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  Greetings, Traipsers! It is I, Jonathan Charles Bruce, lord and master over very little of what I survey, here to conclude our journey through Midwich Elementary and begin the next leg of Silent Hill. When we last left Harry, he had slain a giant lizard that had taken up residence beneath the boiler room in the nightmare school. The monster was more than a little load-bearing, as its death resulted in sirens ringing out and the world fading to black.

  And with that, we are dropped into a pre-rendered cutscene:


Gasp!

  So, I guess that’s supposed to be an older Alessa or something? I mean, it’s kind of the same uniform that she had on in Origins, so maybe that’s enough to go on. Also, I love how there are only three ages ever displayable in games that used uncanny valley graphics: children (only distinguishable by size), not-a-kid (anywhere between 18 and 65), and way-the-fuck-old. Maybe it’s that whole “I can’t tell people’s ages” thing cropping up again, but I have no idea how old this ghost-person is supposed to be. ‘Course, I still think that Travis should rightly have been in his thirties, but whatever.

  No matter how we slice it, I have it better than Harry, who doesn’t have a single clue what’s going on. Also, Harry is surprised that he’s in a boiler room. Not the boiler room he was in earlier, mind you—any boiler room is going to be a source of confusion for Harry.

'Even though I've been in this very room not thirty minutes ago, I'm utterly shocked at it's existence!'
"Even though I've been in this very room not thirty minutes ago, I'm utterly shocked at it's existence!"

To be fair, he does start off with a hearty “Who in the hell was that?” before expressing disbelief at being in the same boiler room he was in earlier, so maybe he’s just surprised he’s back there. However, I think Harry is demonstrably stupid, so I refuse to give him much in the way of the benefit of the doubt. No, this is most definitely a case of “I’m less confused about nightmare dimensions and giant horrible lizard creatures than a human-ish ghost, wheelchair, or boiler.”

  Anyway, Alessa/ghost teen happened to drop a key, which you can kind of sort of see in the screen cap above. It’s floating above the ‘a’ and ‘b’ in Harry’s staggering idiocy. Picking it up tells us that it is a K. Gordon key. This, on its own, means precisely nothing—however, if you were an investigating spaz, like I am, you would have happened to come across a list of teachers in the reception area on your initial foray into the school. There was a Gordon mentioned by Harry, so let’s go check that out, shall we?

  Also, make sure you pick up the key—you can leave it behind, requiring a return trip. It’s a minor fuck you, but a fuck you nonetheless.

  Oh, and K. Gordon is a reference to Kim Gordon of the band Sonic Youth. Is it the same woman in the Silent Hill universe? Is it yet another reference for the sake of having a reference? Who knows! All I know for sure is that someone wanted to put the name of a very influential musician in the game, and it happened. To be honest, I hope the teacher/musician is one in the same, because that would make my television show pitch all the more awesome (assuming Ms. Gordon is Alessa’s teacher because—surprise of motherfucking surprises—the game doesn’t tell us).

  Wandering back into the school proper reveals that it is daylight again, which doesn’t mean a whole lot for practical purposes other than visibility is slightly increased. Reaching the first floor, Harry notices that church bells are ringing, staring at the northeastern wall as he does so.

The man refuses to see the disabled as people and is confused by literally everything, but hell if he can't determine a sound's location from across the goddamn town.
The man refuses to see the disabled as people and is confused by literally everything, but hell if he can't determine a sound's location from inside a building across the goddamn town.

Harry marks the church’s location on the map, and it happens to be the same general direction that he was looking in. How paper-thin are these walls that Harry can immediately divine the location of the church from inside a building?

  I know this is super (and stupidly) nitpicky, but think about it—someone decided that Harry should walk up the stairs and be immediately facing the direction of the only church on this side of town in response to bells he can somehow hear. I live next to several churches, on the fifth floor of an apartment building, and unless I’m outside I can’t readily hear them when they decide to chime their bells/electronic reproductions, let alone be able to pinpoint their direction. Yet somehow, Harry memorized the map to the point where he instinctively knows where the nearest source of bells would be and has an amazing internal compass that would point him in the right direction.

