Character Assassination: James Sunderland

Character Assassination is a WASDuk weekly analysis, where we take apart and expose famous video game characters.  This week: James Sunderland, of Silent Hill 2.

Silent Hill 2 is a classic game.  There’s no getting around that fact, and we’re pretty sure that there’s a mountain in the Middle East somewhere upon which a broken slab of stone reads “11.  Play Silent Hill 2, FFS”.  We could drone on for hours about the beautifully layered narrative, the achingly beautiful musical score or the fact that it’s actually psychologically horrible, unlike the long slurry of FPS titles that trotted around in the same fancy ‘psychological horror’ clothing like an aging drag queen at the high-school prom.  However, there is one small niggling matter about the game that we can’t get over.  Although it can’t quite rain on our parade, it can still show up from time to time, flashing the marching band and throwing buckets of piss at the elephants.

James Fucking Sunderland.

After being given one of the greatest games ever produced, we’re then given control of one of the very worst protagonists.  It’s like being given the run of Elysian Fields to play about in for a few days, but being told that you have to do it on a pogo stick, wearing a sumo-suit.  We understand the basic premise behind the protagonist.  He or she is supposed to be our eyes on the world, and we experience the game world through the filter of their experience, or lack thereof.  It’s the most efficient way of making sure we, the player, get the exposition we need, but James takes this to a whole new level, burbling out meaningless questions and boring non-sequiturs faster than an Alzheimer’s sufferer with a magic 8-ball.

James finds himself in Silent Hill because of a letter that he got from his dead wife, which seems to irk him a little, but not enough to put off a melancholy cross-country drive.  It speaks volumes for his gullible nature that he’d even bother, rather than chalk it all down to some sick-as-fuck prank.  We can only assume that he responds to each and every e-mail he receives from distressed Nigerian princes, giving them his bank account details and offering them a place to stay until the revolution is over.

In the opening scenes, he muses on the wording of the dead woman’s mysterious missive, and what she might mean by ‘special place’.  After all, the entire town was their special place.  However, even when it’s not crawling with horrors and cultists, Silent Hill is a tourist trap in drastic decline, so it’s unknown as to whether Mary was the easiest wife to please in the world, or whether she just had a weird fetish for dwindling industrial centres.  Either way, it’s likely that she made up her terminal illness as an excuse to not have to walk around that fucking historical society for the sixth time in a row.  Besides, how was the whole town their special place?  Did they hold some kind of romantic affection for the bicycle repair shop, or the police station, or any one of the fetid apartment blocks that James ends up stumbling around?

James’ treatment of the other characters is only slightly better than the way he treats his wife, and he ends up meeting a sum total of four other (living) characters, with which he displays all the tact and conversational talent of a rat trying to blindly screech its way out of a ventilation duct.  The first character he meets is Angela Orosco, who just so happens to be standing, alone and confused in the middle of a graveyard in the fog.  In James’ world, this seems to be normal behaviour, so after scaring the poor girl shitless by creeping up on her in a misty cemetery, he then attempts to leave the conversation half-way through what would to any person be the ‘interesting bit’.  Angela tries to warn him off with the international language of ‘spooky shit’, telling him that there might be something a little awry with the town, and he responds with:

 “OKAY”

…and a quick wave of the hand, before attempting to blithely wander off.  Sure, so this might show that he’s not to be held up in his quest for his corpse bride, but it also shows in equal measure that he’s an apathetic weirdo with an attention span shorter than the Lonely Planet guide to Milton Keynes.  Far from bothering to try to secure the safety of the apparently-teenage girl, maybe offering to walk her back into town, he can’t wait to get the hell out of the conversation, and get his fog on.  We’re not really left with the impression that we’re piloting a character on an urgent mission into the unknown, so much that we’re piloting a dismissive wanker who doesn’t let people finish their sentences.  And we already pilot those outside the game.

The second time he meets her, he at least bothers to ask her name, finding her lying on the floor and staring into a mirror with a brutal-looking kitchen knife in her hand.  Either she’s about to commit suicide, or she’s gearing up for some kind of epic mirror-universe knife fight with her backwards-self, neither of which are desirable options.  He crouches down, all friendly-like, and tells her that there’s always another way.  Sweet.  However, he reaches the end of his diplomatic ability when she comments on any similarity between them, where he immediately stands up, recoiling from her.

“NO.  I’M NOT LIKE YOU!” 

Great show, James.  We can only assume that were he a hostage negotiator, he would be swiftly relieved of his position, after the third fatality.  “You expect us to take you seriously?  You haven’t even cut up her face yet!”.  He then proceeds to shower the defenceless mentalist with useless questions until she snaps, to which the only response James deems appropriate is to show her the picture of his lovely dead wife.  Which we would have shown to her at the very beginning in the graveyard, just in case they went to the same dead people’s book club, but whatever.  After confiding in the knife-wielding depressive that he’s looking for Mary, despite the niggling fact that she died years ago, he assures her:

“I’m not crazy!  At least I don’t think so..” 

Which he seems to think is a reasonable thing to say, rather than international code for “you’d better get out of here before I wear your face, and spread your insides all over the walls”.  Rather quickly, she makes her excuses and leaves.  James is literally such an awkward, idiotic mess that he scared off the girl that had, not three minutes ago, been fondling a carving knife like an awkward teenage date.  It doesn’t get any better on their subsequent meetings, either, and poor Angela has to climb a burning staircase to her own personal hell in order get away from him.

