> So sexy, so strong, so tall …
> id totally hit that! <333
> I want to be his wife …
The above comments aren’t from a message board for the latest Hollywood heartthrob or teen idol. They’re all taken from a growing Facebook group dedicated to what is generally agreed to be the one of the most terrifying videogame characters ever created: Silent Hill‘s Pyramid Head. They’re also all from young women. While the group’s numbers are small (currently only 736), its continued growth has surprised even its own members.
Tamera, 22, creator of the “Pyramid Head <3” group on Facebook, was initially shocked to discover that she wasn’t alone in her love for the survival horror series’ gruesome antagonist. But since the group has gained more followers, she’s begun to realize that the fantasy isn’t as uncommon as she originally thought.
She surmises that the character’s mystique is at least partly a product of his tendency toward sexual violence. “I am going to assume all of the group members have a general understanding of Pyramid Head’s predisposition towards rape, and many of the comments do revolve around that,” says Tamera. “But most fans are just voicing their love or sexual desire for him.”
“He’s so sexy, how he kills everything he sees,” says Sharon, 14. “Pyramid Head is bad, and at the same time he plays the role of a reaper, and I love that.”
“Pyramid Head has a very muscular body which attracted me,” admits Victoria, 18. “Even though you cannot see his real identity, the thought of a very attractive yet disturbed person under the helmet excites me.”
“I think it’s all down to a violence fetish,” Victoria continues. “Some women like play violence or get turned on by the violent scenes. Since it is a game and not real life, women see Pyramid Head as a figure of sex and would want to give themselves to him.”
Katrina, 21, who shares her Pyramid Head fanfiction with the group, has also written Harry Potter fanfiction and novellas but feels that with Pyramid Head she can be more perverse and explore the darker areas of human sexuality and fear. “I find his unrelenting sociopath nature and the fact that he is not governed by any moral or social obligations dangerously sexy,” she explains.
“The sheer brute force and brutality he displays is the same thing that drives good girls to like bad guys,” adds Katrina. “The hope or fantasy that should you come upon him in reality you could be the one that he does not hurt or rape, that you could ‘tame the savage beast.’ It’s a pleasant fantasy.”
Dr. Natasha Whiteman of the University of Leicester in the U.K., who has extensively studied Silent Hill internet forums, posits that to his female admirers, “Pyramid Head could be regarded as the alpha-male of the Silent Hill enemies, being supported by his monstrous harem of nurses and dragging along his ‘massive weapon.'”
But the character’s “bad boy” appeal only goes so far. Perhaps more interesting is the underlying empathy for his character that attracts some of these young women. “Women are nurturers, and we will make excuses for Pyramid Head because he is in pain,” explains Tamera. “He is a representation of sexual frustration, and we want him to be fulfilled, but he never will be. Even though he is a murderer and rapist, we feel sympathy for him.”
Dr. Ewan Kirkland of Kingston University in the U.K., who is working on a Silent Hill non-fiction book, is not surprised by such reactions to Pyramid Head’s character. “Those who read Pyramid Head as a sexual character are clearly responding to something in the text, although his preferred function is to evoke fear and repulsion, and expressing a form of sexuality which is not catered to in dominant media,” he explains. “The Silent Hill series draws upon the art of Francis Bacon, Hans Bellmer and Allen Jones, and given that much of its imagery, particularly contained in official digital art associated with the series, has elements of sadomasochism, it is not surprising that the character of Pyramid Head has been appropriated in this kind of way.”
Romantic affection for Pyramid Head isn’t limited to internet expression. Cole, 17, who dressed in costume as Pyramid Head for the 2008 Animazement convention, was inundated with female affection, much of which was sexual in nature. “I honestly had nothing but fangirl after fangirl,” he recalls. “I don’t remember having many guys really go nuts over the costume – I got some high-fives and jokes – but it was almost entirely girls that tossed a leg over me or got me to take a picture in a sex position. It was a little odd at first, having some random girl throw herself into your arms and sweetly ask you to rape her, but I got used to it pretty fast, since none of the offers turned out to be serious.”
Do any of these Pyramid Head fantasies actually translate to the real world? Cory Silverberg, an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) certified sexuality educator, stresses the importance of defining the line between reality and fantasy. Especially in interactive media such as videogames, fantasies involving rape or violent sex raise more questions than answers. “We don’t know enough about how people take their experiences in virtual worlds and apply them in real life,” Silverberg says. “Pyramid Head is a dark canvas we can use to project our sexual feelings, and the addition of violence makes it a lot less clear-cut. If the sexual violence in Silent Hill were more realistic, say if the victims were responding by screaming, would that still be attractive?”
To Katrina, the blurring of the lines between game and reality is part of the reason why she is attracted to Pyramid Head. “He is you, the gamer, metaphorically because he is the darker side of James, who you are playing as,” she explains. “The fact that he makes you realize that you fear yourself is both freeing and disturbing.”
Even though Pyramid Head is the Silent Hill series’ most iconic character, his significance and meaning is never overtly explained. That provides plenty of scope for interpretation, which fans obviously love, according to Whiteman. By leaving Pyramid Head’s character steeped in dark ambiguity, his female admirers can use him to explore and discuss their own fantasies and visions of sexuality. That his character is found in a videogame, where complex depictions of sexuality are nary to be found, is especially remarkable.
Game developers and press outlets often cater to the preferences of heterosexual male gamers when it comes to creating female videogame characters. Unfortunately, while the number of women playing games has grown significantly in the past few years, we haven’t seen an influx of characters that address their sexual or romantic preferences.
While previously working as a usability engineer at Microsoft, Michelle Hinn, Co-Chair of the IGDA Diversity Committee, conducted an informal study on players’ attractions to hyper-sexualized characters. Early data suggested that while men responded sexually to the female characters, women did not respond as well to the hyper-sexualized male characters.
“If developers are trying to attract more women to their games, they have to create characters with some type of deep connection that somehow gets women emotionally involved with the story, that ‘hook their heart,'” says Hinn. Whether or not the developers of Silent Hill had that goal in mind when they created Pyramid Head is unclear – Konami declined to comment for this piece.
But we do have one clue about the character’s origins. In Silent Hill 2‘s Making of DVD, character artist Takayoshi Sato sheds some light on the subject: “Everybody is thinking and concerning about sex and death. And if we want to scare or shake or touch the users or spectators, then we have to think about sex and death deeply.” The passionate responses that Pyramid Head has evoked in many female gamers speak not only to the success of the developer’s vision for the character, but to the medium’s potential to engage female players at an emotional level and elicit dialogues about gender and sexuality that make us question the conventional wisdom on what women want – and fear.
Samantha Xu is a freelance writer based in NYC. She can be reached at xupower[at]gmail[dot]com.