  Someone on the development team decided that it was vital to pivot Harry to face the appropriate direction, and I find it really obnoxious. But then again, what else is new?

  Every door is now relocked or is jammed shut with the exception of the one leading to the reception area. Since we don’t want to spend another goddamn second in this school, let’s go check that registry of teachers and see what’s what. Harry will helpfully mark the location of K. Gordon’s house on the map, because apparently Midwich felt that teacher’s addresses should be freely available to whoever shows up.

Address... phone number... social security number... yup, this school's a stalker's wet dream. Thanks, Midwich!
Address... phone number... social security number... yup, this school's a stalker's wet dream. Thanks, Midwich!

Regardless of the silliness of that location of that document, it reduces the possible search locations that we will have to go through by a factor of 100%. You can still find and break get into K. Gordon’s house without the map marker, but it is helpful.

  Also, there’s that whole “Harry knowing things that he couldn’t or at least shouldn’t possibly know” thing that I like to keep track of.

  If you investigate any further, you’ll find that the infirmary is still open to save your game, but also that the bloody poetry has all vanished from reception. This is problematic for a number of reasons, particularly for the tone of the game, but we won’t touch on that for right now. It may be more of an “end game” wrap up conversation. Suffice it to say, the blood vanishing does suggest that the nightmare’s instability is beginning to reach into the “real world”… at least, the “real world” as we experience it in Silent Hill.

  And with that, there is nothing left to do but… um… unlock the front doors to the school. Sure, even though we were technically free to leave at any time—Harry would just tell us that he wanted to thoroughly search the school for Cheryl if we tried it before completing the level—but now both the front door and the door to the vestibule are locked for reasons!

Behold! The nightmare reality's power of being really fucking arbitrary about locking doors!
Behold! The nightmare reality's power of being really fucking arbitrary about locking doors!

  Before we leave this crappy school, I would like to take the opportunity to make some final commentary. For the first major dungeon of the game, it isn’t nearly as bad as the asylum from Origins (shocker). The first half of the school, where you’re collecting trinkets to open up the clock tower, is actually pretty fun. The empty school—especially one so clean—is probably the most unsettling location that we’ve yet encountered. And outside of the stupid cat scare, the sense of unease is palpable.

  The nightmare school, though, is not nearly as fun. The puzzles are stupid and don’t make a lick of sense (I ask again—why would a gutter drain into an enclosed courtyard?). I mean, we go from the abstract piano puzzle to turning a couple of wheels… how is that even comparable? And sure, the aesthetic is creepy, but its overreliance on blood-as-tension-placeholder is tiring. Harry’s stupidity is also a major hobbler of any atmosphere the developers were building.

No, I'm not going to let this go.
No, I'm not going to let this go.

  See, here’s the thing: thus far, Silent Hill is at its most effective when it isn’t trying to be scary. A school in a seemingly abandoned town where the only hint of activity is entirely monster-based is already fucking unsettling. The crying in the background of one of the restrooms is upsetting, not because Harry doesn’t react to it (because that makes it less worrisome), but because it’s the only human-ish thing we’ve heard. Was this person crying because of the monsters? Because of bullying? We'll never know, and that is something that can be left up to the imagination.

  Then we get to the nightmare, and everything is rusty and bloody and is so goddamn try-hardy. Just like the smashed school bus didn’t need a single drop of blood for us to know something bad went down, we didn’t need the fucking fans and the gore. We just needed the abandoned school.

  Further peeling away any genuine dread is the fact that I ultimately left the school with 156 bullets—six richer than I entered it. I also managed to scrape together more health drinks and first aid kits, as well as a physics-defying boomstick (Double-barreled, but holds six rounds? Magic!). I managed to slay most of the monsters, only running by them why I was annoyed or impatient. That’s… never a good sign for your horror game.

  I guess the big problem, though, is that it doesn’t feel like a real school, or at least a well-designed one.

