The Seven Political Myths of ‘Alan Wake’

by Eugen Pfister

In May 2010, a handful of games journalists are led into a forest in the middle of the night. There they are ambushed and threatened by knife-wielding “maniacs driven by dark forces”[1]. They manage to escape when a flare is let off, which drives their pursuers away. Just a perfectly ordinary PR stunt, apparently, by the Finnish games company Remedy. The developer enlisted the British theatre company Punchdrunk to get the journalists in the mood for the upcoming release of their new psychological thriller and action game ‘Alan Wake’. In fact, you do spend much of your time during the game in the woods at night pursued by shadowy possessed figures who you are only able to defeat by means of light. It is the story of Alan Wake, a young and choleric horror novelist who is suffering from acute writer’s block. On the advice of his wife Alice, he goes away with his wife to the picturesque town of Bright Falls on the Pacific coast to stay in a remote cabin to unwind, and to find himself. A dark force, or to be more precise, the primeval ‘Dark Presence’ soon destroys the supposed idyll. His wife disappears, the novelist loses his memory and in the ensuing battles against poltergeists and the possessed inhabitants it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between reality and fiction. It is the story of a privileged WASP writer from the city (with a huge apartment in New York) who, as well fighting for survival in the new surroundings of a former mining town which has seen more prosperous times, finds his very identity is under threat. It is the story, of the quasi all-powerful male hero (here as writer) and his damsel in distress. It is a tale of genius and madness, of brilliant authors and insane psychiatrists.

Game name: Alan Wake
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Creators: Miakel Kasurinen (Designer), Olli Tervo (Programmer), Sam Lake, Mikko Rautalahti, Petri Järvilehto (Writer)
Year of release: 2010
Platform: XBOX360, Windows
Setting: Horror; Thriller
Genre (ludic): Action; Adventure
Gameplay: Third person shooter with puzzle elements

I – Production analysis:

Remedy Entertainment,  a small Finnish game developer with around 30-45 employees [3], first shot to fame with their critically acclaimed debut shooter game, Max Payne, which according to its distributor Apogee sold over 4 million copies [4]. Above all, the game is notable for its film-noir atmosphere, its comparatively elaborate background story and for its aesthetics as well as gameplay, thanks to the developer’s introduction of so-called ‘bullet time’. Like its follow-up, the game is set in New York, where the developers shot several thousand photos on location in their research for the game, something they would also do a decade later for Alan Wake. As a result of the success of Max Payne, the rights to Max Payne were sold to Take Two (the parent company of Rockstar Games) and Remedy was commissioned to develop a sequel – Max Payne 2. The new game, however, failed to live up to the success of the first. (Consequently, the third part of Max Payne was developed by Rockstar games and was no longer set in a film-noir style New York but mainly in the favelas of Sao Paolo.) The Finnish studio’s next game was to be Alan Wake, which thanks to an exclusive deal with the publisher Microsoft Video Games was to be initially released solely on its own console Xbox 360. The ‘psychological action thriller’ had originally been planned as an open world game, but this was soon dropped due to design considerations (and also, presumably, due to technical constraints). “The sandbox principle makes it impossible to convey the tension.” [5] The developers made no secret of the sources of their inspiration for the game, which is set in the US state of Washington, citing David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Lost and the films of Alfred Hitchcock in particular. Journalists were quick to recognise clear allusions to the author Stephen King (who is then mentioned in the game in at least four different places) and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Darkness [6]. These transmedial references were actively used as a means to promote the game: “We borrowed a lot from popular culture, not video games.” (Nevertheless, parallels can be drawn with other video games, such as the games in the Silent Hill series). There is also a deliberate nod to the conventions of television, with the use of an episodic format, cliffhangers, and “what happened so far” recaps. Although Alan Wake was intended to run to a “second season” with its episodic format and the open ending of the second DLC, it never appeared in this form. Instead the game resumed as a spin-off rather than a sequel in the video game Alan Wake’s American Nightmare which was released in 2012. [7]

