Rite of Passage: Growing Up On Games and Finding Myself in Heather Mason
“I just got out of school and I don’t want to go outside if I don’t have to.”
This was my K-12 mantra for the summer.
I had enough of annoying kids, enough of ignorant teachers, enough of crowded buses, enough of street harassment. Hardly anything in the physical world interested me, I don’t even like going to the movies. While my school friends were off traveling over break, I just wanted to be home and play my games.
Some came back with funny stories, others came back with nightmares.
Me? I played and replayed my N64, GameCube, and PS2.
Some brought back souvenirs. I came back to school with my GameBoy.
“Did you get tan over the break?”
I don’t see how I could when I was in my room all day. Am I missing out?
Growing up, we were broke.
During my elementary years, my brother and I were sustained on scrambled eggs (with ketchup), Cup Noodle (Chicken Flavor was my favorite, his was shrimp), and Mc Donalds (my great uncle always brought us Big Mac’s after work).
The bread winning adults in my family were always at work worrying about how to keep the family together so the bills could get paid. Consequently, there just wasn’t opportunity to leave the home and so I didn’t. Instead, I played video games that were bought for me by my uncle. Later, I bought the games myself from the money I earned (illegally) selling candy at school.
Traveling is often used as a means to self explore. Books have been talking about the wonders of traveling for ages.
In her work, The Power of Self Definition (2000) by Patricia Collins, traveling is briefly discussed in the context of how geographical location affects black women. Specifically, Collins mentions that the theme of the journey manifests in the works of black men and women in different ways. Whereas Black men experience physical traveling as a transcendent experience, Black women and Black women characters are often “tied to children and/or community… [and] search for self-definition within close geographical boundaries.”(p113)
Another point made by Collins is that despite physical limitations on Black women’s mobility, the conceptualization of self “is not defined as the increased autonomy gained by separating oneself from others…” but by “the ability to recognize one’s continuity with the larger community”. Unlike men, black women find themselves in the reflections of their intimate relationships.
Relating this thought back to video games, the series that drive this concept of traveling and gender really well would have to be the Silent Hill series, specifically third installment.
Whereas the first game (and all the subsequent games) follows the story of men fighting off supernatural monsters in an unknown town, Silent Hill 3 follows Heather Mason, a perpetually truant apathetic teenager with ties to the occult.
Heather’s story line involves exploring familiar landscapes, rendered unrecognizable by grime and blood, piecing together her past along the way. Just like Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Heather just wants to go home.
You start the game in a dream of a familiar amusement park. When you die in the dream Heather wakes up in her favorite burger joint in a mall that she frequents often (possibly when ditching school).
Once the horrors of the game ensue, Heather tries to go back home, getting on the subway and navigating the tunnels as hordes of dogs attack her.
Only to find out she has to take a detour through a sewer, wading through water, and killing a monster with a hair drier.
Once out the sewer she ends up in a dilapidated office building under construction, only to find out it was the building a few blocks from her house.
Fighting monsters throughout her journey, she finally makes it back home, with all her familiar furniture and assemblages just the way she left it.
But she finds out all is not as it seems.
Spoiler Alert Below
Her adoptive dad, the only person she ever held an intimate relation with, is dead. So she ventures off again, with her detective companion, Douglas, to Silent Hill, the town of her birth. Exploring familiar places like the streets of Silent Hill and the Lakeside Amusement Park from her dreams.
Despite Heather physically navigating familiar places to find herself, one of the most symbolic things regarding her self exploration is in regard to how you first save the game.
Much like the women discussed by Collins, Heather literally has to look at herself in the mirror and self reflect, upon the first chance to save your progress and keep on going in her journey. She does this continually throughout the game, at times even experiencng a sense of anxiety in her reflection. Upon her second encounter with Douglas, she recalls a bit of her past, and once again with him, her past is explored during the car ride as well as reflecting upon her relationship with her father. Other characters too cause Heather to remember her past, albeit against her will.
In general, the Silent Hill series invokes the themes of self reflection (sometimes literal) and atonement through exploration.
Heather’s experience is uniquely feminine, despite (or maybe because of) all the violence she must face. Some monsters look like literal dicks, blood in the toilet is reminiscent of menstruation, and Heather even chooses to have an abortion.
Heather’s journey in the game is both a transcendent experience and a rite of passage into adult hood using themes and a girl that I could easily identify with.
In a sense, I could say that I am like the many male protagonists of the games I’ve played, exploring unknown virtual terrain and exploring the world outside by myself. But I’m also like Heather, exploring the familiar, in the comfort of my home through video games, or through the places close to me, like the park or mall.
Once my mom started making more money, and after we moved out of my grandma’s apartment, my mom, aunt, and I went to Hawaii for my 15th birthday (but we went when I was 16). We saw volcanoes from the distance, soft white sandy beaches, participated in a luau, and frequented Señor Frog’s a lot (my mom and aunt were dying to party).
I was left with a slight itch to travel, or at least go outside.
As I got older, and started making money, I found more joy in exploring the world outside; recently I went out to a show by myself, decked out in an androgynously femme fashion, to a venue nearby. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of that night, I was too busy dancing with a girl whom I met after engaging in self affirming conversation about our experiences growing up.