The hopefully last time I will need to post this for reference!
The hopefully last time I will need to post this for reference!

Since this is a K-6 institution (or just 1-6, as Maine does not require kindergarten), the fact that they are missing a gymnasium and an art room, yet somehow have a chem lab is really distressing. Especially because, according to my Google searches, chemistry is pretty much a high school-only course.

  Outside of that, the fact that the school has a courtyard that no one in the school can reliably see into is fucking preposterous. Outside of the fact that that means the clock tower is abjectly useless to anyone not in the courtyard or on the roof, it is also completely impossible for staff to notice if anyone is hiding/fighting/selling heroin there. The only windows at eye-level (because there are windows in the hall… above the lockers) are the doors in the west and east hallway, otherwise known as the only halls that teachers wouldn’t normally be traversing. That is such a bad thing, guys. It’s also a waste of money, because why would you spend the cash for a clock tower that is functionally useless more than 95% of the time?

  It would be like supplying all teachers with a wall-mounted clock, but only allowing them to have it in the desk drawer. And then shoving the desk into the far corner of the room.

EDIT 12/29/2014: The school is also missing a cafeteria/kitchen. Who is feeding these children? END EDIT

  And speaking of desks, Midwich Elementary also unintentionally reveals some very silly information about the town of Silent Hill itself—the population.

Traipsing Through Silent Hill: Mathing it Up

  While running through the dark and getting Harry’s penis hacked off, I happened to take inventory of the student’s desks in every room. Judging by the seats available in the proper classrooms, there are merely sixty-five students that attend Midwich. In the rest of the games, we have yet to see any other form of education available, whether another elementary school or anything else, so it’s safe to assume this represents the sole source of education in the town, and graduates are sent to a larger school elsewhere in the district upon finishing sixth grade.

  For comparison’s sake, in 1990, my hometown of Mukwonago, WI had 4,601 people living in it. I don’t have access to my old school’s information, but my low-balled estimation for my elementary school’s student population places it at roughly 315 individuals (17.5 students per class, about 3 classes per year, six total years)—and that’s without kindergarten. That is about 6.8% of the population of Mukwonago.

  Which means that Silent Hill, if we are using an average small American town like my hometown like an example, has a population of about 956 individuals. Less than 1,000 people live in Silent Hill during the events of the game. I feel that this comparison is generous as 6.8% is actually pretty close to the national average of 7.16% estimated using the 2010 census data [Derived from Common Core of Data 2009-2010 found HERE (Grades 1-6)/U.S. population].

  That’s significantly less than the wiki claims, which is understandable considering that it just mentions that it has less than 30,000 people, which could mean 29,999 souls or a single mound of rats in a trench coat pretending to be an insurance salesman.

  “But Jonathan!” you scream. “You didn’t grow up in a resort town, did you? How could you begin comparing?”

  Well, sure, random internet screamy person. But the Wisconsin Dells, a resort community in Wisconsin (duh) had a population of 2,369 people in 1990. Cape Cod, as a whole, has 220,000 people, with one of the smaller communities being Wellfleet with its 2,493 people during the height of the first Bush administration. Even the fictional resort town of Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls has nearly 10,000 people in it (although I’m not entirely clear where we get that information from… probably director commentary—the closest I got to a mentioned number in the show was during an election where the turnout of registered voters was 1,124… still bigger than good old Soundless Mountain).

  Now, I’m not saying that this information is in any way bad or wrong or anything of the sort. It’s just silly. I always imagined that Silent Hill had a fairly sizable population of at least 5,000 people. I always just kind of assumed it was the size of where I grew up, which made it feel a lot more personal. Deriving the population to be less than one thousand is just… I don’t know… kind of sad. And I’m aware there are all kinds of different factors that contribute to a town’s population, but goddamn.

  God. Damn.

Game. Set. Match.
Game. Set. Match.

  Join me next time on Traipsing Through Silent Hill for a very special episode, What’s Wrong With Your Face?

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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