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23 Feb

Alan Wake's Textual Monstrosity

Written by Michael Fuchs
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A Different Kind of Monster: Uncanny Media and Alan Wake's Textual Monstrosity

After its release in the spring of 2010, Alan Wake's story was nearly unanimously celebrated for its innovativeness and complexity. This story centers on the eponymous popular crime fiction, thriller, and horror author suffering from writer's block, who soon discovers that the events unfolding in front of his very eyes are lifted from his yet-to-be-finished (or so he thinks) novel Departure. However, Alan and the player soon come to understand that the majority of Departure has, in fact, been written. The only problem is that Alan cannot remember composing it, for he suffers from a week-long memory gap following his wife's abduction by what at first seems to be a kidnapper but soon turns out to be a dark force that needs a writer in order to be created. In the course of the game, Alan and the player learn that the events in the Pacific Northwestern town of Bright Falls are, in fact, predetermined by Alan's writing. However, this narrative layer is framed by another one, for the game text suggests that Alan-the-writer is nothing but a character in a story authored by Thomas Zane, who repeatedly appears as a God-like narrator figure in the gameworld and metaleptically transgresses diegetic levels. The confusion between and conflation of different storyworlds (and storyworlds-within-storyworlds) extends to a confusion between and conflation of temporal levels, as the past constantly interrupts the present, which, at the end of the day, has already been written.1 In short, Alan Wake presents a very intricate story for any medium, and not just for a video game.

Whereas numerous critics commended Alan Wake's narrative, others considered its evident emphasis on telling a story exemplary of narrative-based video games' neglect of gameplay, which turned out to be rather simplistic and repetitive. While there is some truth to the criticism, I would argue that this assessment reveals a misunderstanding between the developers and critics (and, possibly, players). To be sure, the critique of Alan Wake's apparent prioritization of narrative over gameplay draws on video games' primacy of "participatory interactivity" (Schulzke, 2013), on which scholars such as Markku Eskelinen have elaborated, arguing that "the dominant user function in literature, theatre and film is interpretative, but in games it is the configurative one" (Eskelinen, 2001). In contradistinction, Alan Wake emphasizes what Marcus Schulzke (2013) has called "interpretive interactivity," for the game's linear gameplay, which is constantly interrupted by non-linear narrative sequences, assumes a key role in the intertextual games that Alan Wake plays, as the repetitive gameplay taps into a central convention of the Gothic, while its linear design metaludically highlights the role agency plays in the game.

In the course of this essay, I will thus suggest that Alan Wake's monotonous gameplay supports the game text's meaning, as it is merely one element in the video game's self-reflexive engagement with its role in the Gothic tradition and its meta-reflections on the medium of the video game in view of other media. Indeed, Alan Wake's metatextual incorporation of other media repeatedly produces uncanny effects, thus reinforcing its position within the Gothic tradition. Yet beyond remediating "haunted media" (Sconce, 2000) for their Gothic effects, Alan Wake's apparently limitless text, I will argue, eventually emerges as the game text's defining monster.


While traditionally regarded as a historical phenomenon or a genre in its own right, more recent approaches consider the Gothic a "discursive site" (Miles, 2002, p. 4) that may be employed in various genres, from slave narratives and romances to horror. Despite Gothic tales' heterogeneity, these stories generally "represent[] the subject in a state of deracination, […] rupture, disjunction, fragmentation" (Miles, 2002, p. 3). As a result, Gothic characters are prone to "[c]ompulsive, repetitive, superficially meaningless behaviour" (Miles, 2002, p. 2) that circles around deeper wounds, such as traumatic experiences, which the characters are unable to address properly. The seemingly pointless behavior of compulsive repetition, some scholars have claimed, concerns not only characters in Gothic tales, but also the Gothic mode as such, for it "seems to define itself by constantly recapitulating everything it has been" (O'Brien, 1993, p. 63). Thus, Roger B. Salomon has ascribed meaninglessness to this repetitive pattern, for "rather than encouraging [meaning] generation," Gothic tales "can only dramatize one paradigmatic experience" (2002, pp. 98–99). However, some self-aware Gothic texts, including Alan Wake, turn redundancy and repetition (and, thus, contemporary Gothic's derivativeness) into semantically loaded stylistic devices by emphasizing that a "text does not" simply "belong to a genre," but rather "participates in one or more genres" (Derrida, 1980, p. 57; italics in original). Indeed, Alan Wake's gameworld is not only replete with quite literal doubles, but also with scenes and moments that function as doubles of past Gothic texts. In this way, the game text constantly summons up the ghost of the Gothic.

