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.