Girl in the Machine
Monday, June 4, 2007
Hookers on Parade

Possible Silent Hill 4 spoilers! You've been warned.

So, I'm here today to talk about one of many long-time conventions of Survival Horror games: the alternate costume. Specifically, let's dive into those of the amazing Silent Hill series.

The first Silent Hill game to implement alternate costumes was Silent Hill 3 with Heather Mason's formidable slew of T-shirts, whose codes you could gather throughout subsequent play-throughs of the game as well as from different gaming magazines. Among them is my favorite, this kick-ass design from the now-defunct GMR magazine:

Silent Hill 4, the oft-referred "black sheep" of the series, features alternate costumes as well, although in a, erm, slightly different manner:


Why don't we talk about the difference here?

First of all, it's important to note that the SH4 costumes are only available for these two characters, Cynthia and Eileen respectively, and, as opposed to the twenty-eight choices you have in SH3, these are the only options you have: dominatrix for Cynthia and sexy nurse for Eileen.

Now, I have no problem with the sexy sexy nature of these costumes. In theory, it adds a touch of humor to the game that pervades the entire series (Exhibit A). However, in SH3 you were only able to dress up Heather, the single playable character, as opposed to, oh, gussying up creepy villainess Claudia in a rubber unitard and fishnet stockings. In SH4, protagonist Harry receives no alternate costumes at all, and the option to slap one of these on our lovable Walter Sullivan is absent as well.

So, our first problem is that only the female characters receive this extra treatment. And their meager options are what can only be deemed "stripper outfits." It transforms SH4 from a tense, psychological experience to a rendered polygon jiggle-fest in ways that not even Heather's Pretty Magical Girl outfit ever managed.

The game's Survival Horror tag obviously warrants buckets of blood and violence. Here's where things for our pals Cynthia and Eileen get even more problematic. Their sexy new costumes provide for scenes where they look exactly like Dead Hookers on Parade.

The sexualization of the poses, highlighted by the stripper duds, puts a titillating gloss on what should only be seen as alarming and horrifying. It's also important to note the striking difference between Walter's attacks on Cynthia and Eileen and those of their male counterparts. While all are similarly graphic, Cynthia and Eileen's are far less disfiguring (if at all), allowing them to, of course, stay nice and pretty (as they're blinking through all that blood). Compare Richard Braintree's huge bulging forehead veins to Eileen's ketchup-stained face. It looks like she'd be A-OK with a sheaf of napkins and a mirror.

The breakdown is, in all Survival Horror games, as with many horror films, every character is fair game for predators, but the "girls" must ALWAYS be sexy, even in their death throes. The treatment of these characters exudes a desperate attempt for male control over the female body. While I have no problem with characters in a Survival Horror game getting attacked or killed while just happening to be female, the tendency to twist the violence against them in a way that's never done to male characters is nothing less than misogynistic, particularly when it's given a sexual spin. Add a couple of hooker outfits to the mix and things get even more fun.

Right. Have fun, ladies.

(Thanks to Zone of the Gamers for the SH screens.)

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 10:02 AM + Link to this post

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