II – Product Analysis

The Story:

Despite the length and episodic format (with the resulting portfolio of dramaturgical set pieces: kidnapping of the wife / corrupt psychiatrist / alcoholic FBI agent / the backstory of Thomas Zane) the narrative is basically quite concise. Advised/pressured by his wife, the white male best-selling author from New York, tries to regain inspiration by retreating to a cabin in the backcountry of the US state of Washington. In the depths of a crater-lake lurks a primordial dark force that can only wield power by harnessing the creativity of humans. This force lures Wake and his wife into a hut, which shouldn’t even exist in the reality of the game, as there was a volcanic eruption there in the 70s, which is 40 years in the history of the gameplay. Alice is ‘swallowed up’ by the dark force. After this cutscene, Alan Wake regains consciousness after being involved in a car accident in the middle of the forest. In the game’s narrative, a week has past, and he has no memory of the time between Alice’s disappearance and the accident. Now, finding himself alone in the woods by night, he must suddenly defend himself against hoards of people ‘possessed’ by the Dark Presence, called ‘the Taken’ in the original game, as well as poltergeists. Confused about what has happened, and unsure of whether Alice has been kidnapped or has died in an accident, Alan Wake (and the players with him) is constantly unsure of what is reality and what isn’t. As the story progresses, he does at least find psychological support in Barry Wheeler, his buddy/literary agent who also provides comic relief in the game. The local sheriff Sarah Breaker also supports him, while the FBI agent Robert Nightingale holds Wake responsible for a series of missing person cases and therefore pursues him. Eventually, a mysterious woman with a lamp and two demented hard-rockers formerly of the group ‘The Gods of Asgard’ tell Wake about the Dark Presence in the lake that compels artists to rewrite reality for it. Wake now remembers that this dark force is holding his wife captive in order to coerce him into rewrite reality. Returning to the lake, he confronts the Dark Presence and the planes of reality blur. Is it all a hallucination? Could Alan Wake himself be a character in a novel by the missing author Thomas Zane? Or could this actually be ‘real’? In the end, Alan Wake succeeds in ‘righting’ reality by saving both Alice and Bright Falls, even when he has to sacrifice himself in order to do so. In the two DLC episodes The Signal and The Writer, Wake must be freed from his captivity in a nightmarish underworld. The primary motive we are given for Wake’s odyssey through dark woods and ghost towns is to rescue his wife. This love story, however, remains strangely featureless and abstract. It seems that Wake often needs to remind himself that he desperately wants to save his wife. Far more convincing, however, is the metaleptic moment or mise en abyme, i.e. the oscillation between several levels of reality, namely (game) reality, one’s own fiction (Alan Wake’s novel Departure) and other people’s fiction (Thomas Zane), even if at the end of the second DLC we are told that everything is real.

We could go into much more detail regarding the narrative if we so chose. In a similar way to a long-running television series, as players, we passively witness many additional subplots, plot twists and cliffhangers. In the first episode, we are led to believe that Alice has been kidnapped and Alan is being blackmailed because of this. In the second, we have to confront a power-crazed psychiatrist in his clinic who exploits the connection between sensitive artists and the dark presence for his own profit. Shortly after, two senile rock musicians enlighten us about the mythical Dark Presence, and so on.

The figure of the writer, as a quasi-omnipotent individual with the power to rewrite reality, is central to the game. The closely-related theme of the fragile artist on the brink of a madness is also featured, a myth that continues to prevail in popular culture today. At the same time, the story also addresses the tension between a successful upper-middle-class urbanite and a small provincial town going through economic decline.

