Let’s talk about Alan Wake

by Mitchell Dyer

My initial reaction to the end of Alan Wake was, as those who’ve played it will understand, something along the lines of unparalleled confusion. I also didn’t like it. The game spends so long building up to it, foreshadowing it, promising closure to everything you’ve just endured. Closure? No. Not even close. In fact, it not only fails to solve the mystery at hand, but adds new layers to its already intimidating depth.

Now that I’ve had time to sink it in, I can’t think of a better way to close a videogame. Few endings have left me as hungry for more of the same story as Alan Wake. And I don’t mean going back to uncover secrets; I mean more, as in a continuation. Fortunately, the structure of Alan Wake facilitates such a desire like no other game. More on that in a bit.

Why I consider the ending to be one of the best isn’t because of anything it does, but rather what it doesn’t do. And it all ties back to the very first words uttered in the game’s opening cinematic:

Stephen King once wrote that “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”


I’m a writer, but I’m not a fiction writer. I don’t properly understand how to structure a story, how to build a narrative, and how to effectively convey character emotions. Someone like Brad Gallaway, however, who writes superb game critiques as well as dabbles in writing novels and other creative works, gets that side of it. I spoke to Mr. Gallaway this morning on Twitter, and we had a solid discussion about Wake‘s story as a whole. Brad referred to it as “sloppy,” “nonsensical,” and “weak.” Brad sees a lot of missed potential, especially with regard to the manuscript pages. I see where he’s coming from, but I disagree.

I attribute this to ignorance, and I’m grateful for that gap of knowledge. Because I understand consumption more so than creation, I thoroughly enjoyed Alan Wake, and, as a result, I absolutely adore its gibberish ending as well. I have a feeling that those with an aware and critical eye, like Brad Gallaway, didn’t. The ending, more so than the rest of the game, I feel, is a sloppy, nonsensical mess. But as someone whose knowledge of storytelling is limited to reading about it (in King’s On Writing, no less) the Stephen King quote resonated with me, and I look back on that as both an inspiration for Alan Wake‘s story as a whole, and as a safety net.

By relying on that introductory mention, Remedy doesn’t need to resolve the game’s story. Call it a cop-out if you must, but I think that, as a universe, Alan Wake benefits from not completing its story. The television show presentation means that each chapter ends on a cliffhanger. I believe most players will misinterpret the sixth chapter as the conclusion of the story, rather than just another chapter with another “I want to see what happens next” ending.

It leaves a lot of things open. Is Rose the new Jagger? What role will Nightingale play? Where is Alan, and what did writing himself out of existence do to the universe? A friend mentioned to me that Alan’s “Mr. Scratch” reference during his little doppelganger sequence is a name used for Satan, possibly indicating that Alan’s been touched by the Dark Presence as well. Even if I didn’t like the way Remedy handled the story in Alan Wake, I’m so interested in the core of the fiction that I’m anxious to see some expansions (or, God forbid, some answers) to these mysteries.

We know that downloadable content is coming, so it’s obvious that Alan Wake is around, even if he’s not alive. These downloadable content packs probably shouldn’t conclude the story either. I want them to function as a continuation of the story I loved, and to expand on the ending I’m so mystified by. The disappearance of Alan Wake is an awesome way to end the episode, or, if it’s how Remedy is presenting it, the first season. Let’s see where that goes. Then, let’s keep seeing where that goes with more downloadable episodes, until the inevitable sequel comes along to do whatever it wants to do.

Galllaway could be completely right — he probably is, for all I know. And his perseverance to improve the industry standard is incredibly admirable.  But I’m glad it’s he who’s making the push for a higher bar.  In this rare instance, I appreciate my ignorance toward an area of writing because it allows me to enjoy things I might otherwise dislike. And that adds up to a lot, especially considering the ending and the incoming episode expansions.

What do you think? Did you dig the ending, did you hate the story? What would you have done differently, and what are you looking forward to in the upcoming downloadable content?