The Enigma of Alan Wake

(Image By Flickr User: ilego)

Originally released in May of 2010 Alan Wake treated its players to it’s unique take on the action-thriller. It’s gameplay was competent and kept the player involved, but the real star of the show was the title character of Alan Wake himself and a plot that evolved from a by-the-numbers “not-all-is-as-it-seems” into something even The Twilight Zone would be proud of.

(Oh right, people who haven’t played the game beware plot spoilers ahead.)

For the entirety of the game, Wake is piecing together the insane-but-true fact that he himself wrote this story into being, that everything that has transpired was of his own design. Upon realizing this, Wake is transformed from puppet to puppet master, and assumes control of the madness surrounding him.

It was a stellar ending and left its wondering just how much of that story actually happened, and what the significance of Wake’s transformation from slave to master actually was. Some questions were answered in the 2012 Xbox Live Arcade sequel: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. The game picks up where it’s predecessor left off, and puts behind the wheel of an Alan Wake who has come to understand the nature of “The Dark Place” (the place where the evil behind the events of the original game resides), and has mastered his creative powers to the point of being able to write a semi-alternate dimension into being, and creating a mission for himself to accomplish that will, again by his own design, put a stop to the twisted designs of his evil doppelganger: “Mr. Scratch”. A mission which he ultimately is able to accomplish, again thanks to his own writing. The way American Nightmare ends makes it look as though all is well: Wake reaches the end of his own story, defeats Mr. Scratch and reunites with his wife. It’s a nice, clean, happy ending…or is it.

The big trick of this story is trying to figure out where the “real” world comes into play here, and just how far Alan’s powers and the influence of “The Dark Place” extend. We know Alan’s fictional town of Night Springs, Arizona (from American Nightmare) wasn’t real, but as the game explained it, its physical location was. So there is a “real” world, but its plane of reality was still inaccessible to Wake. If that’s true, then the influence of “The Dark Place” (the source of power that gives form to Wake’s writing) isn’t limited by geographical location, since we know that Wake first encountered it in Washington state, quite a ways away from Arizona. Aside from that, it also indicates that we still may not have even seen the “real” world of Alan Wake yet, since the first game revealed that everything that took place in Bright Falls was by the design of either Alan or Thomas Zane (another writer who encounter the “Dark Place” in the past). We don’t even know how all of this matters to the real world, just some unspeakable evil living within the deepest parts of the “Dark Place” wants to use Wake to somehow cross over into it. How can it do that with Wake working against it? Will it actually crossover or merely convert it into alternate-reality like Wake did with “Night Springs”? We don’t know. All we get for diving deeper is more questions.

Finally, let’s focus a little more on Wake’s abilities themselves. As a creator, he can bend the power of the  “Dark Place” to his will and bring about whatever reality he chooses. However, there are rules. Which further bring into question everything we’ve seen transpire thus far. Take Mr. Scratch for example.

Image by flickr user: Ilego
Image by flickr user: Ilego

Mr. Scratch, named thus because his actual name sounds like static (fun fact: it’s also another name for the devil), was introduced to Alan by Thomas Zane as a helper. A mirror image that was to assume Alan’s life while Alan was confined to the “Dark Place”. He was supposed to be a tool for good, but that went right out the window in American Nightmare. Instead of a helper on the outside, he became a monster bent on destroying Wake’s life before somehow preparing the way for the nameless dark entities of the “Dark Place” to cross-over into the real world. It was a total 180 and at first glance looks like a convenient retcon, but let’s take a closer look at Wake’s power here.

By his own admission, we know that Wake is limited by the needs and demands of story writing; he can write things into being, but only if it makes sense. He couldn’t just write three sentences stating that the Dark place ceased to exist and he lived happily ever after. It wouldn’t follow the rules, and more importantly, it wouldn’t have any power. For him to affect any change, his story had to be powerful.

Powerful stories have substance and an underlying message/motive. They have a strong plot, 3-dimensional characters, a setting, and lore. The most powerful stories have a central struggle, something the protagonist must overcome.  They demand a villian, the source of the struggle. This is what gave us the evil Mr. Scratch.

Wake’s escape story needed to be powerful, and in order to be powerful it needed a villain. So he used Mr. Scratch; all it took was to give him a back-story, that of him being corrupted into a tool of the dark entities. With Mr. Scratch as a villain, Wake could cast himself as a hero and gain all the narrative power that comes with it, such as plot armor and the inevitable triumph over the villain.

What has he accomplished though? His quest in American Nightmare was to save his wife from an evil Mr. Scratch, whom he may have created himself. We see Wake possibly reunite with his wife at the end, but it’s sudden and doesn’t follow the rules like the rest of his story. There’s still much more than what meets the eye here.

I could go on but this is just scratching the surface, there’s so much up for interpretation here. Remember Alan Wake is a mystery writer, so it can be assumed that there are more clues and red-herrings buried in here. Nothing is as it seems and all we’re left with the best interpretation we can muster.

This is just what I’ve put together from the pieces they’ve given thus far; How have they fit together for you?

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