The characters:

Barry Wheeler and Alan Wake (screenshot from the Steam game page of the developer)

The game’s protagonist, Alan Wake, is a thinly disguised version of the quintessential ‘Great American Author’. Right from the start, the game openly references the horror author Stephen King. The parallels between Wake and the character of Paul Sheldon of King’s novel Misery are obvious. In the King novel, Sheldon has killed-off the main character from his best-selling series at the start of the story, and after a car accident is forced to write a new novel at the hands of an obsessive fan. There are also clear reference’s to King’s The Shining in the game, in which an evil force possesses the author Jack Torrence. The play with the uncertainty of what is actual reality and what is fiction (which has become reality) in turn shows parallels to John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness.[8] More broadly, the character of Alan Wake corresponds to the popular cultural topos of the successful white male author, as we also encounter him, for example, in the character of Richard Castle in the TV crime-drama Castle. Wake is well-off, as his spacious New York apartment testifies. He is witty, well-educated, and rather arrogant. He is defined through his creative work and his artistic demons (writer’s block, bad-tempered outbursts, etc). He shows both latent contempt and arrogance for both the rural community and the ‘simple folk’ such as the waitress Rose who worships him unquestioningly and who he refers to as an “airhead”. Barry Wheeler, Wake’s childhood friend and literary agent, serves solely as comic relief in the game. Unlike Wake, he has not yet lost touch with the ‘common people’. At the same time, Wheeler embodies the economic interests of Wake’s creative output, and the profit that can be made of it, rather than its intrinsic value.

Despite being ostensibly the main motivation for Alan Wake’s actions, the character of Alice Wake remains surprisingly indistinct. Her “rescue” serves only to drive the narrative. The story doesn’t reveal what brought the two characters together romantically or anything about her character. Only her fear of the dark plays a (minor) role in the game. As a character lacking in substance and agency, she thus conforms to the trope of the damsel in distress. 

The same can also be said of the secondary character of the waitress Rose, who quite explicitly becomes merely a puppet of the dark force.

Although as Wake’s antagonist Barbara Jagger would appear to be a more substantial female character, she also seems to act solely as “vessel” for the otherwise nebulous Dark Presence.

Only the town sheriff Sarah Beaker develops something akin to her own agency in her steadfast support of Wake. Still, as a female character she is hardly emancipated, adhering to the tired stereotype that women act in a highly emotional manner in contrast to all ‘rational’ men. Given the circumstances of his story, her blind faith in Alan Wake is hard to understand and she seems to be solely motivated by a “maternal” instinct to protect him.

Emil Hartman, who runs a psychiatric clinic, is portrayed from the start as both an unpleasant person and, above all, an unethical doctor, and thus follows in the footsteps of the “mad scientist” trope. His superficial friendliness is portrayed as untrustworthy, his diagnoses as stemming from deceptive sophistry that twist his patients’ words. Indeed, over the course of the game it is revealed that Hartman exploits the artists undergoing treatment at his clinic in order to profit himself from their commercial success.

To do so, Hartman is more than willing to enlist the help of local criminal Ben Mott. Mott, in turn, embodies the stereotype of the unsophisticated but street-smart, and above all criminal ‘redneck’ complete with camouflage print and trucker cap. Mott first comes to notice during the introductory cutscene on board the ferry when he passes snide comments about Alan Wake and city people in general: “Damn Yuppie.”

This leaves the figure of the alcoholic and needlessly aggressive FBI agent Nightingale. On more than one occasion, we see that he would rather see Wake shot dead than apprehended. He vents the hostility he feels towards intellectuals, contemptuously “confusing” Wake with other writers: “Stephen King”, “Dan Brown”, “Lovecraft”, “William Faulkner”, “Bret Easton Ellis”, “James Joyce”. It is clear that he is less interested in catching a criminal than in exercising his antipathy towards a successful writer.

Audio-visual design:

(Screenshot from the Steam game page of the manufacturer).