The video game"s opening cinematic proves exemplary in this context: Against the backdrop of a lighthouse, Alan drives along a deserted coastal road and narrates, "Following a typical nightmare pattern, I was late, desperately trying to reach my destination, a lighthouse, for some urgent reason I couldn't remember. I've been driving too fast down a coastal road to get there" (Remedy, 2010). Suddenly, Alan hits a hitchhiker. He gets out of his car, but the man, who appeared to be seriously injured (if not dead), has disappeared. Apparently relieved (albeit also somewhat confused by the fact) that the "body was gone" (Remedy, 2010), Alan ventures into the woods in an attempt to reach the lighthouse, where he encounters the hitchhiker again.

Gothic doubles occur in myriad form in this brief, not even four-minute-long, sequence: First, when Alan mentions that the unfolding narrative mirrors a "typical nightmare pattern," the voiceover draws attention to how early psychoanalytic horror criticism established analogies between nightmares and the experience of horror. When Alan then hits the hitchhiker, this moment evokes both iconic hitchhikers and accidents on lonely, coastal roads in the history of horror. The intertextual network does not end there, though, for the apparently dead hitchhiker's 'resurrection' only seconds later references American legends featuring ghosts haunting highways and other Gothic motifs, such as the walking dead. In addition, Wake's crossing from the relatively safe, civilized space of the road into the dangerous woods draws on the early days of the American experience, which were characterized by "the battle between civilization and nature, between the mental landscape of European consciousness and the physical and psychical landscape of the New World" (Mogen, Sanders, and Karpinski, 1993, p. 15). Jeffrey Weinstock has elaborated on this idea, noting that in "the American Gothic tradition the wilderness and the frontier" function "as spaces of danger, savagery, and violence—and as uncanny contact zones with racialized and exoticized Others" (2014, p. 28). In the case of Alan Wake, this uncanny Other is the hitchhiker, whom Alan meets on the Pacific coast (i.e., the West) and who tellingly carries an axe, placing the character squarely in the tradition of the frontiersman whose "traits […] had been productive and heroic" (Slotkin, 1998, p. 126) during the early days of the conquest of the North American continent, yet turned "antisocial and dangerous" (Slotkin, 1998, p. 126) once the frontier was closed. Finally, the entire scene is permeated by intradiegetic doubles of a metaleptic kind: In his dream, Alan does not pass an "Entering Bright Falls" road sign, but rather an "Entering Night Springs" sign, indicating that he, in fact, crosses over into the hypodiegetic world of an in-gameworld television show (called Night Springs). This transgression of diegetic layers is echoed some moments later when Alan comes to understand that the hitchhiker "was a character from a story [Alan had] been working on" (Remedy, 2010).2

While all of these aspects are of narrative and cultural relevance, the linear and repetitive gameplay, likewise, stems from Alan Wake's conscious invocation of the American Gothic. When the game was first announced at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Alan Wake was conceived as an open-world game. Yet the developers "soon discovered that the open-world format […] was not well suited to the topography of Gothic horror" (Krzywinska, 2014, p. 510). Indeed, a decade ago, a piece in Edge stressed that "the interactivity of games can undermine their scariness" (2005, p. 70). Instead of emphasizing participatory interactivity, the developers reduced player agency to a minimum and opted for a "temporally critical series of cause and effect chains" in order "to recreate the type of pace, suspense, and dramatic tension found in the American Gothic" (Krzywinska, 2014, p. 510). Thus, Alan Wake's repetitive structure and monotonous gameplay serves to performatively situate the game in the tradition of the (American) Gothic, for not only do the constant repetitions emphasize the centrality of repetition to the Gothic mode, but the repetitions and the game's monotony also lull players into feelings of security and control. In this way, the video game creates "suspense," which becomes "interwoven with the interactive and repetitive nature of the game" (Grodal, 2000, p. 206).3

