Oh, Alan, look what you've done

on the importance of the process

Oh, Alan, look what you've done

I've just finished Alan Wake 2. Well. We finished the first run; now is the time to play through The Final Draft (kind of like New Game +) and experience it all over again. I can't really move on without writing about it. Alan Wake is now my personality. Where can I get a poster of Ahti and the Janitors? That's what I want to know.

Anyway. I keep thinking about it and I can't move on. So let's do this. I'll keep it pretty spoiler-free so you should be safe to press on, providing you've played the first one.

I first played the first Alan Wake back when it came out in 2010. We bought the collector's edition, having the suspicion that we would like it very much given that we like the work of both David Lynch and Stephen King. And we were right. We were happy to wait for the next one, which is good, because it turned out we'd be waiting for a long time.

And look: it wasn't perfect. I was excited when they introduced the option to tone down the jump scares, because I found that they were happening so often that they were actually detracting from subtler creepy moments. I find these jumpscares to be a bit like Mark Kermode's Quiet Quiet Bang! theory of modern horror movies. They don't scare you, necessarily, but they do start to get on your nerves if they happen too much. We also encountered a lot of performance issues on the Series S. Sometimes the game would just quit out randomly and we'd have to replay a chunk all over again.

But the good things drown these out a thousandfold: the musical scenes, Saga's journey as a character (particularly near the end, which I don't want to spoil, but wow), Ilmo and Jaako's commercials, the surreal experience of exploring Coffee World. I loved it. We waited thirteen years for this, and it was so worth it.

The problems of the working artist are manifold and can include: complete blockage, excessive perfectionism, creative and technical plateaus, libidinal inversion and negative sublimination, rigid thinking, insomnia, distraction and unfocused attention ... - The Creator's Dilemma by Dr. Emil Hartman, The Alan Wake Files

I have writer's block today. Last night, I had a hundred things I wanted to say. I've been sitting at this laptop, writing sentences and deleting them again for an hour already. I am having a chronic nerve pain attack, which does make a difference, but every word is a huge effort. I'm having to push really hard to see through the fog in my brain.

Alan, at the end of the game, has this particular problem dialled up to a million. He's pacing around his desk, spitting out long eloquent sentences about how he needs to write, he must write, he has to write this instant. But he's not actually doing the writing. He's just talking about it.

'Just write then, Alan!' Chris said, pacing around the desk as Alan and listening to his monologue. 'Just sit down and write!'

But I kept laughing because it was so relatable. It was a serious moment, in context, but I couldn't help but find it funny.

Often I'm battling two sides of myself: the side of me that is very much influenced by my upbringing that wants to run away from the slightest sign of pretension, and the nerdy curious side that wants to dig into everything and find meaning in every word. The former stops me from getting lost up my own arse when it comes to the creative process, but it also stops me from being completely free to love art without first having to fight my own prejudices.

I think that the Alan Wake series manages to tread that fine line in a way that I haven't seen in anything else. Taking creativity seriously and holding it lightly at the same time: it's the point of everything, but it's also not putting art on a pedestal.

Alan, stuck in the Dark Place and agonising over what became of Alice, writes and writes and sucks everybody into his story whether they want to be there or not. His writing does matter: it's literally life or death. His words can twist the outcome of reality on the other side.

And yet, his writing is kinda shlocky. He's popular, but maybe he's not actually good. In the midst of trying to escape the Fade Outs and be of some use to Saga, the quality of the writing is really not the pressing issue for Alan. But in the background, you see it. Little signs or graffiti scrawled along the wall. You're a lousy writer. It's in the back of his mind. These insecurities are part of the structure of Alan's current reality. He can never quite escape it, that nagging feeling that he isn't good enough.

There are real things that any artistic person has to deal with. Complete blockage. Excessive perfectionism. Rigid thinking. Alan Wake is the epitome of a man lost in the depths of his own mind. And on the other hand, in amongst this darkness and artistic, existential angst, there's lightness. Wandering through Bright Falls and hearing someone shouting randomly about Return: 'It's a commentary on juggling the responsibilities of motherhood and work!'. Alan's startled face and his huge, terrified eyes as he finds himself being interviewed by Mr.Door yet again. Saga shouting 'fuck, fuck!' during a serious fight.

It descends into madness, I'd say. You find NPCs doing odd things, like a guy sitting on a bench mumbling to himself, twisting around as though in some kind of internal agony. And another person, hiding behind a lamppost for some reason. At one point, Alan and Saga are conversing and they are describing what needs to be done next and for a moment I broke out of the story and said 'This is actually ridiculous if you think about it.' It's overwhelming, surreal, and some of the story threads and symbolism slipped through my fingers the first time around. Too much to take in at once.

I love it. I want to lose myself in it: I want to re-read The Alan Wake Files and play all the DLC when it arrives and maybe play Control while I'm at it. Why not? Let me analyse everything to death. It's fun. It's a surreal and funny and heartfelt world I want to dive into for a while.

I want to talk about Alice for a minute. She's dealing with some dark stuff this time around. Poor Alice: sucked into madness, all because she wanted to hoist Alan out of his writer's block. Now, haunted (tortured, really) by the loss of Alan, she does the only thing that comes naturally to her: she takes photographs.

I think this is the point, isn't it. For me, writing has been a consistent source of comfort since I was six years old. (It's also been a consistent pain in the arse.) But the joy and the release and the understanding that I get from working my way through it, from writing sentences and deleting them and then writing them again a hundred times, this is the point. The process. In a world where everyone wants content, the end result delivered to them on a plate and preferably within a few seconds, the process really matters. Alan, stuck in his writer's room, writing his way to freedom and trying to work through his mistakes. Alice, turning her whole apartment into an exhibit, working her way through the pain and the confusion. Saga, retreating into her Mind Place, using both her creativity and her intellect to find answers. The end product isn't the only thing that matters. It's the slow, subtle shifting of yourself in the process.

I'm asking myself some big questions about art at the moment, especially given a certain topic that I have forbidden myself to talk about for a while. Does it matter if a computer makes art? Is it still art? (Shit, I'm talking about it again.) If I get overwhelmed by how bleak the future might be, if I start overthinking the emptiness of everything, the relentless noise, our constant appetite for content at any cost, this is what keeps me going. The process. The sitting down to write even when I don't always feel like it. The puzzling over. The muttering fuck, fuck! when I feel a bit scared. Laughing at myself, when I remember that it doesn't actually matter in the long run. This is the joy and the privilege that I have as a human being who is alive and has access to a laptop. What a thing, hey? What a thing to be able to do.

Anyway, that's it for this week. You should check out this article by Phil Hornshaw for Game Spot: Alan Wake 2 Is About The Pain Of Realizing You Might Not Be Good Enough. I really enjoyed it.

And if anyone knows where I can pick up an Old Gods of Asgard hoodie it would be much appreciated.