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To Die at the Hands of Your Own Creation

Rob Zacny | 14 Jun 2011 08:46
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Alan Wake is never a horror game, but a story about its own troubled development and the toll it took on the people who made it. We see the original design founder in the clunky early sections where he reads turgid prose and shoots waves of bad guys. We see Remedy's struggling at the asylum that shows how inhospitable to creativity modern game development can be. Finally, we see the game we're playing take shape as Alan summons a world back to life using the power of words.


At the Cauldron Lake Lodge where Hartman keeps his menagerie of artists, there is a quote from Thomas Zane set in a plaque. Zane writes, "Beyond this shadow you settle for, there's a miracle illuminated." Alan Wake is about the perils of chasing miracles, and to an extent it is about letting go of them. Because Alan Wake does not turn into a story of triumph for the artist and his vision. It is not an auteur-theory manifesto. The game begins with Wake's life and relationship being destroyed by his failure to create. Wake saves himself and the wife the Dark Presence took from him by turning to his friends, and working with the people he now realizes he can trust. Wake doesn't slay the Dark Presence to create his masterpiece. He finishes the story to get his life back, and to protect the people who depend on him.

In On Writing, King tells a story about a magnificent writing desk he bought for himself in 1981. It was a testament to his success, and how he viewed himself as a writer. But, he says, "For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind like a ship's captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere." He says he got rid of the desk, put a smaller one in the corner, and converted his office to a family room. This leads him to his most important lesson, and the one that Alan Wake quietly underscores.

"It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

Compulsive over-thinker Rob Zacny still doesn't know exactly what Alan Wake's ending means. You can leave your wildest theories at his website.

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