Thursday, July 18, 2013

Alan Wake, or Writer's Block can be a Cosmic Horror

     So there are two things to remember when reading things I write. An intrinsic part of my personality is my pride in being a PC gamer, and that I've seen some shit in my day. There are spiral bound notebooks that I had full of things I wrote that I can only remember snippets of, that sadly went missing sometime between 7 and 10 years ago, the circumstances surrounding which maybe, just maybe, I'll go into one day. Once we've all gotten to know each other better.

     So, needless to say I went through a traumatic experience, my writings were lost to the aether, and I didn't write much of anything outside of a drunken rambling for a long time. Emphasis on drunken. One of the hallmarks of my relationship with our dear Erin is that I barely remember the circumstances of our first encounter. I probably left an obscenely rude comment whilst totally hammered. To this day, I can only get the mere gestation of a story started, and then run into a brick wall when I attempt to take it anywhere. I'm slowly getting better though, and its exercises like these that help most.

     Alan Wake was extremely late coming to PC, having originally been designed for, and released on console, as so many games are. The developers stated that there wouldn't be a PC port, claiming it was meant to be played on a couch, and at the time I believed them. The publisher was, after all, Microsoft. Considering MS hasn't published a game for PC since, oh, 2007 you'd think they didn't want you playing games on PC. Remedy did, later on, develop a PC port of the game and released it for PC. It sold so well it made back the cost of porting in less than 24 hours. The dev team even put a QR code hidden in the game that led to the message "Huh. Turns out this isn't too bad even if you're not sitting on a couch when you play it. Who knew!"

     As a teenager, I read a lot of Stephen King novels, and I apparently wasn't the only one. The first spoken words in Alan Wake, the game, are Mister King's name, and aside from being on entirely the wrong coast, the game plays out like an homage to King's works. But there's something deeper at play here, something that dredges up a lot of painful memories and brings a sense of catharsis by the end, leaving me with a feeling that while I may never completely escape that black void that formed around my creativity, I can find ways to work around it, and eventually get back to the world.

     Alan Wake, the man, is a crime novelist. Hard-boiled detectives and brutal, noir worlds. Its no surprise this was brought to us by the same people that did Max Payne. When we meet Alan, he's gone through a rough patch, drinking, pills, partying, and hasn't written anything in two years. His wife sets up a surprise vacation for him, as a way of trying to get him writing again, but some kind of dark force takes her from him and sets about wrecking his world. I can't help but feel that the entire game is a vivid metaphor for writer's block. It starts with a literal one, then as the action of the game progresses, it becomes a yawning, black, monstrous void of darkness, taking parts of Alan's life and sanity from him. As someone with the soul of a writer, not being able to write anything is emotionally crippling.

     At the time when I first played this game, it had been two years since my last creative spurt had run dry, so I really felt like I identified with Wake, having beaten my head against the brick wall of "I got nothing" for nearly as long as he had. Just without the advantage of a loving, supportive wife and a party lifestyle.      

At the risk of spoilers, Alan doesn't escape the darkness. There's no happy ending, where he's reunited with his wife and his world is put back together in a perfect little package. The traumatic events and the writer's block. But he finds a way to live with it. He finds a way to work around it, and to affect the world around him. And when we last leave Alan, he might have found a way to make it back to the world. It gives me a little hope. Finding little cracks in the block, ways to work around it, to where I'll be able to maybe string together a coherent, stable narrative. Of course, that all could be a metaphor for something else, but we don't want to go *too* deep. After all, it's not a lake, it's an ocean.

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