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Editor’s Note: This Article Contains Mild Spoilers for Alan Wake and Alan Wake 2

You sit down to write a novel. You write a draft. You find it’s terrible and have to fix it. You write another draft. You realize you shouldn’t have “fixed” some of the things from the first draft. You write another draft. You find it’s terrible and have to fix it. You write another draft.

Your name may or may not be Alan Wake, but this is your life.

Alan Wake 2 is a horror game about the supernatural, but for any artist, the banal reality of the titular character when it comes to his struggles with writing can be a horror of their own. While writer’s block, imposter syndrome, and being too critical of one’s own work will easily make an artist tremble in fear, there is another, more sinister terror which lies beneath the surface:

When your work consumes you.

It’s not a loop, it’s a spiral

For those who aren’t artists, any piece of art may seem like magic. This assumption may be true in a way, but art doesn’t pop out of an artist fully formed. For many artists, their work is a reflection of years of practice and many attempts over and over again. Just one piece could go through five or more drafts.

It truly is a loop. And for those who have stared at a piece of their own art for just a bit too long, that loop can quickly become a spiral into self-hate.

In Alan Wake 2, the titular writer plays through the loop of creating a piece of art through the drafts he attempts to write, and then play out, of his novel which is meant to get Wake out of the Dark Place. In each draft, Wake finds himself in a dreaded process of writing, editing, and then attempting to stop himself from editing.

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In addition, as Wake writes each draft darker than the previous one, convinced that the darkness will allow him to pull himself out of his situation. Similarly, the “tortured artist” stereotype, whether that artist be starved, broken or sleep-deprived, gives the illusion to many beginning -or even seasoned- artists that one must continue to suffer for their art in order for the art to be better.

Even if that suffering consumes them.

It’s time for a perspective shift: from artist to art

Fiction and reality blend into one another in a morbid dance in Alan Wake 2, but for some artists, it doesn’t take a supernatural lake of darkness to make the lines between the two blur. Art reflects reality, and in turn, reality reflects art.

Wake speaks to the game’s other protagonist, Saga Anderson, through a series of visions. He then decides to alter his narrative to include Anderson more in the narrative, which in turn, creates the conditions necessary for the visions to occur in the first place.

Another loop.

Artists often find their realities will affect their work and vice versa. The impact may seem innocent enough when a sad poet writes sad poetry or a happy painting makes a painter a bit happier, but more serious impacts can occur just as easily.

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The emotions of the art consumes the artist, just as Wake’s writing in the story consumes Alan and lives of the people around him. 

And it’s not just Alan. Alan’s wife, Alice, is also an artist. In Alan Wake 2, we see snippets of her newest art installation, which is an attempt to free herself from the guilt and trauma from losing Alan at the end of the first game.

But instead of freeing herself, Alice becomes consumed by the memories of what happened to Alan, until she decides to take things into her own hands and attempt to save him. Even if it means plunging herself back into her darkest fears.

Don’t be the story, make the story

This may seem to be a story of doom and gloom, but fret not: this is a game about hope. About self-preservation.

Does Alan have to keep writing to keep the darkness at bay, or does his writing make it worse? Should the other artists who have found themselves at the mercy of the Dark Presence just give up? Would anyone care if you just stopped creating?

Thirteen years didn’t stop Alan Wake writer Sam Lake from continuing to create the narrative he wished so badly to show the world. Depression didn’t stop Vincent van Gogh from painting his masterpieces. So many artists have faced pain, have faced darkness, but they have still created.

Creation, whether it be a novel, a painting, or even a batch of cookies, is one of the things that makes us human. But we cannot let our creations take control. As Alan fought tooth and nail to write the ending he needed, we too need to take control of our stories, whether within or out of the context of our art.

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Alan Wake 2 has been one of the most important games for me in a while. As a writer myself, I know creating can sometimes be a lonely existence, one where you feel as if you are always giving and never being given something in return. But if your creation touches even one person out there, gives some hope or enjoyment or solace, then your creation is worth the world in the end.

It’s okay if the one person that your creation touches is you.