Light and shadow:

The game uses a realistic style befitting its time and is characterised above all by the dichotomy between light and shadow, which also plays a central role in the game’s mechanics.[10]Alan Wake is set on the western American Pacific coast, in the state of Washington. On the one hand, it uses the stereotypical image of the small town, one familiar to audiences of the Twin Peaks series. This image would resurface later, and again in a mystical setting in the adventure game Life is Strange published by Square Enix, which came out in 2015. Besides the small-town idyll with its deceptive facade, the game takes place mainly in a rural environment, never quite untouched by human presence (more on this in the section on architecture below). Most of the gameplay in Alan Wake takes place at night. In keeping with the horror genre, the view is often obscured by fog. But even by day, the light is hazy and the landscape never appears welcoming or safe. At the same time, even at night and especially during battles, the game repeatedly provides points of safety in the form of lanterns and searchlights. By standing in this light we are protected from attack. The manuscript pages of Alan Wake’s novel Departure, provided by the mystical figure Thomas Zane, also glow brightly in the night.   

Architecture:

Although the game takes place for long stretches in the forest and mountains, nature (in opposition to human culture) plays no role here, as we never have to deal with untouched nature: “As previously discussed, ‘nature’ doesn’t figure in the equation, since nothing in the game leads us to believe that the environment of Bright falls is pristine, nor is the Dark Presence discernible as an animistic spirit (more akin to a primordial Lovecraftian monster).” [11] Instead, we fight our way through abandoned logging camps, trailer parks, scrap yards, hydroelectric power plants, abandoned silver and coal mines, two(!) ghost towns and, in one episode, the small town of Bright Falls itself. Above all, the game’s environment is a stage for industrial architecture, whereby it is used to convey an ever-present sense of decline. Either because they really are ruins (the ghost towns and abandoned mines) or because only labourers possessed by the Dark Presence inhabit those spaces. 

The monsters:

It is notable that the ‘Taken’ are all former blue-collar male workers: Lumberjacks, ranch hands, policemen, forestry workers and men in jogging suits[12] (white trash). Thus, their position at the lower end of the social scale, puts them all at odds with the intellectual Alan Wake. This impression is reinforced by the fact that these, now soulless, adversaries utter meaningless phrases from their day-to-day work in eerie voices: “Planting your crops is hard work”, for example, is a phrase repeatedly uttered by the ranch hands on the Anderson farm, or “There are 65 million cows and pigs in the world”. Several characters you need to defeat in so-called ‘Boss fights’ also come from the blue-collar class, such as the petrol station owner Carl Stucky and the ranger Rusty, who, when he is possessed by the Dark Presence, also repeats meaningless phrases from his everyday work: “Obey… the park ranger’s instructions… at all times!”.

Soundtrack:

Composed by Petri Alenko, the soundtrack features sombre piano sounds accompanied by stringed instruments and haunting atmospheric soundscapes, providing the customary repertoire associated with the horror genre, and skilfully steering the player’s emotions. More exciting, however, are the songs licensed for use in the game, which play during the end credits of the individual episodes, thus meant to frame and comment on events once again. These include the Texan psychedelic rock band The Black Angels, the trip-hop sounds of Seattle artist Anomie Belle, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with “Up jumped the Devil” and David Bowie with “Space Oddity”, all of which comment on the uncanny nature of the events. American pop classics also feature, such as Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” (Catherine Marshall told me that “this song incidentally also features heavily in ‘Blue Velvet’, another David Lynch film about a small-town idyll with a dark underbelly”) and Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”, which function as a counterpoint. Apart from Nick Cave and David Bowie, only American artists are represented. Another exception to this, is the fictional band “Old Gods of Asgard” that exist in the Alan Wake universe. In reality, this band is the Finnish alternative rock band Poets of the Fall, who had previously collaborated with Remedy on Max Payne 2.

Alan Wake fights off poltergeists (screenshot from the Steam game page of the manufacturer)