The playful invocation of the Gothic on the textual and ludic levels relies on the players' awareness of the Gothic modus operandi. In line with Harold Bloom's argument that intertextuality should not be mistaken for the relatively simple tasks of "source hunting" and "allusion counting" (1973, p. 31), the game text does not require players to track down the spectral present absences of the sources alluded to. Rather, Alan Wake's embedment (or maybe even 'entrapment') in the Gothic tradition indicates how the video game, as an individual text, is practically impotent when exposed to the power of the genre's history and conventions. In this respect, the game text's drawing on the Gothic tradition mirrors the experiences of both Alan and the players, who are similarly exposed to the whims of overpowering forces.

This interconnection between avatar, player, and (game) text leads to another idea that Alan Wake's indebtedness to the Gothic tradition emphasizes: liminality. Similar to the ways in which the player's embodied experience of gaming is located in the liminal space between the physical reality occupied by the player and the simulated reality occupied by the avatar, Alan Wake's text (and its meaning) also emerges from the spaces in-between; the spaces between its constitutive elements (words, images, etc.), but also between the text and its surrounding (con)texts, for the fabric of any (inter)text is as much defined by its interwoven knots as by the spaces between the knots. In other words, intertextuality is inherently liminal, for the phenomenon is located in-between texts, as the prefix 'inter' indicates.4 This liminal position always promises disruption, for liminality offers ample opportunity for crossing boundaries. After all, liminality, as originally conceived in anthropology, "is associated with a transgressive middle stage of a ritual: it is […] a threshold, or margin, at which activities and conditions are most uncertain" (Hetherington, 1997, p. 32).

But as much as liminality is connected with intertextuality, in the context of the Gothic, the concept is first and foremost linked to the monster. Considering that the monster is usually "the most complex and interesting character" (Punter, 1996, p. 9) in a Gothic text and thus "becomes a primary focus of interpretation" (Halberstam, 1995, p. 2), one may wonder who Alan Wake's monster truly is. The Dark Force? The taken (i.e., the people possessed by the Dark Force)? Either answer raises a problem, for "[v]ideo game monstrosity is conquerable," as Jaroslav Švelch has illustratively demonstrated (2013, p. 199). Whereas in old media, "[t]he monster always escapes because it refuses easy categorization" (Cohen, 1996, p. 6), "[t]he logic of informatic control has […] colonized even the things we fear" (Švelch, 2013, p. 195). This is to say that video game monsters adhere to a (medium-)specific logic, for their primary purpose is to be defeated. Indeed, the relative ease with which players can dispose of the 'monsters' faced in the course of Alan Wake (other than the 'Nightmare' mode, in which running away often seems the best option) draws players' attention to the true monster encountered in the course of the game: the media.


Media practitioners, critics, and scholars have long been aware of the uncanny effects produced by media and media technologies. For example, upon first seeing the Lumières’ cinematograph in action, a reporter concluded that "death will no longer be absolute" (as cited in Stratton, 1996, p. 83), as the device would allow human beings to exist—to continue 'living'—in spectral form, captured in moving images. Similarly, Roland Barthes famously remarked that photographs "emanat[e a] past reality" (1981, p. 89) and thus make possible the "return of the dead" (1981, p. 9). And Siegbert Soloman Prawer observed that the cinematic "image […] is a kind of spectral double, the simulacrum of landscapes and townscapes filled with human beings that seem to live, to breathe, to talk, and yet are present only through their absence" (1980, p. 50). Indeed, there is no denying that "[e]very new medium is a machine for the production of ghosts" (Peters, 1999, p. 139). While Alan Wake—as a video game—could easily produce ghosts and other monsters (and, in fact, it does), it cleverly employs old-er media in order to generate uncanny effects.

