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No one really knows when Silent Hill: Downpour actually happens.
There are a lot of theories. Fans have scoured the game for clues, and their devotion has given us an opening of almost a decade wherein Downpour could’ve happened. The theories range anywhere from 2004 to 2016.
Can we determine when the game happened? I think so. In fact, I’m certain I know exactly what year the game happened in - and I reasoned it out by exploring Silent Hill’s mythos and the way it presents time.
It all comes back to this question: How does Time work in Silent Hill?
So much is open to interpretation in Silent Hill. The games don’t give us concrete answers for most anything. Like, how exactly did the town come to exist? What power fuels it? How much belongs to the town itself, and how much comes from Alessa? Is she gone, or still present in the town in some way? And so on and so forth.
Time as a concept is strange in Silent Hill. It is hard to pin down, it’s hard to give rules to it. I want to address three aspects of time in trying to decide how we might be able to judge time in the games, and when Downpour may have happened.
The Passage of Time
By this, I mean the minute by minute, hour by hour, tick-tock tick-tock of time. The way that time slowly passes us by, and as it passes, we and the world around us change.
For all intents and purposes, the passage of time does not exist inside Silent Hill. Characters are shown traveling in the town for hours if not days, with no need for food, water, sleep, or other basic needs. Characters who are trapped in the town for long periods don’t seem to age or change in any way.
Think about the injuries characters receive in game. In SH2, James somehow survives being pushed off the roof of Brookhaven, tumbling down through the ceiling into the second floor. Maria is “killed” many times, but comes back. Often, death and injury in Silent Hill are not permanent.
What heals injuries? The passage of time - allowing your body the time it needs to recover. Rest, nourishment, what have you. But it appears as if Silent Hill has none of these things: no passage of time, and only once are any of the characters (Eddie from SH2) seen eating. In that case, it appeared to be related more to characterizing Eddie as being a fat character, which was a very poor choice on the developer’s part, and had less to do with him being hungry.
I bring this up to elaborate on my first idea about time in Silent Hill: The Town can manipulate who and what experiences the passage of time, how long, and how much. None of the characters ever need to eat or rest - but when they are injured, they will heal given some time.
In SH2, James visits The Lakeview Hotel. At first, it appears just as it had when he visited it, sometime in 1990. After he remembers what happened to Mary, the building appears as it did after it burned down a few years later. The town manipulated the passage of time, changing it even as James was exploring the building.
Another example is Toluca Prison. The prison James visits no longer exists in modern day Silent Hill - it was destroyed sometime in the 1800’s. But there it is, under the Historical Society, and later, it vanishes. This all happens in one single game - which means the town can not only manipulate the passage of time, backwards and forwards, it can do it to specific buildings and people individually. The Lakeview Hotel is seen as it existed in the 1990’s, the Prison, as it existed in the 1800’s, at the same time.
The Period of Time
The first time the Otherworld comes to Silent Hill is when the two halves of Alessa’s soul come together in the first game. Effectively the vision of the town as we know it is created during that game - in the year 1983. What does this mean for the town itself?
If the town is in a completely separate alternate dimension created and inspired solely by Alessa Gillespie’s experiences, we would imagine the town would reflect her idea of Silent Hill - the way she saw it, in 1983, always and forever. But that doesn’t happen. From game to game we can see the passage of time and the changing of time periods.
Silent Hill doesn’t seem to be stuck in one time period. As I stated earlier, SH2 happens in the 1800’s and the 1990’s, for one. The town can manipulate specific places back and forth through time. But does the town as a whole experience the passage of time in the real world?
The best clue for this is the appearance of new technology in Silent Hill. In SH2, James finds typewriters throughout Brookhaven Hospital. It’s the early 90’s, computers really aren’t a thing yet. There is a spot on the first floor, in an office, where James can save, and nearby is a typewriter.
In SH3, Heather visits that same hospital, and she saves in that same room. And right where the typewriter had been when James was there in 1993, there is a computer. SH3 happens in the year 2000.
So Silent Hill can manipulate time - but it also experiences the passage of time, too. The buildings change to reflect the changes in the town itself, which seems to hint at the idea that Silent Hill is not a completely separate dimension, but merely a mirror dimension, which reflects a twisted dark nightmare version of the real town. It can go back and forth, reflecting things which happened in Silent Hill’s past, and thus parts of Silent Hill can appear to be from different time periods. But Silent Hill itself still exists within the modern time period as a whole.
The Real World vs. Silent Hill
The last thing I want to bring up before I talk about Downpour is the comparison between reality and Silent Hill - between the world outside the town, and the world within it. As I just said, they must be connected on some level, because the town changes to reflect the passing of time as it actually happens in reality.
Does time pass evenly between them? A few of the characters appear to enter and leave the town without any time having passed at all - the world outside is just as they left it, and they haven’t aged at all. Does that mean time is completely frozen in the town?
