There are jobs monkeys can do, and then there are jobs you can’t give to a monkey because the soul-smashing tedium would be considered a form of animal cruelty. Scanning the items on supermarket shelves to make sure they all have the right price was one of those soul-smashing tedium jobs – just empty aisles and buzzing fluorescent lights until nine p.m. rolled around and I could go home.
On the walk home I normally didn’t see anyone. But on this night the lights were on in a home entertainment store where a friend of mine sold expensive car stereos and huge TVs. He was still in there, working late on the books when I went in to say “hi”. Too busy to talk, he said he had something to show me and shoved me into the back room and out of his way. There was a projector hooked up to a PlayStation back there, and a new game I apparently had to try. Then he went back to his books.
That was how I played Silent Hill for the first time. Head fuzzy from a job that used such a small slice of brain the rest shut down in despair, alone in the dark, holding a controller that burred and thudded in time with the heartbeat of the game’s protagonist as he ran through the streets of an abandoned town. The locations were ordinary – a school, a hospital, shops – the kind of public places it feels wrong to be in when the rest of the public aren’t.
Afterwards, I walked the rest of the way home flinching at every flicker of a streetlight.
Two years later I bought my own copy second-hand. I immediately caught the flu and spent the next three days lying on the couch, coughing and sneezing and playing while not sure what was real and what was feverish hallucination.
I remain convinced Silent Hill dislikes being played in a normal frame of mind.