In fact, Alan Wake remediates a number of 'old' media for various purposes, but my journey through the game text’s intermedial landscape will begin with the medium that is usually the first point of reference when discussing the intermedial relationships between video games and other media: film. The game's visual style (and its soundscape) is strongly indebted to horror cinema. Indeed, the extent to which Alan Wake remediates movies is underlined by the fact that "successful dodges are sometimes highlighted with a cinematic moment" (Remedy, 2010), as the tutorial in the video game's opening minutes stresses. In addition, one of the game's achievements on the Xbox 360 is obtained by "perform[ing] a cinematic dodge 20 times" (Remedy, 2010). While these extradiegetic textual markers stress the remediation of cinematic conventions and effects, one element among the cinematic tools and strategies Alan Wake employs deserves special attention: the game's cutscenes.

Like many narrative-based video games, Alan Wake tells much of its story through pre-rendered movies. The constant alternation between gameplay and cinematics on the video game's discursive dimension effects a near endless oscillation between moments in which players are in control and moments in which they are not in control on the game's interactive dimension. These changes in the gameplay situation "creat[e] a dynamic rhythm between self-determination and pre-determination" (Krzywinska, 2002, p. 207). By taking control away from players, the cutscenes "reinforc[e] the sense that a metaphysical ‘authorial’ force is at work, shaping the logic of the game" (Krzywinska, 2002, p. 211). In this way, the cinematics underscore the difference between the (purportedly) non-participatory nature of cinema spectatorship, in which the audience is traditionally thought to be "chained, captured, or captivated" (Baudry, 1974, p. 352) by the cinematic apparatus, and video games' participatory interactivity. However, this feeling of losing control not only operates on the level of interaction (as players no longer control their avatar during the cutscenes), but also on the narrative level. After all, Alan gradually realizes that he is merely a character in a story. Thus, this lack of control (and, by extension, player agency) becomes one of the main sources of horror in the game. Indeed, while the elusive Dark Force, which haunts Bright Falls and which has kidnapped Alan's wife, assumes the role of the game text's main antagonist, the central problem faced by players (and Alan) is a feeling of helplessness, a feeling that is reinforced by the video game's remediation of cinematic storytelling in order to quite literally rob the players of control. Effectively, the medium of film, incorporated into the video game, turns players into patients who are acted upon rather than agents who act.

Beyond highlighting the players' (and Alan's) lack of agency, cutscenes also introduce and elaborate on the important role writing assumes in the game text. The significance of writing is established as early as the opening cinematic, in which Alan narrates:

Alan's voiceover not only openly acknowledges Stephen King's influences from the get-go, but, moreover, the minimal information players obtain about the character they control is that Alan is a writer. Of course, the fact that this is the only piece of information communicated about the character underlines its significance. Unsurprisingly, Alan's role as a writer takes center stage in the narrative, for the events unfolding in Alan Wake's gameworld follow the blueprint provided by Alan's novel Departure.

In order to highlight the diegetic doubling of Departure in the 'real' world of Bright Falls, numerous pages of the novel's manuscript are scattered throughout the gameworld. Following Thomas Vogler, these simulated manuscripts may be referred to as 'book objects'. As Vogler explains, 'book objects' are "not books, even though their whole being exists in relation to the book," for these "figurative constructs […] represent[], imitat[e], or violat[e]" the concept of 'the book' and its functions in culture (2000, p. 459). Johanna Drucker has elaborated on Vogler's ideas and suggested that one of the primary functions of representing books in electronic media is what she calls the "book-as-repository-of-secret-knowledge cliché[]" (2008, p. 220). This notion of books containing secret knowledge assumes two key functions in Alan Wake. First, the manuscript pages communicate background information that will remain unbeknownst to players not reading them. More importantly, however, reading the pages often foreshadows things to come, for Departure already 'knows' the future. A little over halfway through episode two, for example, Alan finds the following manuscript page:

