With the resounding success of the first Donovan Test, I’ve decided that I’m going to give it another go. Last week, we looked at what turned out to be a real manly icon, the Doomguy. This week we’re going to take a look at another character who fights demons, this time one more a little more grounded in reality. Thus, this week we’re going to be looking at Murphy Pendleton, from Silent Hill Downpour!
Before we begin, I’d like to make one thing clear. Downpour is a horrible game. It sucks, plain and simple. It’s a lame attempt to try and replicate the success of Silent Hill 2, but missing the point of what made SH2 so great. If you want to know more, the brilliant madmen of TwinPerfect did a great two-hour long review of why the game sucks so much.
I did not play Downpour, and instead watched the Two Best Friends playthrough which results in the canon(1) ending for Downpour. I highly recommend that you watch both along with this post.
So let’s begin with Murphy’s story. Murphy Pendleton was an orphan, who grew up in a generic religious orphanage. When he was a teenager, he worked in a movie theater. He was involved in some generic criminal behavior, only to leave when he married his generic wife Carol Pendleton. He had a generic son named Charlie and had a generic, pleasant, enjoyable life.
Then his neighbor, a pedophile by the name of Patrick Napier, lured Charlie into his van and probably raped him a few times before drowning him in a lake. Unable to cope with her son’s death, Carol divorced Muphy and told him never to speak to him again. Consumed by his desire for revenge, Murphy began plotting how to get to Napier, who was arrested and imprisoned for the crime.
Murphy begins his plan for revenge by stealing a police car and leading the police on a chase across state lines for ten hours until he is arrested and sentenced to several years in the same prison Napier is in. He then strikes a bargain with the corrupt Officer George Coleridge: Coleridge will give Murphy access to the normally-sequestered Napier in the showers in exchange for Murphy doing a “favor” for Coleridge later. This “favor” eventually is killing officer Frank Cunningham during a riot, who was a personal mentor for Murphy in prison. Murphy is unable to do it though, forcing Coleridge to beat Cunningham into a vegetative state.
Following the riot, Murphy is being transferred to a new prison under the watchful eye of officer Anne Cunningham, Frank’s daughter. However, the bus crashes, and Murphy finds his way into the town of Silent Hill. Murphy then explores the haunted tourist trap, pursued by Cunningham. While there, he is forced to confront his guilt over losing his son, killing Napier, and betraying Cunningham. Eventually, Murphy owns up to his actions, and the mysterious force in Silent Hill allows him to go free to start life over.
So yeah, a lot less epic than our last subject. Murphy’s story is one of guilt, a story of supposed downfall and redemption. Granted, given how much I glossed over the third paragraph which is supposed to summarize the entire game, it’s needless to say that it’s not a very good one. Hopefully, as we dive into the test, we’ll be able to show that.
Is the character sufficiently physically strong?
Essentially, Murphy meets most of the basic physical demands of being in Silent Hill. He can hold his own in combat, can outrun most major threats, and survive a few solid blows from a blunt force or clawed apparatus. However, he still struggles with the most rotted and fetid of locked wooden doors, and has his difficulty dealing with rock footings. He’s competent enough to survive, but hardly noteworthy in his strength.
Is the character morally strong?
This is where Murphy certainly falls apart. He is, by all accounts, conflicted. On one hand, he has a strong desire to murder Napier. He wants what he considers to be justice for the death of his son. Of course, in doing so he breaks the law, putting others at risk thanks to an insane police chase. Then, in prison, he makes a sleazy, illegal deal with a crooked cop in order to murder a man who has already been tried and sentenced. Certainly, he seems like he really wanted to get at Napier.
Of course, this is all thrown away in the orphanage part of the game, where Murphy is forced to admit that he actually feels guilty for killing Napier. Murphy goes through all that trouble and gives up so much, just to do something he’d later wind up regretting anyway. What’s particularly telling is how Silent Hill is not trying to tell Murphy anything, but rather simply reflecting his internal conflict. Murphy is torn up because he doesn’t have the strength of character to commit to his actions. He doesn’t have resolve, and never commits to anything. In that sense we have to say that no, Murphy is not morally strong.
Does the character have a strong presence?
Everything about Murphy is generic and vague. His only real characteristic of note is that he is new to Silent Hill, and somehow offers the possibility of escape to other inhabitants. The town hardly even gives Murphy his own unique nightmare to overcome, and can’t even be bothered to give him enemies modeled after his own psyche like it did with previous visitors(2). He’s not particularly remarkable or interesting. Anne only really chases him out of her desire to avenge her father’s death. Her father, Officer Cunningham , doesn’t really gravitate towards Murphy, instead he chooses to help him like he helps any other inmate. Overall, he’s a boring, uninteresting person.
Is the character given a chance to show his courage?
He’s in Silent Hill, what do you think?
Does the character show genuine courage?
Surprisingly enough, no. Almost every Silent Hill protagonist prior to Murphy suppresses their fear and continues to trudge on into the nightmare of Silent Hill. Not Murphy, who screams like a little girl when monsters ambush him, or when there’s an earthquake, or when he goes down a nightmarish waterslide, or just when a kitchen fire breaks out. Actually, this is even more embarrassing when you consider that Heather Mason, the teenage girl protagonist of Silent Hill 3, screams in terror far less than Murphy does. Compared to every other protagonist in the series, Murphy is a grade-A wimp.
