damonpackwood

Alan Wake Lost in Limbo; Part 1: Overview

In Film, video games on September 17, 2010 at 3:08 am

I played Alan Wake. I didn’t like it.

Not liking the game once the credits began to roll bothered me. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. I read forums about Wake and most people seemed to like it; some of them even loved it. I read the critical reviews and I saw the same type of responses. For the most part, they enjoyed the game.

I didn’t like it.

Then I played Limbo – and it all made sense.

In its opening sequence, Alan Wake uses a Stephen King quote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” King mentions this in an article he wrote for Entertainment Weekly a year ago and it’s a great line – really it is. However, he said a lot of things in his article, “Why Big Studio Releases Are Rare to Scare.” In fact, the two-page article should serve as a blueprint on how to create a good horror game. Instead, Remedy paste’s on this quote to the beginning of the game almost as a warning to the player. “If the story of this game doesn’t make any sense – no worries – according to Mr. Master of Horror, Stephen King, it isn’t supposed to.”

Remedy’s inclusion of King’s quote reminded me of college papers I use to get C’s on. The professor would compliment me on my ability to regurgitate information I snatched from the text-books but criticize me on my inability to demonstrate that I understood any of it.

For starters, King insisted that most really good horror films are low budget affairs. However, your average Hollywood horror flick is a glossy event movie hiding behind special effects and big name actors that equal high production costs. In turn, the movies’ narrative has to provide an explanation of everything, wrapping the movie up in a nice pretty bow. This is what King called “antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Limbo is a low budget game. Alan Wake, by contrast is not.

What terrifies people is personal. We hide them away in the corners of ourselves and we don’t want them disturbed. But, when we do seek to have them disturbed it is an intimate and private affair and the bombastic nature of a big budget film is almost “intrusive.” Or, as King describes: “Those movies blast our emotions and imaginations, instead of caressing them with a knife.”

Of course, Stephen King is talking about movies. Both Alan Wake and Limbo are video games that use different methods to interact with its “audience”. So, how does King’s theory of good horror translate to these two games?

[Check out Alan Wake Lost in Limbo; Part 2: History & Design, here]

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  1. […] September I wrote a piece discussing Stephen Kings’ opinion of Hollywood horror movies and how that related to horror […]

  2. “Remedy paste’s on this quote to the beginning of the game almost as a warning to the player. ‘If the story of this game doesn’t make any sense – no worries – according to Mr. Master of Horror, Stephen King, it isn’t supposed to.'”

    Well it isn’t supposed to make sense in the beginning of it! And that’s regardless of what Stephen King thinks, quite frankly. However, by the end of ‘Alan Wake’, most thinking individuals will find plenty of sense in the majority of the story, as well as countless workable interpretations of the remainder. Alan Wake found a happy medium between over-explaining and over-exhausting with mysteries that are never solved or solvable. Not sure about this Limbo game you’re comparing it to, but I do hope you know what you’re doing by making a comparison of Alan Wake to ANYTHING…

    “Limbo is a low budget game. Alan Wake, by contrast is not.”

    Wow. What a fault you have found…

    • I am a thinking individual that does not think (pun intended) Alan Wake makes a lot of sense, but that wasn’t the only problem I had with it. I hear what you’re saying but, I have yet to read anything to change my mind. The whole point of the piece was to illustrate that Remedy, in my humble opinion, mistakenly plucked a quote from an important analysis of horror by Stephen King. They didn’t get the point. Lately, there have been a crop of horror titles that critics and gamers are going crazy over (Slender, Amnesia, etc). What do they all have in common? They’re all low-budget independent games. Check out Kings article. These indie horror games fit his definition perfectly. Alan Wake? Not so much. Limbo, on the other hand, never tells the user anything, not even how to play, and its brilliant! It wants to make you uncomfortable not keep you guessing, and that is horror. There are sequences in that game that still give me the chills.

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