It comes to no surprise that only seconds later, Alan (and the player) hears the sound of a chainsaw and is attacked. Not only does the past narration create an uncanny effect here, as past, present, and future eerily become one, but, moreover, the conflation of temporal levels goes hand in hand with a conflation of diegetic levels, as the embedded narrative embodied by the manuscript page (which is, in fact, not only embedded in the game, but at the same time embeds the story of the game) not simply foreshadows, but, indeed, performs the diegetic action.

This confusion of diegetic layers culminates toward the end of the game (and is continued in the two 'extras'), as objects in the gameworld are represented as words that are performatively written into existence (to the sound of a typewriter) when Alan points his flashlight at the words, which float around in his reality. Whereas the narrative generally stresses that Alan is merely an element in a finished story, here, Alan is writing the story in the very moment he is experiencing it—without the ability to significantly alter it, though. In this way, the game metaludically reflects on the experience of the player, who, like Alan, may perform certain actions, which were, however, hard-coded into the software. Much like the player can only (re-)perform the actions intended by the programmers, Alan can only take the steps he had laid out in his manuscript. Alan Wake's incorporation of the medium of the book thus buttresses both Alan's feeling of helplessness in view of the supernatural forces he encounters and the players' powerlessness vis-à-vis the game's underlying code, as they come to understand that "all playing is a being-played. The attraction of a game, the fascination it exerts, consists precisely in the fact that the game masters the players" (Gadamer, 2004, p. 104). In view of Hans-Georg Gadamer's words, it seems noteworthy that Isabel Cristina Pinedo described the experience of watching horror movies "as an exercise in mastery, in which controlled loss substitutes for loss of control" (1996, p. 26). In Alan Wake, this 'exercise in mastery' is reinforced by the participatory interaction characteristic of video games.

However, Alan Wake's quarreling with control does not end there. After all, Alan finds his double from another spatio-temporal dimension caught on images displayed on various screens. This alter-Alan is apparently locked up in a small room (or, possibly, in the screens), where he is walking around or working on his manuscript. In either case, the second Alan provides insights into Alan's inner life. More importantly, however, the game text draws on "analogue media's propensity for being corrupted" in order "to communicate a sense of […] mental disintegration" (Kirkland, 2007, p. 410) in these scenes. When Alan sees his double on a screen for the first time, he comments (not coincidentally), "An old portable TV on the shelf had come alive by itself. Impossibly, I could see myself on the screen, talking like a madman" (Remedy, 2010). A little later, he adds, "It'd been me on the TV, talking crazy. Was I losing my mind?" (Remedy, 2010). Indeed, the existence of multiple Alans in different media within the diegetic world appears to provide a relatively straightforward answer to this question, which transforms the issue of control into a question of control of both one's body and mind.

On the other hand, offering glimpses into Alan's thoughts and feelings through the intermediary of film draws on the "institutionalized authority in which cinema […] is historically implicated," especially cinema's use "as a tool of scientific rationality" (Kirkland, 2009, p. 119). By looking at the filmic representations of alter-Alan, Alan and the player effectively assume the role of an analyst whose "medical gaze" (Foucault, 2003) allows him to create distance between himself and the patient and thus to uncover the heart of the problem. In Alan Wake, however, both Alan and the player can only hazard a guess as to what is 'really' going on. This ambiguity is the game text's point, though, for not only can there be no (or, for that matter, too many possible) explanation(s) for the mystery surrounding the connection between alter-Alan and Alan, but also the true source of horror remains elusive. In this way, the 'straightforward' answer mentioned toward the end of the previous paragraph, in fact, only raises further questions.

