The Silent Hill Toxic Family Dynamic is Very Relatable
They Don’t Want to See You
Despite Silent Hill: Homecoming being widely considered a lesser entry in the franchise, the game has one plot detail that stands out in the series: There aren’t any photos of Alex Shepherd in the Shepherd household. It’s not a detail that takes up a tremendous amount of narrative importance, merely a small piece of the Shepherd family dynamic.
Someone on Double Helix’s writing staff had a strong understanding of an abusive and toxic family dynamic. His brother, Josh, is the golden boy who can do no wrong, while Alex is the family’s scapegoat And his father, Adam, sets up arbitrary rules aimed to reinforce Alex at the bottom of the family’s hierarchy.
Throughout Homecoming, the first-person flashbacks were intense for me. They hit home and I saw myself in them. Even the fan favourite, Silent Hill 2, couldn’t give me that gut punch.
Where You Belong
I still think about that detail, many years after I beat Homecoming and forgot nearly everything else. It’s not a particularly memorable game, feeling more like a response to the success of Resident Evil 4 than a next-gen interpretation of the franchise’s horror. But back in my childhood home, there aren’t really many photos of me. Maybe one or two, where I am off to the side.
Hanging up a photo sends a message to the viewer: This is what I want you to see. The photos in the house present the image of the perfect family, but that necessarily implies that Alex is not part of that perfect family. Alex may be taking the photo in these circumstances, but he must not allow himself to be seen. Alex is meant to be pushed out of collective memory.
If you examine objects in the house, Alex will remark further on details that cement this abusive relationship. He doesn’t get letters from mom. He has to be hyper-aware of where he can and can’t go in the house. No one wants him around. They don’t want to talk to him. It’s a relatable setup that most games don’t even try to get near.
Forgotten in Shepherd’s Glen
This is why it is all the more frustrating when this setup gives way to a bog-standard cult hunt and fan service, bringing in Pyramid Head and the nurses. Instead of performing a deep dive into the family’s toxicity, we get an action-heavy romp through the two towns. The toxicity remains present but is not really given much space in the narrative. It’s only in the final moments that it’s revealed that Alex was meant to be the sacrifice which keeps Shepherd’s Glen safe from Silent Hill’s power.
There are echoes of truth to the idea that they had a reason. Often abusers will have a “logic” that justifies their behavior. But most of these are more emotional than supernatural. In the real world, Alex could be queer or neurodivergent and that would be enough. Sadly, some people will do it for far less than the demands of a dark force. Sometimes they just don’t want to see you.