Alan Wake II and Rewriting Reality

Joey Thurmond

Editor’s note:This post includes spoilers for Alan Wake II.

Remedy Entertainment’s sequel video game, Alan Wake II, contains alternate realities, various doppelgängers, and criss-crossing chronologies, all of which frustrate the protagonists’ goal of preventing a malevolent, otherworldly being from making its dark, twisted version of reality come true. It's a contest for authorship over the world’s story—a narratological framing of reality that can help Christians understand what it means to live into God’s grand narrative.

In the game, FBI Special Agent Saga Anderson travels to the quaint town of Bright Falls to investigate cultic activity. The case takes a strange turn when she discovers manuscript pages predicting her arrival—as well as events yet to come. Long-lost writer Alan Wake, who apparently penned the manuscript, manifests out of thin air before her eyes on the shores of the town’s haunted lake. He’s manic and bedraggled, spouting nonsense about writing a story to escape the “Dark Place” and his evil double, Mr. Scratch, who has edited Wake’s fiction to change reality into a horror story “where there are only victims and monsters.” Much to her disbelief, Anderson watches the world slowly conform to this mysterious, disturbing plot, changing people’s memories and transforming others into evil shadows of their former selves.

The game further complicates matters by blurring distinctions between Wake and Scratch. Whereas the first game delved into his writer’s block, alcohol addiction, and emotional abuse, the second game emphasizes their sources: self-doubt and perfectionism. In the Dark Place, Wake’s flaws are reflected and amplified in Scratch, who tricks Wake into believing he can only work within the rules of the horror genre in the Dark Place to get back to the real world. He admits in the previous title, “If all of this was from my mind, then I was the one making it happen. I was literally fighting myself.” However, you learn in the sequel that he forgets nearly everything he does and learns because the Dark Place uses his cynicism to keep him in a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat. “You know how to make things difficult for yourself,” one character remarks. “All these rules. Endless, convoluted loops you insist on going through.”

A narratological framing of reality can help Christians understand what it means to live into God’s story.

Whereas the writer constantly writes himself into a corner, Anderson arrives as an optimistic counterweight to his pessimism, especially with her supernatural power as a “seer” to discern the raw truth. With this ability, her grandfather challenges her by saying, “Don’t be the story. Make the story.” In a similar sense, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes that this is the power of prophets as “truth-tellers against denial and hope-tellers against despair.” Being a prophet isn’t so much about predicting the future, but offering “an invitation and summons to ‘switch stories'” with a “counterscript.” Toward the end of Alan Wake II, Anderson helps the titular hero realize how he perpetuates the nightmare by believing he’s confined to its script. He confesses, “All this horror originates from me. It’s my fault. I had brought the Dark Place here with me.”

Brueggemann isn’t the only theologian who views the world in storytelling terms. N.T. Wright says the Bible can be viewed as a five-act play with Christians as actors, guided by the Holy Spirit’s direction. In this time between Christ’s death on the cross and his return, believers faithfully improvise the penultimate act before the promised conclusion. With this framing, Wright believes the Bible derives its true power from being a story, not just a list of doctrines and rules: “Tell them a story, though, and you invite them to come into a different world; you invite them to share a world-view or better still a ‘God-view. . . . Stories determine how people see themselves and how they see the world.”

When Saga Anderson becomes trapped in the Dark Place, in comes Other Saga: an alter ego who has a distorted voice and black-and-white appearance. The imposter exaggerates Anderson’s inner insecurities, insisting she’s a failure as a detective, friend, and mother. In her Mind Place, the player solves mysteries with a case board, but Other Saga wrests for control of it, filling it with distressing photos and notes that assume the worst of herself and everyone else. When you use a flashlight in her Mind Place, you burn away literal layers of darkness that obscure the true beauty of her past—the real love she has given and received. “I can’t let this place make me question myself,” she proclaims. “The fears in my head are stopping me from trying. From leaving.” Much like Wake, her story’s value becomes clear when she remembers the truth: her life exists within the tapestry of a grand narrative, interwoven with other’s stories.

This is why Christian community is essential to living into God’s story rightly. Drawing from Wright, scholar Sharon W. Short argues that God’s story is a doctrine to live by, but “[i]f the metanarrative of Scripture is to function appropriately as [such], each separate story needs to be situated accurately within its larger context.” Her point is that isolating and elevating certain Bible passages will miss the message found in the overarching narrative. In the same way, Christians will never see the full, godly potential of their stories if they keep them apart from Christian community. Anderson tells Wake, “This isn’t Scratch’s ending, but this isn’t your ending either. This is our ending.” Christians are co-authors with God and each other, invited into actively and communally participating in the greatest story ever told.

Topics: Games