Gameplay

In terms of game mechanics, Alan Wake is a very traditional, linear third-person shooter game, in which the player can take only path that links one level to the next. There is normally only one way to solve problems (almost exclusively fights). Instances where you are required to solve puzzles (placing lifts in the correct position, getting machinery to start) are extremely rare and in comparison to the Tomb Raider and Uncharted video games of the time, are kept very simple. The enemies, the so-called ‘Taken’, are possessed people who descend upon Alan Wake in droves and must be defeated/killed in their hundreds. To do this, the player must use a torch to penetrate the protective shadow that surrounds them, which allows the player to shoot them with a pistol, hunting rifle and pump-action shotgun. In addition, Wake also needs to use his torch to defend against possessed industrial machinery (bulldozers, trucks, locomotives, etc.) as well as swarms of crows. The game alternates between levels which are heavy on combat (at night) with cutscenes (also during the day) and rarer moments when players are required also during daylight (and without having to fight) to go through the lodge, the police station and the trailer park alone. This leads to the bizarre situation in which the character we play is a sensitive and creative genius, but in actual fact, for the most part we shoot hundreds of humanoid monsters, seemingly unable to come up with alternative solutions. How Wake has so quickly mastered the use of hunting weapons, for example, remains unexplained. It is only at the end of the game, that Wake’s writing is used in the game mechanics, when in a nightmarish world, he needs to shine a light on text floating in the air to make them real.

III – Reception analysis:

Overall, the game was well received by critics with a Metacritics aggregated Metascore of 83. It was particularly praised for the ‘Twin Peaks’ atmosphere in the game, the “sophisticated plot and deep, honest characters” [14]. It received even more praise for its episodic format and transmedial elements, such as the ‘Night Springs’ TV show made especially for the game, the episodes of which can be watched on television screens there [15]. Interestingly, it was the personality of the main character that on the whole was received rather negatively: “Personality-wise, Alan takes himself very seriously. He has one tone of voice and no sense of humour” writes Ellie Gibson in her review for Eurogamer. In terms of commercial success, the game fell short of expectations, even though a total of over three million copies of the game (on XBOX360 and PC) were sold [16]. However, it is interesting to note that the game was also frequently pirated: By May 2010, the Xbox360 version had been downloaded over 1.1 million times on BitTorrent.

IV – Design & Myth: Ideological Statements in Alan Wake

Any potential political myths present in Alan Wake are not immediately apparent to us. This is because the antagonism between the author Wake and the dark power at the heart of the narrative, as an atavistic struggle between light and darkness, and good and evil respectively, is hard to grasp with respect to the “justification, defence and rejection of unequal social relations” (as Ute Frevert defines the political) [17]. In contrast to Stephen King’s novels, where we can easily recognise ‘evil’ as having a human origin, at least in The Shining and Misery, and therefore interpret this as metaphor for social problems, the Dark Presence in Alan Wake remains strangely undefined. Does this grant us a primitive, quasi-religious, eschatological interpretation, as we might encounter it in most major religions? Although at one point, the character Barry Wheeler does mention native American myths, they play no role whatsoever in the game. The moral values that would accompany such myths are absent too. So what is the Dark Presence in Alan Wake precisely? At best, it can be understood here as the destructive potential of the creative mind.

Myth 1. Destructive potential of the creative mind

Both the narrative and the gameplay (albeit perhaps in a limited way as mentioned above) focus primarily on the central character of the author, and the threat that as the tool of the Dark Power, he will not only harm those close to him, but also destroy everything around him. The tortured artistic genius does not feature much as a protagonist in digital games, but is not without precedent. For example, in 2013 we encounter an author with writer’s block in the game The Novelist, which incidentally is also set in a small cabin in the forest. The figure has also been used in the horror genre, to wreak havoc on himself and his environment in games such as Layers of Fear (2016) and the character of Sander Cohen in Bioshock (2007). The choice made by the developers of Alan Wake to have a writer battling with his inner demons as a central motif was a deliberate one, and follows the tradition established by the team in the two noir-esque games Max Payne and Max Payne 2 that came before it. However, as mentioned above, the inspiration was primarily the novels of Stephen King, which are peppered with autobiographical references, as well as the cultural topos of the tortured genius, complete with alcoholism and fits of rage.

