to participate and be on-hand, and that is an impossible thing to live with. I shouldn't say that assisted suicide is terrible, I don't think that, I just think it's unfortunate that we feel the way we do about our participation in it, and there's no way around that. I think the town of Silent Hill acting as a punishment, but maybe the character shouldn't be punished, maybe he should, maybe it doesn't matter because it's not about whether or not the player agrees, it's what the character feels- all of these factors are, to me, a lot more interesting than the theory that the guy murdered his wife.
All of this said, I think I’m not the right audience for Boss Fight Books for now. Their initial run was to my liking, and the books had a video game at the core, but they weren’t always about the deconstruction of a video game using critical theory.
Earthbound was more like a coming-of-age story that revolved around a game, Galaga was almost a comic attempt to write an entire book about a very simple game, ZZT was a fascinating exploration of gender through the framework of game design, and Jagged Alliance 2 was a deep dive through the back end of a game’s code. They were all a little different, and they were pretty interesting.
I’ll also just put in a quick plug: NBA Jam and Spelunky are fucking amazing.
The last couple I’ve read have been more centered on politics and the politics of narrative, and maybe it’s because I was an English major that I’m so burned out on those sort of discussions. I’ve just read a lot of them, and it’s a little like reading zombie books: There’s a lot of ‘em out there, and once you’ve read a dozen, you’re good.
I know there’s a big audience for this stuff, and I do hope this book and Mike Drucker find that audience, because I think this book is deserving of that, and I think the audience that’s hungry for this book will be very pleased by its contents.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Cannot Recommend this book enough. A friend of mine tried to convince me for a year to show me the game Silent Hill 2 because he called it, "The Citizen Kane of video games." Obviously, I thought that was a bold statement. Eventually I gave in and let him show me the game...and damn it I was sold. I've since become obsessed with Silent Hill and so this book was added to my library the moment I realized it existed.
Video games are art, whether people wish to accept that or not, and Mike Drucker does a wonderful job of demonstrating that in this short but wonderful book. There are some passages and moments where his prose feels a tad too conversational for my taste, and honestly there's some passages that should have been longer. Despite these flaws Drucker manages to dig into the plot, character arcs, marketing history, development, and cultural legacy of Silent Hill 2 to show the reader how this game managed to make the impact that it did.
While not being a fun game per-say, Silent Hill 2 tells a powerful story about trauma, guilt, sin, and how pain can warp people in terrible ways. Drucker explores his own trauma, while also studying the protagonist James, to show the reader how Silent Hill 2 pushes players to understand how choice, even at its most horrific, can have real consequences for the way our lives grow and change. This book is a reminder that game can offer players more than just power fantasies and escapism, but real opportunities to understand our humanity and how trauma can impact us.
Silent Hill 2 (the game) tells a story that's much deeper--and much darker--that it initially appears. It's a game dripping with symbolism, and is most certainly a worthy subject of books and articles exploring just how far its proverbial rabbit hole goes. This particular stab at it does a solid job.
Eschewing the memory/gameplay/rumination format of other Boss Fight Books volumes I've read, in favor of straight-up examination of Silent Hill 2 and its themes was a wise choice. There's a lot to unpack here, and even though Drucker doesn't go into detail on everything (the fact that none of the monsters have faces is one notable omission), even more would have been left out if he'd interspersed the content with lengthy personal anecdotes.
Whether you're a huge fan of Silent Hill, or just wondering what all the fuss is about, chances are you'll get a lot out of this volume. It isn't perfect, but it's a good resource all the same.
But, like Drucker says right at the beginning: You should really play the game first. They don't really make 'em like this very often anymore.
A Boss Fight Books deep dive into the horror masterpiece that is SILENT HILL 2. Mike Drucker captures each piece of what makes this game stand the test of time in a clear and engaging voice. This book is a big fogging success
A discussion of one of the most profound and beautiful games in existence that, while fairly rote in its application (i.e. much of what is written in here has been talked about before), the fact that it collects a lot of the analysis and theory around the game is enough alone to give it a high recommendation.
What pushes it to a higher mark is the frank and honest discussion around the characters of Eddie Dombrowski and Angela Orosco. It is their stories for me which keep Silent Hill 2 so effective, even twenty years on from its original release. There is literally nothing like Silent Hill 2, to this day. No game quite captures the same melancholy attitude and human stories presented without any particular melodrama. The meaning behind the game may be fairly on-the-nose at times, but I think that works too.
