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Editor’s Note: This feature is full of spoilers for Alan Wake and Bright Falls. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
More often than not, videogames are used as a medium to convey a story to a player. In this hi-def era of gaming, developers are sometimes compelled to move the plot in their games forward with scintillating cutscenes. This often leaves players with a kabob in the form of a game disc — alternating morsels of gameplay and cutscene. This method of telling a story may or may not leave the player satisfied, but there are merits to implementing other narrative devices in games.
Narrative devices are used in film and literature in order to feed certain information to the audience in such a way that they receive the intended message, theme, or idea behind a piece of work in way that will optimize the experience. For example, the careful pacing of flashbacks in American History X highlighted certain events that were occuring in the film’s “present time.” This pacing, the flashbacks, and the lack of color in the flashbacks helped set a certain mood in the audience and told the story in a more effective way.
However, the use of the narrative device is not only limited to the director or author. Videogame developers use narrative devices when they write and design games. Alan Wake is one game in which players are allowed to learn about the story through a variety of methods. In designing its game this way, Remedy has provided players with a single, enriched experience in the form of a layered story. Each layer — a narrative device — is intended to unveil information or set mood and tone for the player. As a result, Alan Wake shined not only because of the story it told, but how it was told. The use of narrative devices in Alan Wake made for a more enriched story, allowing players to experience the game and learn about the plot and setting in a myriad of ways.
Ironically (for a game that is about a book), radios and televisions play a big role in setting the mood in Alan Wake. As the player advances through each episode and explores different areas of Bright Falls, they come across radios and televisions — both with their own purpose — littered around the landscape. On a superficial level, these are collectibles since finding them all and turning them on will net you some achievement points. But they do divulge a significant amount of information to players, possibly affecting their mood in the process.
Radios usually allow the player to listen in on public broadcasts or broadcasts between police offers on private frequencies. Pat Maine is the host of a late-night talk radio show in Bright Falls on KBF-FM. Maine’s relationship with Wake is interesting because as the player ventures out into the wilderness at night, it’s always certain that Maine is up doing his talk show. Unfortunately, Pat Maine is oblivious to the horrors that Wake has seen at night. Early in the game, someone calls into Maine’s radio show to have him ask people to keep an eye out for his dog. It turns out that the dog heard something, ran off after it, and never came back. Maine dismisses it as a rabbit. But as he listens, Wake knows that the dog isn’t coming back. This broadcast may stir frustration within the player due to the ignorance of the other NPCs, and the fate of the dog reminds the player of what they have awaiting them when they leave their safe haven.
Televisions in Alan Wake serve two main purposes. As a psyhological thriller, the player never fully comprehends what’s happening with respect to the story until its denouement and conclusion. Every now and then, a television will act as a window that allows the player to take a glance into Wake’s mind — his subconscious. At the game’s start, Wake wakes up in a crashed car only to find out that he has lost a full week. Eventually, he finds out that the manuscript pages that he has been finding were actually written by him during the past 7 days. Some light is shed on the manuscript pages as Wake turns on certain televisions only to find himself — seemingly in a state of madness — rambling about the pages and their meaning. As the player finds these televisions, the set illuminates the room with blinding light almost as to signify that some more light will be shed on the story. At these points, the player is given some information as to what the pages may mean, giving the player just enough information to help flesh out any theories they have been working on which may explain things.
However, not all televisions give such meaningful information about the story. Sometimes televisions will play an episode of Night Springs, a Twilight Zone-esque television show that Wake used to write for. These episodes have little impact on the story itself, but they do help set the mood and give players a short break from warding off danger. These episodes help show a quirky side of the videogame’s writers and help set an eerie mood for certain parts of an episode.
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