But that’s not all. The game actively rewards cowardice. The easiest way to get the “best”(3) ending is to avoid combat with the enemies altogether, running like a coward whenever possible. Said “best” ending (which isn’t canon) reveals that Murphy didn’t have the guts to actually kill Napier in prison. Thus, the “best” ending is the one where Murphy is a coward. Ironically enough, the point of Silent Hill in the game is that it teaches its prisoners to stop running from their inner guilt. However, when Murphy does nothing but run, he is allowed to go free after confronting his “guilt” for something he wasn’t courageous enough to actually do. It invalidates the entire point of the game.
What I consider to be the most damning example of cowardice are the Tormented Souls. One of the reoccurring challenges in the game is for Murphy to run away from “the void”, a rift in space-time that will tear him apart while he continues to scream like a little girl. These chase sequences are the only time that the monsters known as Tormented Souls appear. These are grotesque, yet pitiful creatures. They take the shape of a humanoid torso and head with the skin stretched to meet the edges of its caged cell, with its own guts on display. Their faces express both horror and agony. These creatures only exist for Murphy to throw their cages in front of the void, where it will rip them apart even more and consume them. These tortured creatures only exist for Murphy to callously throw them away in order to run away. They are only in the game for Murphy to screw over through his own cowardice. The real highlight of all of this is that condemning these creatures to their fate does not affect the ending the player gets. It is possible to doom all of the Tormented Souls to death by the void while still getting the “best” ending.
All of the evidence adds up to demonstrate that Murphy is undoubtedly the most cowardly protagonist in Silent Hill history. The game might try to tell you that he’s brave, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Does the character have drive?
While it’s a common feature for Silent Hill protagonists to get jerked around left and right by whatever supernatural force is driving the events of the game, Murphy takes it to an extreme. Murphy’s sole driving objective is to escape from Silent Hill. However, from the moment he enters the town it becomes obvious that he really has zero interest in doing exactly that. His first goal is to do something about the monsters joyriding around in demonic cop cars(4) which makes zero sense if he just wants to get out of town. After the events in the Centennial Tower, Murphy just concedes to play the town’s game, but fights any attempt from the town to help him work through his issues. He doesn’t seem eager to do anything, he just kind of does whatever. He has no drive or motivation to really chase after his ambitions.
Does the character show mastery of skill?
Again, much like his strength, Murphy’s mastery is really nothing special. His best skill, according to the story, is his knowledge of cars. He’s a great driver and knows what he’s doing under the hood. Of course, this skill is absolutely useless in Silent Hill. If we use the gameplay as a reference, Murphy is sufficient in his combat, exploration, and problem solving abilities. Again, he’s not phenomenal, but he’s good enough.
Does the character show mastery of self?
Once again, this is where Murphy fails spectacularly. He has no real self-control. He’s impulsive, quick to anger, cowardly, and overall kind of childish. He spends the first half of the game denying his feelings about killing Napier. He also spends most of the game just flat-out refusing to see his involvement in Officer Cunningham’s death, rejecting discipline for overt denial. Rather than own up to his mistakes, he consistently chooses to deny them. He’s like a little kid who refuses to admit that he broke a lamp.
Additionally, there’s the whole matter of how Murphy wound up in prison. Rather than handle the death of his son and the loss of his life with discipline and restraint, he succumbs to his anger and hate. He chooses to chase Napier to prison and kill him there. He can’t control his actions, so he goes and throws his entire life away.
Through the course of the game, Murphy learns that yes, losing control and throwing away his life in pursuit of vengeance was wrong. However, Silent Hill never tries to explain discipline and self-control to Murphy. He knows that he’s strayed from the path, but he doesn’t know what the path is. When the game ends, we’re not really sure what Murphy has learned, other than that he’s supposedly made peace with his past. For all we know, Murphy could go out, get married, and the same thing could happen again. He hasn’t shown an inch of self-control. He has zero mastery of self.
Does the character show mastery of others?
Most men who go into Silent Hill generally try to take control of the situation to the best of their ability. When they talk, other people listen. They don’t lie down and take orders like dogs, but instead work with other people to achieve their goals in the town. They entire reason they succeed is based on them bringing order to a den of chaos.
Needless to say, Murphy does none of that. As I mentioned before, he lets the town jerk him around and do whatever it wants to him. He tries to fight it at first but eventually he gives in, letting the town just tell him where to go and what to do. Of course, even then he still goes kicking and screaming. He’s not in charge at all.
Is the character honorable to himself?
Silent Hill Downpour is a rip-off of Silent Hill 2, and a key theme in that game was delusion and self-deception. So needless to say, Murphy is not going to treat himself with a whole lot of respect. He spends most of the game suppressing memories of his involvement in Cunningham’s fatal beating. He consistently lies to himself via omission, helping himself forget the truth of what he was involved in. It’s not until he finally returns to the prison showers where the beating occurred that he remembers what he did. Even after he confronts his guilt over killing Napier, he still can’t bring himself to admit what he had a hand in.
