Game of the Year is coming up, and I am futilely trying to get through all Alan Wake-associated titles and the recently released Alan Wake II before we begin our deliberations on 2023. So far, I’ve made my way through the original Alan Wake, which I recalled as a confusing yet enthralling title from my teens and the side game American Nightmare, a game I had never played until now. The original game posited an exciting, personal mystery, but it wasn’t anything I could connect with as a high-schooler who was still unsure of what I wanted to do with myself, both in the moment and in the future.
As an adult who has been chipping away at entering the games industry for over a decade, this replay of Alan Wake put a lot of my current stressors into perspective. I saw myself in Alan, a writer who has come to feel uncomfortable in his profession, a man who would rather coast on his past exploits, instead of continuing to build on them. I have been doing similar things, and just like Alan Wake experienced, I can say with certainty that it only leads to a Dark Place.
Alan arrives at Bright Falls with a promise of vacation with his beloved wife Alice, yet she quickly reveals her hopes that he will get back to writing, once he has relaxed at the cabin they have rented. Of course, the supernatural happens, and Alice is taken into the darkness that permeates Bright Falls. Alan ventures forth to rescue his wife, and in the process inadvertently gives more power to the personification of darkness via a manuscript he is forced to churn out over a week he can’t remember.
This Dark Presence previously gained power from other artists in Bright Falls, in particular Thomas Zane, a poet who went missing in the 70’s. Zane tried to stop the Presence in his own way, but ended up trapped in the Dark Place, unable to rescue his own beloved Barbara Jagger, who the Presence now wears as a mask when appearing to Alan. “Jagger” swayed Alan’s pen during his missing week, but he didn’t finish the story, and that kept evil just barely at bay. Alan’s eventual victory comes when he accepts that his writing will stop the Dark Presence, and he finishes the manuscript, wrapping it up with the defeat of that which kidnapped Alice.
Alan, as an author, had always had power behind his words. However, he forgot that, instead thinking it was right to turn his back on the act of creation, and to coast on what he has already done. Alan kills his most famous character, Alex Casey, in his latest book. He parties instead of attempting to find new inspiration. Alice brings him to Bright Falls, not just to find a new environment for writing, but to introduce him to a therapist that specializes in artistic types. It turns out that said therapist, Emil Hartman, is in cahoots with the Dark Presence, and that leads Alan into this overall predicament in the first place, but Alice’s intent is completely understandable.
Alan pushes back against it, sparking an argument between them right before Alice is taken. Alan’s words were similar to words I had thought and spoken, that I don’t need to be pushed, that I just need a break. But what was I doing now? I wasn’t writing, so wasn’t that a break? Was what I was writing, criticism about video games, actually art? Was what I was doing actually worth reading, worth experiencing over what others were doing? I kept telling myself I’d be able to write if I just got a gig in the industry, I’d be able to free myself when the money was coming in.
That is not how art works. I was putting off furthering my artistic strides, making excuses and only wanting people to look at what I had done previously, thinking that was enough, that I had somehow “done enough” and my reward was coming. Alan was doing the same, pushing against that desire, that NEED to write, and it only led to more and more pain.
Alan is only in control of his future when he is making something. As he writes, his power grows. Allowing himself to create for the benefit of himself instead of to please an editor, even if said editor is a demonic entity, rewards him far more. Alan’s self-doubt comes from outside factors, that even though he does get attention and fame, his work is often said to be quick-to-read thrillers that don’t matter much. Alan’s work does matter, and it would even if nobody read it. He begins to create for his own reasons, quite literally, and while it locked him into the Dark Place to replace his wife, he is now crafting a new story, one that will free him this time.
Meanwhile, I feel I am in my own Dark Place. Constantly trying to fling myself at a job instead of just living and writing and welcoming others into my thoughts. It’s not the way a person should live. I cannot write for you, or for the Hartmans and Jaggers of this world. I can only write for myself, and Alan can only write for Alan. Other people will still love his work, perhaps because it is populated by easy-to-read thrillers, not in spite of it.
Other people will still love my work, because it’s the thoughts and critiques of a shut-in 29-year-old man who has fixated on games his whole life. There are others who can connect to me. There were people who could connect to Alan. The act of creation must be connected to the artist, or said artist will not feel the relief of shoveling that concept out of their brain. Alan’s struggle with the Dark Place is only solved by allowing himself to be an artist. To be a writer.
I haven’t played Alan Wake II yet. It probably builds on this concept, and maybe it’ll move me even further! For now, finishing this replay got me to write again. Not another review, not a quip, an actual article-ass-article. I’m still in the Dark Place right now, I’d say. I’m making my first paddles back to the surface, and it will take a while until I find my way out.
Letting yourself sink into an ocean of self-doubt makes for quite the trek back, but the time will pass anyway, and instead of allowing myself to be trapped like Zane was, I will write myself out of this hole. I will type like Alan did, and I will refute the side of me that was okay with resting on my laurels. Alan can only free himself by creating. The same goes for me.