The ideological aspect of this is that the figure of the successful writer is clearly separated from the rest of society. There is no need for him to follow conventional rules of politeness and his economic and social status alone sets himself apart from those who surround him, including his friend Barry and his wife Alice. His creativity allows him to rise above his environment. This leaves Barry and Alice with the role of ‘working for him’ and thereby help him to keep the destructive aspect of his creativity in check. At the same time, the game also communicates to the players that they also are essentially governed by this creative force, since the game mechanics do not allow for ‘creative’ interventions on their part. On this point, Tobias Unterhuber writes: “Certainly, Remedy could have allowed the player a greater degree of control, but this is not in fact necessary, since within the traditional structures found here, the influence that can be exerted in this medium is greater than would be possible in any other. The fact that the player can find their own way through a level, albeit there may be only one path, allows the recipient more leeway than a narrative in any other medium could. Computer games may be linear, but they are not linear in the sense that films and books are”[18].

Myth 2: The omnipotent individual

Directly related to the above-mentioned myth is the myth of the omnipotent individual, which we encounter so often in games that it almost feels like a natural prerequisite for them, and so is rendered a myth, a process identified by Roland Barthes [19]. As the player’s avatar, and true to his role as creative genius, Alan Wake is the only character in the game granted effective agency. He alone can defeat the Dark Presence, he alone can save the world. The traditions of game design can only justify this to a certain extent and do not  explain why the main character never thinks to ask friends or the authorities for help, despite the severity of the situation. Even when faced with the unrealistically supportive sheriff, he chooses to stay silent. In episode 5, the sheriff has to practically force her help on him, as does his friend Barry, incidentally). Interestingly, when you do get to fight off hordes of possessed through Bright Falls alongside the sheriff, the game sequences work very well in terms of gameplay and narrative.

A Manhattan writer fights back (screenshot from the game’s Steam page).

Myth 3: Damsel in Distress

The game sequence described above is, in fact, the only time in the game where a female character actively and effectively intervenes in the action. Sheriff Breaker is the only woman allowed to help Alan in his fight against the Dark Presence. The remaining female characters are notable only for their passivity and helplessness. In particular, Alice Wake is a perfect example of the ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype. Admittedly, she is allowed a back story as a photographer. In flashbacks, however, we only see her taking pictures of her husband and supporting his career. The waitress Rose Marigold, is referred to by Alan Wake as an ‘airhead’. She appears to be in thrall to Alan Wake on the one hand, and at the mercy of the Dark Presence on the other. Even the shadowy figure of Barbara Jagger functions merely as an avatar of the dark. Cynthia Weaver (as “the lamp lady” a reference to “the log lady” in Twin Peaks) also acts as an avatar, though of the light. She offers advice to Alan, but she never actively intervenes. This leaves only the town sheriff Sarah Breaker with any sense of agency in the game. Here, though, questions arise about the motivation for her intervention. She doesn’t appear to help Alan because he gives her good reason to do so, but rather because she ‘feels’ he is right, which puts her at odds with the FBI agent.

Myth 4: Community versus society

As often is the case with zombie games, the juxtaposition of community and society is used in Alan Wake to illustrate an unambiguous value judgement (in the tradition of Ferdinand Tönnies). The community, a small, tight-knit social group, in this case the residents of Bright Falls, is juxtaposed with an anonymous society, in this case the USA. In the game, this can be seen in the contrast between the amiable, level-headed sheriff (community), who seeks harmony, and the FBI agent Nightingale (society), whose actions appear volatile, and who knowingly endangers the lives of others. The community (sheriff, doctor, radio host) work and stick together, as demonstrated in episode 5 when Breaker gives Barry a list of people in the community to call to mobilise them to action. By contrast, the legitimate intervention of a federal agency (society) is represented here as not only troublesome, but also downright dangerous. 

Myth 5: Centre > Periphery

Somewhat in contradiction with the myth described above, the topos of small-town decline, characterised by ruins of former industry (here two abandoned mines) and low-income housing (the trailer park), contrast starkly with Wake’s luxurious apartment, and also the cabin he’s staying in. But here, Wake also stands for modern America (and the tertiary or service sector), which here is pitted against the old America (and the primary and secondary sectors of manufacturing and raw material industries). But perhaps myths 4 and 5 are not so contradictory, if the (societal) centre, represented here as New York high society, is held responsible for the decline of the (community) periphery, here Bright Falls. The world of Bright Falls may indeed be a home to evil, but at the same time it is also a primal world which can be physically shaped by human/American creativity.  

