Boss Fight Books: Silent Hill 2 (#27) – Mike Drucker

5 out of 5

A relatively slim volume on one of the most psychologically layered games of all time, not to mention a frequently discussed game, with no back-of-the-book promises of new interviews, or notable deep dives. And a chapter called ‘Fatty Falls Down.’ I was not expecting much.

The Boss Fight Books, from my readerly perspective, have struggled with tone. They’re designed, I’d say, to be pick-up-and-read affairs, easily digestible, and this lends itself to a conversational tone which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but makes for a stretch when that conversation doesn’t prompt much more insight than a good article would, and that article is then massaged in to 100+ pages. Some entries have opted for something more factual and research oriented, though this can also lead to a clutter in which the range of sources used end up covering similar territory. Overall, I should say the series has been successful, but only a few of the books have become something that I’d want to reread, or pass on to others, and the larger scale games that have already received significant coverage – like Silent Hill 2 – make that task even more difficult for the author.

What Mike Drucker has done for SH2, then, is to keep his options open. Which I’d say is the “right” approach for a game that purposefully revels in moral greys and unknowns. Drucker’s entry is also uniquely structured in that chapters are more themed around concepts from the game then trying to match chapters to its narration, or use the usual Boss Fight topics of “music” and “graphics” and etcetera. This is also “right”: Silent Hill 2 encourages a sense of wandering, and all of its technical elements are sort of background to the whole effect of the game. The things that stick out are its interactions – with its characters, some select boss encounters – and that’s what Mike dives in to, offering different potential reads of these interactions, and citing relevant interviews, and reviews, and personal stories to support each of those reads. While I’m proposing this as a proper way to script a book like this, at no point does Drucker suggest that there’s a proper way to engage with the game or react to its themes, and that’s incredibly refreshing. Instead of backing us in to a corner of “this is the correct interpretation,” he keys in to the very unique way SH2 worked within the video game medium to subvert some of its tropes, and embraces its openness. This, then, is the avenue by which he can talk about the music, and graphics, and ad campaigns, and remakes – touching on how all of these elements were part of the experience, or responded to it in telling ways.

The use of some personal anecdotes in the book is also very affecting. Drucker puts some brave stuff out there, but again, it’s used in a very relevant fashion to the game, and because he’s speaking to that so effectively, his own story also has an impact. Everything in the game would seem to matter – even the silly stuff – and everything in Drucker’s book on the game sticks to that same feeling, going in for deep reads on how various elements might be interpreted, but also, with an offhand joke, accepting of the game’s indulgences, rather cementing how Silent Hill 2 engages on a rather wide emotional spectrum.

And the Fatty Falls Down chapter was great.