He stays true to foolish form when he meets rotund retard Eddie Dombrowski.  Eddie, busy heaving his guts up in an apartment bathroom has to endure even more of James’ blundering inquiry.   Where any normal person might ask if he’s okay, or if they could help, James instead calmly introduces himself as though he’s NOT talking to someone who’s being violently sick, then goes ahead and asks the greatest question you could ask a guy while he’s throwing up:

“Who’s that dead guy in the Kitchen?”

With all the moral sensitivity of a man wandering around a children’s leukaemia ward, grinning ear-to-ear and complimenting them on their hairstyle.  But the stupid questions don’t stop there!  He then asks if Eddie happens to be “friends” with the monstrous evil that’s been chasing him around in a pyramid hat, and trying to slice him up like a Christmas ham.  Even when Eddie admits how scared he is, James can’t help widening his jaw a little so that he can cram his foot in further, telling him that “this place isn’t too safe, either”, obviously deciding that the man kneeling on the floor, puking his guts out in fear can stand to hear a few home truths.  This flagrant trolling comes to a head later on, when Eddie, gun in hand, lauds it over a dead guy, threatening to kill anyone who ever makes fun of him again.  Seems reasonable enough, for Silent Hill.  He does, after all, have the gun.  Despite being in a trickier situation than trying to solve a Rubik’s cube smeared with ebola, James can’t resist taking one more pop at the unhinged retard, asking:

“Eddie, Have you gone NUTS?”

This ranks up among the worst things to say when someone has a gun pointed at you, along with “I don’t think you have the nerve to pull that trigger” or “If you shoot me, who’ll fuck your wife?”  How he gets offended at then being shot at it is anyone’s guess.  Even after Eddie runs off, James takes it upon himself to follow him into a meat freezer and mess him up, before taking less than twenty seconds out of his busy schedule to lament over death and his murder of another human being.  Then, it’s back to business as usual!  Where the hell is Mary?!

17 seconds, to be precise.

On his travels, James also meets Maria, who apparently looks a lot like his dead wife, only with the manliest jaw in video game history.  Being the super-pimp that he is, James uses the old ‘you look a lot like my late wife’ pick-up line, which seems, bafflingly, to go over fairly well, probably because Maria is a construct made out of his own lust, and just about anything he says will spur her on.  Then, of course, he tries to wander off again mid-conversation, only to be genuinely surprised when she doesn’t want to be left in the middle of a fucking pier in a derelict town full of monsters.  Grudgingly, he agrees to let her follow him, despite the fact that she’s the only adult he’s met so far who isn’t a complete mental case, and we learn that James Sunderland is so deeply unpleasant that he can’t even get along with manifestations created specifically to play on his sexual drive, a flaw which leads us to believe he’s spent a lot of the three years since Mary’s death having tearful arguments with porno movies.

“You’re coming WITH me?!”

It’s only when Maria gets sick later on in the hospital that he starts to give a shit about her, which makes us wonder if he has some bizarre form of Munchausen-by-proxy, or if he just prefers his women like his coffee, pale and full of drugs.  However, James isn’t a guy to let his interest in a girl wane, even after he’s watched her die a couple of times, so by the time he meets her in the jail cell after watching her get skewered to death, it takes him just over a minute to calm down (which, if you’ll remember is about 44 seconds longer than it takes for him to get over murdering a guy), and decide that he needs to get into the cell for them to get all conjugal because she “can’t do anything through these bars”.  Which, if you ask us, just means she isn’t trying hard enough.  By the time he does get there, she’s dead again, and he’s left in a jail cell with the corpse of a woman who looks a lot like his wife, who is also dead.  A situation we know all too well.  Still, a promise is a promise.

It’s arguable whether Laura is a big enough prick to actually deserve having to put up with James as he stumbles around, chasing her throughout the town before finally cornering her in the Hotel’s dining room.  She doesn’t seem to see any monsters, and the only reason she seems to be there is to offer James a reason to run around a load of sodding apartment buildings and bowling alleys, rather than going straight to the Hotel, picking up a videotape and getting it over with.

Maybe this is all being unfair to James.  He’s not a great character, but perhaps he’s not supposed to be.  Perhaps we’d all be surly, unpleasant and standoffish if we were trapped in the clutches of a nightmare town and goaded by late spouses who won’t shut up about that time we forgot to grab a videotape before leaving the hotel.  However, he does himself no favours in Silent Hill, treating everyone with a cold, aloof disdain for no reason at all.  That’s great if you want to see James as a cowardly flake who smothers his own wife to save on hospital bills (careful: spoilers!), but if, like us, you wanted to see him as a generally nice guy who experienced one terrible and tragic moment of weakness, you’re screwed.  All the evidence points to James being as wilfully distant as a group of hipsters at a Mormon picnic, making it impossible to see him as a tragic hero.  We wanted to believe that he wasn’t cut from the same cloth as Angela and Eddie, because he didn’t revel in what he did, or wallow in the self-pity of it, but he was obviously an uncaring, prickly fuck to start with, and by the time he is done, and busy making excuses to his ghost-wife, it feels more like a nice-guy act than the real James finally coming through.  It doesn’t matter whether he goes home alone, with Maria, or fills his lungs with salt water.  We’re really just glad to be rid of him.

Still, this is his character assassination, so let’s give James the last word.

Just kidding.  We want the last word.  Fuck James.

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