A rural shadow attacking urban Alan Wake (Official Screenshot from the Webpage, January 2010 (via mobgames).

Myth 6: Evil psychiatry

In episode 4, Alan Wakes up in a hospital after supposedly sustaining severe injuries from jumping off a cliff. More precisely he is in the clinic ‘Cauldron Lodge Lake” run by Dr Emil Hartman (who incidentally is the only academic in the game and, presumably not without reason, has been given a Germanname). He pretends he is acting in Alan Wake’s best interest, explaining to him that what he has experienced is just a dream, a hallucination brought about by the trauma of Alice’s death. At first, Alan Wake is torn. Indeed, Hartman’s seemingly well-grounded explanations do sound a lot more convincing than the reality in the game that has played out. Only Wake’s initial antipathy towards Hartman leads him to continue doubting him and to see through his evil game. As it transpires, Hartman is not interested in curing his patients, but rather fosters a relationship of dependency and benefits from his patient’s financial success. An often-repeated accusation levelled at psychiatry is summed up by Karl Kraus: “Psychoanalysis is that mental illness it purports to cure”[20]. This accusation that psychotherapy causes the pathological condition in claims to treat is also evident in the game, exemplified here by nurses ranging from the cynical to malicious. The French writer Michel Houellebecq was even more scathing in his criticism of psychiatry when he wrote: “Under the guise of strengthening the ego, the analysts, in fact, carry out a scandalous destruction of the human being.”[21] Hartman employs the tools of rhetoric and reasoning that he has learned as an academic to help him to pursue unethical and selfish goals. However, he is also more than willing to collaborate with the local criminal Mott.  

Myth 7: The American Way

Just one question remains: Why would a Finnish game studio develop a game set in an archetypal American environment? It would seem that Remedy is catering here to the expectations of an audience conditioned by Netflix and Hollywood: pick-up trucks, rednecks, criminals, diners, trailer parks, motels, etc. Alan Wake by no means the exception: Another game, Until Dawn is set in the Rocky Mountains and delivers every US teen slasher trope imaginable and was developed in the UK. Lollipo Chainsaw, Resident Evil and Silent Hill are all set in small American towns and were all developed in Japan. Why then, is there such a fetishization of American cultural references? Are these games aimed at the American market alone, or has Hollywood succeeded in colonising most of the planet? It is important to exercise caution here, despite the truth of this criticism. As Sören Schroppmeier has so beautifully observed in Grand Theft Auto V, the popular-cultural imaginings of America should not simply be equated with the ‘real’ America: “It is widely acknowledged that the locations featured in the series are fictional, stylised simulations of major American cities. Now these same cities are among the most imagined in the world – they are mythical places so frequently depicted in literature, film and television that their media image largely replaces the real place in the minds of the general public.” [22] In this respect, the American small town is, in a way, less a statement than a language. This grammar allows other statements to be expressed through its grammar, namely, for example, the aforementioned myths.