He also deceives himself about his feelings, trying to convince himself that he doesn’t feel guilty for killing Napier. It isn’t until the orphanage where he has to confront his own feelings for the first time. Until then, he just tries to justify his actions. He acts as if it’s justice for Charlie, but in reality he just thinks that killing Napier will give him some inner peace. He lies to himself to hide his own selfish desires. How can a man be honorable to himself when he knowingly lies to himself?
Is the character honorable to others?
We already know Murphy doesn’t respect himself. Therefore, it’s no surprise he’s not an honorable man. When he kills Napier, he doesn’t do it to avenge Charlie. He does it for personal satisfaction, to try and gain some sort of inner peace by killing a scapegoat. Not only does he dishonor himself as I’ve already mentioned, but he also dishonors Charlie’s memory. He cheapens Charlie’s life and death as nothing more than an excuse for him to kill a man.
In addition, Murphy routinely lies to Officer Cunningham about his intentions in prison. He keeps him in the dark about his intentions of killing Napier and his dealings with Coleridge. The problem with this is that Cunningham is a genuinely altruistic individual who believes Murphy and wants him to turn his life around. Murphy betrays his trust for his own selfish desires. Again, he dishonors Cunningham in doing so.
There’s also the matter of how Murphy got to Silent Hill to begin with. When his bus goes off the road, Murphy is left alone at the crash site. Rather than do the honorable thing and remain in place as a prisoner, he chooses to run off, fleeing the pursuit of Anne. This makes more sense in the original plan, where Murphy was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit(5). After all, why should an innocent man honor a false conviction? But when Murphy was rightfully convicted, to run away is to show contempt for law and order. Such an act can hardly be considered honorable.
Can the character show humility?
At this point it the answer should be obvious. Rather than accept his son’s death and move on with his life, he seeks violent revenge. When offered advice on how to turn his life around, he rejects it and pursues his revenge fantasies. Despite being rightfully convicted, he runs from the law. While in the town, he resists every attempt by the powers that be to show him the error of his ways. And it is not until he sees the body that he can own up to the wrong that he’s done. Murphy is arrogant. He thinks that he alone knows what’s best for him. He refuses to listen to anyone’s advice or accept anyone’s help. He’s stubborn in his spiteful denial of past wrongs.
Throughout most of Silent Hill Downpour, Murphy is just wandering the town, lost and confused. I’d say that’s a strong unintentional metaphor for him as a character and for the themes of the game as a whole. In terms of Murphy’s manhood, he’s lost and confused. He doesn’t know what it means to be a man, so instead he lashes out viciously and randomly. He can’t cope with the death of his son like a man, so he goes to jail and kills Napier. He can’t handle the killing, so he’s drawn to Silent Hill. He’s a broken failure of a man.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a broken man as your main character. Silent Hill 2 did that with James Sunderland, a severely broken man. The difference between Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill Downpour is that in the former, the goal is to help put James back together as a man, which the player achieves in the best ending. James confronts his wrongdoing and moves past it, learning from his past mistakes. Murphy, however, confronts his wrongdoing, but doesn’t seem to learn from it. He doesn’t show any signs of learning moral strength, or bravery, or even self-discipline. In fact, he hardly seems to change as a character, even after he goes through the trials of Silent Hill. He doesn’t develop or grow from his ordeal.
Another, more serious point of comparison is how sympathetic James Sunderland is. He’s a genuinely broken, miserable man that the player can’t help but pity. The player, for the most part, wants the best possible ending for James. They want him to turn his life around. It feels like the team behind Downpour tried to do the same with Murphy, but failed miserably. Murphy Pendleton is not a likable character. He’s hostile, stubborn, rude, and brash. If I met James Sunderland in real life, I’d buy him a drink and maybe give him a hug before referring him to a therapist. If I met Murphy Pendleton in real life, I’d want to punch him right in his smug idiot face. Even though the developers want him to be sympathetic, he isn’t.
Ultimately, that’s the real problem with Murphy Pendleton. We’re told that he’s supposed to be a likable, respectable guy who’s had a rough life, but in reality Murphy is so thoroughly broken that there’s nothing heroic or likable about him. He’s a very poor example of how to write a male character. I can’t think of any justification for a character like Murphy unless the game had you playing as the masked “boogeyman” to try and kill him. Indeed, the best parts of Downpour are the death scenes where Murphy’s ragdoll corpse lazily flops to the ground lazily, his expression fixed in place. Thus, I can say without a doubt that Murphy Pendleton fails the Donovan Test.
(1) I only use the word because Konami says it’s canon. I personally do not consider any Silent Hill game after The Room to be canon.
(2) Compare, if you will, the wide variety of colorful enemies in Silent Hill 2 to the bland, generic enemies in Silent Hill Downpour.
(3) All the guidebooks refer to the “Forgiveness” ending as the best one. Personally, I consider the “Surprise!” joke ending to be the best because it features more memorable characters from better games.
(5) This is according to design director Brian Gomez in his 2011 Gamescom talk on Downpour