Alan Wake was something like $4.00 on Steam this week, so I picked it up. It’s really weird to be a fiction writer playing a game about a fictional writer. That’s what we call meta-discourse, folks!
The whole idea behind the Alan Wake game can be summed up as an author dealing with the nightmare of writer’s block. I don’t mean the “oh I haven’t been able to write anything for hours or weeks” type either – that’s a minor block and really isn’t anything to write home about (pun intended). Instead, we’re talking the kind of major block that can last years and wreck careers, and it’s the one thing that any author fears more than death itself. Genuine capital-letters Writer’s Block is as serious as a heart attack and, when you’re suffering from it, feels like a living, breathing malevolent force dogging you in the small hours of the night when the darkness is thickest and the mind races. It’s this kind of fear and helplessness that Alan Wake‘s gameplay evokes.
Borrowing heavily (and quite gleefully) from the sort of supernatural horror mythos of writers such as Stephen King, the world of Alan Wake is that of a constant struggle between light and darkness in the most effective manner since the early days of the Silent Hill franchise. Once night falls and the shadows gather, that’s when the eponymous hero’s personal demons come crawling out from the crawlspace – and it’s only a judicious application of light that can weaken them enough to be destroyed. This makes running out of batteries for your flashlight almost certain death, as without it you’re completely and totally helpless – especially since it doesn’t matter how many bullets you sink into a darkness-possessed redneck otherwise. At this point, your only hope is to run to the closest oasis of safety: a ring of light cast by a streetlamp or something similar. There, you can rest and recover briefly before braving the darkness once more.
As an author I do indeed fear the darkness of a prolonged bout of writer’s block, which adds layers of enjoyment and visceral fear to playing this game. I’m not saying that you have to know the particular agonies of a writer in order to appreciate Alan Wake – not in the least – but it hits home a bit harder when your character can’t come across his typewriter and a stack of blank paper without having a nervous breakdown.
Then again, it might just be the fact that the game is set in a forested mountain region, complete with lakes and parkland, and I’m moving to the Adirondacks in two weeks.