The best clue in reference to this is Henry Townshend. In SH4, Henry is trapped in his room, which is slowly becoming part of Silent Hill. While it is really part of Walter’s Otherworlds, Walter is using powers akin to Silent Hill’s to create the same effects - it appears as if time does not pass, Henry does not need rest or food, etc.
But Henry can see into the real world. At the beginning of the game, he says he has been trapped in the room for about a week. As the game continues, he can see time passing outside him. The sun rises and sets outside his window. People walk around in the apartment, they live their lives, and Henry can watch them do that. He can see time affecting them, even as he is frozen in time. This continues as the game goes on - Henry hears radio reports which change as time passes, he sees what happens in Walter’s Otherworlds affecting the real world. He moves back and forth through time, as the various Otherworlds are in different time periods, and eventually he escapes.
There is some fluidity here. Eileen enters the hospital about halfway through the game, and Henry spends what must be at least a few more days exploring the rest of the Otherworlds. Eileen is most likely only in the real world hospital for a few hours, maybe a day, while this is happening - given the severity of her injuries, her death in the bad ending must happen rather quickly, so I would assume that time in the Otherworlds is passing somewhat slowly for them. They see real world time passing them by outside Henry’s windows, but in Silent Hill, they experience a much longer ‘day’.
Another example would be Shepard’s Glen. When the pact with the God fails in 2003, it takes four more years for the town to truly fall apart. At this time, people begin vanishing, and others begin to realize that time has ceased to exist for them. Officer Wheeler barricades himself in his office months before Alex enters the town - so he was in his office with no food or water for all that time and survived. Elle comments that her house had almost no food at all at one point, and she is also still alive. By 2007 town supplies have vanished and people are still surviving - clearly having entered the manipulated time of Silent Hill.
Yet, four years still passed. The passage of time has occurred, their bodies simply didn’t experience it. The town and the people in it have been frozen, but time itself continues on. This can be seen in how Alex has clearly changed while he was out of the town for four years, while everyone in the town appears to have remained the same. Government and infrastructure have imploded, much needed supplies are no longer available, but those who haven’t vanished are still surviving on nothing.
Silent Hill does not exist outside of time. It experiences the passage of time, but it can manipulate how that passage affects the people and places within its domain. It can manipulate it forwards or backwards through time. It can ‘freeze’ people so that they can survive without basic necessities, and also ‘unfreeze’ them so their bodies can heal from their injuries. The passage of time between the real world and Silent Hill is not quite even: the town appears to have a larger ratio of “hours” to a single real hour, so that people in the town experience more time than people outside it.
So how does that all come back to Silent Hill: Downpour?
Take a look at these images:
These are all images from Silent Hill: Downpour which indicate time.
The first is a calendar found in the Clock Tower, near Bobby Rick’s studio. It has no year, but it says that August 1st falls on a Tuesday. This means it is probably 2006, but most likely not a further date. Silent Hill has always been set a few years in the past of our world - the “real” real world - and has never ventured into future territory. I doubt Downpour’s developers did so.
The second image is a calendar from St. Maria’s. This one is even harder to interpret, as it has no month or year. But it shows a Monday the 10th, and the image beside it is summery. With a little digging, I’ve found that this might indicate July 2000, June 2002, July 2006, or August 2009. I didn’t look any further back than that because the medical technology shown in St. Maria’s is very modern.
The last item I want to consider, is the missing poster for Araidne Johnson, which can be found in the game. This poster says she was born in 1996 and that she is 8 years old, which means she disappeared in 2004.
Are any of these - or any other calendars or dated papers in Silent Hill - useful in determining the time period of Downpour?
Well, let’s compare them to our rules. The town as a whole passes through time, but it manipulates certain pockets of the town. Usually, these manipulations relate to certain events - to catastrophes or horrible things which happened in the town. I think St. Maria’s fits under this category. It was a place where neuroatypical children were tortured and killed, a place eventually destroyed ‘by an earthquake’, supposedly. I would guess that the calendar in St. Maria’s reflects the time in which it was destroyed, not the time the town is currently in.
What about Araidne? I think she fits under that as well. Her death was a horrible crime. Silent Hill remembers it, as it happened when it happened, in 2004. But I don’t think that necessarily means the town is currently in the year 2004.
What about Bobby Ricks’ calendar?
There is no great story or catastrophe involved in the Clock Tower. It is a facet of the town, but there is no real horrific event attached to it. It doesn’t appear to be stuck in a specific time period in the past - it is very modern. There is no story of its destruction, no hint that it no longer exists. It’s most likely still in the real world, which means there are still people in it in the real world, people changing it and hey, putting up calendars. Like Brookhaven, it appears to be a place which is affected by the actual passing of time as it occurs in reality - which means, like Brookhaven, what is in the building probably changes as time passes. That would include calendars updating as time marches on.
So we can probably trust the calendar in the Clock Tower, which most likely indicates the year 2006.
Given my own ideas about how time works in Silent Hill, and what we find as clues in Downpour, I am firmly convinced that the events of Downpour happen in the year 2006.