Monstrous Noise: Silent Hill and the Aesthetic Economies of Fear

In The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media, ed. Carol Vernallis, John Richardson, and Amy Herzog (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 173–90

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Just as Silent Hill can seem to transgress its status as an idle medium, so its grotesque soundscape manifests as a sentient antagonist, an invisible yet omnipresent force that seethes and convulses as it plays mind games with the player. This essay contemplates the ludic, perceptual, and hermeneutic anxieties provoked by this horror game’s uncanny sounds. By underscoring ways in which the industrial noises in Silent Hill haunt various borders—between diegetic and non-diegetic, real and virtual, lingering and ephemeral, organic and mechanical, surface and subdermal, instructive an manipulative—I explore how this game’s audio works to unsettle a player’s mental and bodily control. Through comparisons of discourses on noises and monsters, I frame the sounds in this gameworld as living monsters in their own right: abject, liminal, and always potentially trespassing on players’ own inhabited spaces. Underpinning these considerations are broader investigations into the aesthetic economies of fear—the frightening efficiency with which the minimal sounds (and overall reductive aesthetics)  of horror media can evoke maximal terror.