[1] Michael Plant, Alan Wake: The Interview, in: independant.co.uk, URL: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/alan-wake-the-interview-1964869.html
[2] André Linken, Alan Wake – Gibt es bald neue Details zum Action Thriller? In gamestar.de, URL: https://www.gamestar.de/artikel/alan-wake-gibt-es-bald-neue-details-zum-action-thriller,1944198,kommentar241551.html
[3] Nick Cowen, Remedy’s Saml Lake, in: eurogamer.net, URL: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/remedys-sam-lake-interview
[4] Benj Edwards, 20 Years Of Evolution: Scott Miller And 3D Realms in: gamasutra.com URL: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132501/20_years_of_evolution_scott_.php?page=7
[5] O.A. “Alan-Wake-Entwickler: „Wir wollen die Spieler auf einen Trip schicken!“” in computerbild.de, URL: https://www.computerbild.de/artikel/cbs-News-Xbox-360-Alan-Wake-Interview-Oskari-Haekkinen-5124603.html
[6] Idem.
[7] Ludwig Kietzmann, New Alan Wake confirmed, but it’s not ‘Alan Wake 2’ in: joystiq.com, URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20110829025928/http://www.joystiq.com/2011/05/10/new-alan-wake-confirmed-but-its-not-alan-wake-2
[8] O.A. “Alan-Wake-Entwickler: „Wir wollen die Spieler auf einen Trip schicken!“” in computerbild.de, URL: https://www.computerbild.de/artikel/cbs-News-Xbox-360-Alan-Wake-Interview-Oskari-Haekkinen-5124603.html
[9] Tobias Unterhuber, Spielen Spielen – Doppelte produktive Rezeption in „Alan Wake“, in: paidia.de, URL: http://www.paidia.de/spielen-spielen-doppelte-produktive-rezeption-in-alan-wake/
[10] Victoria Steiner, “Shine a light” – „Alan Wake“ und das Lichtsujet” in paidie.de, URL: http://www.paidia.de/shine-a-light-alan-wake-und-das-lichtsujet/
[11] Robert Baumgartner, “Alan Wake” und die Geister des Pazifischen Nordwestens”, in paidia.de, URL: http://www.paidia.de/alan-wake-und-die-geister-des-pazifischen-nordwestens/
[12] Idem.
[13] Susan Arendt, Review: Alan Wake in escapistmagazine.com, URL: https://v1.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/editorials/reviews/7524-Review-Alan-Wake
[14] Olaf Bleich, Alan allein Wald, in de.ign.com, URL: https://de.ign.com/alan-wake-xbox-360-1/71954/review/alan-wake-xbox-360-test
[15] Tobias Unterhuber, Spielen Spielen – Doppelte produktive Rezeption in „Alan Wake“, in: paidia.de, URL: http://www.paidia.de/spielen-spielen-doppelte-produktive-rezeption-in-alan-wake/;  Brian Crecente, Alan Wake review: Transcending its medium, in kotako.com, URL: https://kotaku.com/alan-wake-review-transcending-its-medium-5527633 und Ellie Gibson, “Alan Wake: The Big Sleep” in eurogamer.net, URL: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/alan-wake-review?page=2
[16] Jeffrey Matulef, “Remedy on why Alan Wake 2 isn’t happening right now” in eurogamer.net, URL: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-05-23-remedy-on-why-alan-wake-2-isnt-happening-right-now
[17] Eugen Pfister, Politische Kommunikation in digitalen Horrorspielen, in hgp.hypotheses.org, URL: https://hgp.hypotheses.org/176
[18] Tobias Unterhuber, Spielen Spielen – Doppelte produktive Rezeption in „Alan Wake“, in: paidia.de, URL: http://www.paidia.de/spielen-spielen-doppelte-produktive-rezeption-in-alan-wake/
[19] Eugen Pfister, Roland Barthes Mythos-Begriff, in: Spiel-Kultur-Wissenschaft, URL: https://spielkult.hypotheses.org/349
[20] Gerald Krieghofer, “”Die Psychoanalyse ist die Krankheit, die sie zu heilen vorgibt.” Karl Kraus (angeblich)” in falschzitate.blogspot.com, URL: http://falschzitate.blogspot.com/2017/10/die-psychoanalyse-ist-die-krankheit-die.html
[21] Michel Houellebecq, Ausweitung der Kampfzone, Berlin 1999, 111.
[22] Sören Schoppmeier, “GTA: Von mythischen Städten, Akteur-Netzwerken und Amerikanischer Kultur, in spielkult.hypotheses.org, URL: https://spielkult.hypotheses.org/2096


Recommended Quotation: Eugen Pfister, The Seven Political Myths in Alan Wake“ in:  Horror-Game-Politics, <http://hgp.hypotheses.org/1736> 25.04.2022.


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