In addition to seeing his Gothic doubles on various screens in the gameworld, Alan watches a recording of his performance on The Harry Garret Show (a late-night show) in a flashback that opens the video game's sixth episode. In the show, Alan is interviewed about his then-most recent book, The Sudden Stop. Tellingly, Sam Lake, the game's writer, is sitting next to Alan on the interviewee couch. While, on one level, The Harry Garret Show serves to flesh out Alan's character and points toward aspects in the Alan Wake universe that could have been picked up in transmedia expansions, the inclusion of the game's writer Sam Lake on the television-show-within-the-video-game functions as an authorial self-insertion that leaves behind a trace, a "sign […] left in the text by the author" (Gaines, 2002, p. 94). Yet beyond underlining the writer's spectral traces (which raises the question of authorship in the context of a massively collaborative medium), the television show suddenly confronts players with actor Ilkka Villi, who plays Alan in a television show watched by the animated Alan. This situation creates an uncanny Gothic double of a different kind, for Villi's presence on the intradiegetic flat screen not only draws the player's attention to the video game's production process, but also highlights the continuous presence of Villi's specter in the video game, as he served as the model for the animated Alan (motion capturing and capturing of facial expressions included).

The Harry Garret Show is, however, not the only intradiegetic television show, for the gameworld has its own mystery show called Night Springs, which players can watch on television screens scattered across the gameworld. As the game's narrative unfolds, the television show's plots become increasingly interconnected with the game's story, blurring the borderlines between the fiction of the TV show and the 'reality' of the events in Bright Falls in the process. Night Springs' aesthetics, however, undermine this ontological nebulosity, for the show-within-the-game is live-action material, which provides a stark contrast to the animated reality of Bright Falls. The crisp images of Alan's reality are thus juxtaposed with the bad image quality of Night Springs, which is broadcast in black and white and features blurry images that suffer from various forms of noise. Implicitly, these disadvantages of (especially analog) television are explained by the fact that Night Springs is implicated in analog broadcasting (most probably also production) technologies, which highlights that the medium of television "constitute[s] the arcane, the chaotic, the corruptible" (Kirkland, 2009, p. 123). But beyond highlighting differences between the medium of video games and the medium of television, the final word in the quotation taken from Ewan Kirkland proves central to another function of the in-gameworld television show, for the antiquated technology opens the door to a different dimension and allows the fiction of the television show to segue into the diegetic reality (and/or vice-versa). In this way, television becomes directly responsible for causing "an uncanny effect" by erasing "the distinction between imagination and reality" (Freud, 2001, p. 244).

In the world of Alan Wake, Night Springs is, however, not simply a TV show, but rather part of an in-universe transmedia franchise featuring board games, video games, and—possibly—other media texts. In this context, Alan Wake's engagement with its surrounding mediascape comes full circle, for at one point, Alan stumbles upon an Xbox 360 console. Wake is thus confronted with the material object that effectively constructs his reality.5 At this moment, the different media technologies remediated in the video game become symbolically re-integrated into the material object of the video gaming console, and Alan Wake suggests that twenty-first-century Westerners' existence is intricately tied to virtual identities performed in various media. In effect, the game text thus highlights that Westerners' subjectivity has become extremely "fragmented, decentered, and schizophrenic" (Sconce, 2000, p. 171).

Alan Wake as a Monstrous Text

Alan Wake's invocation of the Gothic's past, the relative insignificance of the monsters players have to defeat in the course of the game, and the game text's permeation by spectral traces of other media—none of these features alone would turn Alan Wake into a particularly innovative (or interesting, for that matter) example of the early-twenty-first-century Gothic, for all of these strategies had been well established prior to Alan Wake's release in 2010. Indeed, when faced with Alan Wake's textual playfulness and derivativeness, which combine to overshadow the "staple emotional responses" (Botting, 2013, p. 6) expected of Gothic texts, some scholars might feel tempted to dismiss the video game as characteristic of the "candygothic" (Botting, 2001) trend they see running rampant in contemporary culture, which epitomizes the Gothic's loss of "its older intensity" (Botting, 2002, p. 287).

