Dreaming, but definitely AWake

February 29 came around last fortnight, and I had big big plans for it. The kind of big plans that I actually write down, with checkboxes besides them. Lists, I hate. Checkboxes, I like. 29-2 is such an unusual exception to our otherwise rigid and inflexible view of the world, I wanted to make something of it. In any other area of our domain, if we have a rule of measurement, there’s no exceptions*. We don’t have a special number of metres at which we throw in an arbitrary centimetre, just because. We don’t own funny-shaped measuring cups for the leap cup, and the quantity it demands to be known for. Every minute has sixty seconds, and there is always sixty of them to the hour. But years? Every four we decide to cram one more day in. I know there’s an astrological reason behind it, but it’s the ONLY measurement we have this odd, flexibility with.

As it turned out, my plans were for nought – reality had it’s own thoughts on the matter. Firstly, 29/2 fell on a work day, and secondly I was home sick and snifflingly trying to rest through the head-spinning delirium that accompanied such illness. (I get vertigo symptoms a lot of the time when sick. Maybe due to childhood inner-ear issues. Maybe because I hallucinate I am James Stewart.)

My plan for this unusual day was to spend it replaying a game that has left an indelible mark on my thoughts regarding reality, dreams, and the impacts one can have on the other. Sadly, this is not Inception: The Game (which I would also probably play the hell out of), but rather a quirky proposal that combined third-person adventure with a tight narrative, the supernatural, and so, so, SO many loving references to recent pop-culture. The plan for February 29, the day that doesn’t exist, was to play the entire story of Alan Wake, the author trapped in a world that may not exist.

For those unfamiliar with the game, author Alan Wake and his wife head to a cabin in the woods for a sabbatical, after writer’s block and bad press have taken their toll on the Wake relationship. Soon after arrival in the Twin Peaks-ish town of Bright Falls, things start getting weird, culminating with Alice W being kidnapped, and Alan fighting a Dark Presence of shadow-fueled malevolence, using conventional weapons, and light sources. It’s a bit unique like that.

So the premise and narrative pushes a lot of my good buttons, but it’s the gestalt that really gets me. The game is broken into episodes, like a tv show, to the point that the game is effectively Season 1. And like a good TV show, my plan was to watch it back to back in a single seating, an endurance run that would upset my mother if she knew I entertained such lazy ideas.

But the TV ideas are not contained to references and story structure. Alan often stumbles across TV sets that allow him to watch segments of a Twilight Zone-ish show called “Night Springs”. In the game’s continuity, Alan wrote for the TV series. The episodes glimpsed appear almost pertinent to Alan’s situation, almost TOO intentional.

And then Alan is awake in the daylight, and he has a whole host of other problems that don’t start with shadows and end in scrambling for light sources.

The beauty of Alan’s story is the narrative, but it’s delivered through a linear game that feels almost open-world. There’s just enough ambiguity regarding the walls of the “point a to point b” corridor, that you will still get the thrill of heading off the beaten path, only to find the story had you in an iron vice grip the whole-damn-time. The story knew you’d try that – the story is methodical, and premeditated. And then there’s the manuscript Alan is collecting – it too is counting your paces and knowing where you are heading.

The script may well be the story you are in. Head just exploded? Yeah, it’ll do that.

To tell much more about the plot would reveal far too much, but looking back on it as the answer to spending an impossible day, it fits just right. I would have happily sat ensconsed in my couch, navigating the dimly lit twilight world of Bright Falls, gun ready and flash-light searching for danger. Like Alan too, I would have felt completely in control, but with a nagging sensation of being someone’s else’s play thing, every step of the way.

How you doing? Done anything today that may not have been due to your own design? I bet you have…

*Okay, there is, but I simply cannot explain “Baker’s Dozens”.

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~ by nick on March 13, 2012.

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