Alan Wake is a game that has always spoken to me, and is one of the few games to give me nightmares. It stars a writer plagued by writer’s block, and starts out with a nightmare in which one of his characters is a shadowy monster attacking him, both physically and verbally with such taunts as “the only reason your work is any good is because of your editor”. I’m paraphrasing as I can’t remember the exact line, but you can imagine that line packs a punch in the gut for any writer. The game already made references to Stephen King, and this bit brought back fond memories of The Dark Half, one of my favourites of his when I was growing up. Yes, I was one of those kids who was in the King and Koontz section early on. I used to want to write horror, but I’ve never had the skills for it.
When the game came out, I was probably in a bout of block myself, and struggling in silence about it as I didn’t talk about my writing with my partner, or my friends, and I didn’t have the rich group of online friends I have now who I feel safe sharing those feelings with. They say writing is a solitary act, but I’ve since learned it doesn’t have to be. We can have a community, and be the better for it. But when Alice tries to give Alan the typewriter, after they both agreed that this was to be a break away from his work, away from the guilt of not writing? I understood why he was angry. I think I remember my partner feeling that he was overreacting, another red flag not to talk about my own feelings. I could understand how for Alan it was a breach of his trust, of their agreement to this being a period of recovery for him. To Alan, this was Alice saying she knew better for him about his creative process. I know that Alice thought she was helping, but when you’re drowning in that much guilt and anger and frustration about your inability to create, having someone tell you, “well, just try!” It doesn’t help. You’re not ready, not open to that, and it just makes you feel worse because now you can add on that you’re disappointing someone you care about to that pile of negative feelings. Add another weight to the ropes pulling you down under the water.
I have the special edition box set of the game, which came with an in-universe book, that was called “The Alan Wake Files”. It’s supposed to be the gripping journey of another writer following in the tracks of missing Alan Wake to unravel the events of the past. One of the sections has excerpts from “The Creator’s Dilemma”, a book written by a psychotherapist in the game who runs a sort of creator’s asylum that Alan’s wife was in communication with. There were some things in this section of the book that amused me, because they rang true as to how I feel when writing. Dr. Hartman describes his patients as saying they feel like fakes, like imposters, because they didn’t create their best works, but instead “they were simply the instrument of a larger creative force — an author who took possession of their bodies and minds to create their greatest works. It came easily and as if by no effort of their own… it did not come from me, it came through me.” This part felt so true to me. I often don’t even remember what I’ve written when I’ve reached “flow state”. I even call my writing “channeling the void”.
Dr. Hartman’s “Creator’s Dilemma” is how the creator freezes up, caught up in their own inadequacies to properly create from nothing, frozen forever in the moment of perfectionism that keeps them from what he calls Creatio Ex Nihlio. All creators are gods, he believes, “perhaps gods of lesser universes, but divine authors all the same.” And it’s true, isn’t it? For a fictional companion to a video game, it sure does hit the nail on the head. (Written September 2021)