However, I detect a peculiarity which characterizes Alan Wake: Since the uncanny, monstrous media are part and parcel of Alan Wake, the video game is just as much—if not more—monstrous; the true monster of Alan Wake is, indeed, Alan Wake. Granted, narratologists have employed terms such as "monstrous" (Gibson, 1996) and "savage" (Currie, 1998) when trying to define postmodernist narratives. These scholars primarily connected postmodernism's 'monstrosity' to its deviation from earlier narrative conventions. However, as Tamer Thabet has observed, the "textual anarchy" typical of postmodernism "does not apply to game fictions" (2011, p. 102), for "the text in a computer game does have a very strict structure" (2011, p. 103). But Andrew Gibson hinted at a different dimension of narrative monstrosity when he wrote, "The narrative itself keeps on developing curious and peculiar growths" (1996, p. 266). Here, Gibson's notion of monstrosity approaches the type of monstrosity I have in mind when terming Alan Wake 'monstrous', for Alan Wake's monstrosity is linked to the video game's Gothic roots.

Judith Halberstam suggested that one of the Gothic's defining characteristics is that "[o]ne space […] feeds upon another" (1995, p. 35). The imagery employed by Halberstam implies that "the Gothic is best defined […] by subversion or transgression of boundaries" with the aim of "question[ing], defin[ing], and redefin[ing] them" (Taylor, 2009, p. 49). Since the Gothic "produce[s] a symbol for [its] interpretive mayhem in the body of the monster" (Halberstam, 1995, p. 2), the monster, unsurprisingly, emerges as a "mixed category," which "resists any classification" and instead "demand[s …] a 'system' allowing polyphony" (Cohen, 1996, p. 7). Thus, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen continues, the monster "offers an […] invitation to explore […] new and interconnected methods of perceiving the world" (1996, p. 7).

Of course, some of the quotations in the previous paragraph echo discussions surrounding the concept of intertextuality (especially when it emerged in the 1960s).6 However, my point here is that Alan Wake's text is exactly such a 'mixed category' that 'resists classification'. Like a cannibal (or vampire, for that matter), Alan Wake incorporates other media, as its ludo-narrative existence emerges not only from the interplay between Alan Wake, the Gothic tradition it draws on, and the surrounding mediascape, but also from the—both participatory and interpretive—interaction between text and user. In this way, the affordances of the medium of the video game highlight that any text "is experienced only in an activity of production" (Barthes, 1977, p. 157; original in italics).

But if Alan Wake is monstrous, the game text raises another question: Since Alan Wake requires the player's "practical collaboration" (Barthes, 1977, p. 163) for its coming-into-(virtual-)being, who is the monster here? Alan Wake? Or the humanoid creature sitting in front of the screen, which not only assumes a monstrous existence by occupying a liminal zone between physical and virtual reality, but also creates the monstrous text? In other words, who is the 'true' monster: Frankenstein or Frankenstein's creature?


1 For a more detailed discussion of metalepses in Alan Wake, see Fuchs (2013). | return to main text |
2 For a more detailed discussion of doubles in Alan Wake, see Fuchs (2012). | return to main text |
3 Note, however, that Shane Denson and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann have stressed that "through their familiar segmentation into distinct levels or worlds," video games "establish[] a serial schema of repetition and variation at the very heart of gameplay" (2013, p. 2). From this perspective, repetition is not only characteristic of video games that draw on the Gothic, but video games at large. | return to main text |
4 According to Julia Kristeva, intertextuality may, tellingly, be considered a "passage from one signifying system to another" (1984, p. 60, my emphasis). Barthes, likewise, suggested that a text is "a passage, an overcrossing" (1977, p. 159). | return to main text |
5 Arguably, the effect is not the same when playing the PC version of the game. Here, the inclusion of an Xbox 360 in the gameworld may even suggest the PC's ability to incorporate (or simulate) video game consoles. | return to main text |
6 Roland Barthes noted that the re-focus on the text rather than the work was "obtained by the […] overturning of former categories" (1977, p. 156). | return to main text |


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