The problem of course comes with the fact that most people still see games as vehicles for positive emotions, and making a game (especially a game with a runtime three to four times that of a movie) focused around negative emotions is a tough investment, for both the publisher and the player. But in the case of Silent Hill 2, it is very much worth it.
God I love this game. If you also love the game, you'll love the book.
Several different kinds of books release under the “Boss Fight Books” label. Some are personal narratives of the author’s deep emotional ties to a specific video games. Some are historical deep dives of the video game industry and how it was uniquely impacted by a specific game. And some are critical looks at the systems and story at play in a title.
This book falls somewhere between the last two which I love! I knew a far amount about silent hill 2 before opening this book, but the book did manage to surprise me at some points with thought provoking ideas I had never considered before. For instance I’d never caught on to how off-putting it is that James lashes out at Laura in the game.
I like that the book thoroughly investigates the game without just feeling like a beat by beat walkthrough of the events as they happen.
I wish the book discussed some of the mechanics of the game outside of the direct connection to the story a little more, but that’s mostly me projecting a desire that I suspect there’s something interesting to discuss.
Some of the word choice was appropriately silly to relieve tension but at times it was a bit too goofy for me. Shrug emoji.
Some of the book was challenging to read because of the subject matter but I think thats appropriate given that the game has challenging subject matter. If anything it calls out a weird disconnect that all of the other fan write ups about the game haven’t bothered me to read as much as this one.
Anyway I read the whole thing in a day and it was time well spent!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
"I got a letter. The name on the envelope said 'Mary.' My wife's name... It's ridiculous, couldn't possibly be true... That's what I keep telling myself... A dead person can't write a letter. Mary died of that damn disease three years ago. So then why am I looking for her' Our 'special place'... What could she mean' This whole town was our special place."
Mike Drucker takes us on a journey back to the town of Silent Hill, as experienced by one James Sunderland. We examine the key characters in the game of Silent Hill 2, and more significantly their traumas and psychological motivations and triggers. Drucker dives deep into the underlying themes that the development team built the game on. I remember identifying pieces of these themes when I played the game, but Drucker lays it all bare here. There is a lot of baggage here to unpack, and it is masterfully laid out in this book. This is a must-read companion to the game. It also dives into how the development team made the limitations of the PS2 hardware work for them, using fog and flat textures for great effect to allow the system to focus on processing expertly designed character models and horrific monsters. Having read this book, I now want to revisit the Sunderland's "special place" and re-experience it for myself.
This was a book I initially doubted in a Twitter conversation with one of the Limited Run founders—who was asking for suggestions regarding Boss Fight books after a bad experience with their analysis of Earthbound. There was someone in my undergrad who did their senior paper on the series, plus the game itself has been analyzed to death by many others so I started the book with a "been there, done that" mentality.
I ended up regretting my dismissive attitude by the end. Mike Drucker deconstructs the game and its psychological horror elements for an audience beyond academia—sometimes bringing humor into the mix. Much like with Red Dead Redemption, I have never played Silent Hill 2 in any way so I can't vouch for anything. However, I respect the way that he brings his research together—not just in breaking down the game's narrative and mechanics, but in discussing the advertising for the game and how most of the ads got the game completely wrong.
If you're a fan of Silent Hill, I'd pick this book up.
Silent Hill 2 is an incredible game, and Mike Drucker has written a wonderful analysis. Drucker deconstructs Silent Hill 2's characters one by one. Analyzing each one's circumstances, traumas, and reality to create a better understanding about what Silent Hill 2 is trying to say. He also dives into its genesis, marketing, and maligned HD Remaster, and the entire time he does so while sprinkling in some humor, and personal experiences. I would definitely recommend anyone who loves Silent Hill 2 to read this book, you won't be disappointed.
I still remember playing silent hill 2 way back in the early 2000s. This certainly takes you back. Mr. drucker does an excellent job personalizing his adventure through the decrepit town of silent hill. He also brings nuance to what some of us may have just powered through. If you played the original game, you might want to give this a read.
The day this book arrived was the first time I waited for the mail since I was a kid looking for the monthly Lego Magazine. After it was in my hands I finished it in less than 24 hours. Twenty years later we still don't fully understand Silent Hill 2, but this book is our closest attempt yet.
Excellent analysis of a fantastic piece of art. Successfully builds upon the existing literature while bringing forward a more personal approach. I look forward to seeing if any other titles in the series can match this.
I really love these Boss Fight books. Especially the ones on survival horror. Much like the Resident Evil one, this gives a lot of insight about the production of the game along with a pretty stellar analysis of it. Highly recommend reading it if you're a fan of the game.