Gaming and Popular Culture- Alan Wake ‘References and homage’

Aug 17, 2010

Introduction: Can Gaming be considered ‘Art’?

Gaming in the United Kingdom, is said to have become bigger in popularity, revenue and jobs available than the British Film Institute. As gaming moves more towards infusing itself with the essentials of film, such as cinematic visuals, script, soundtrack and top notch voice and motion capture acting, we can begin to see in certain titles a Director’s ‘signature’ and in some cases even a sense of Auteurism. Like all of the best Directors in films, authors in literature and television creators, they all have their heroes, favourite genres and pop-cultural references that they want to pay homage to in their works, and gaming is becoming no exception!

I remember hearing once that people who never made it in the film industry go into gaming, as though somehow it is less of prestigeous and respected medium for wash-outs. American critic Roger Ebert, said recently in relation to Quantic Dream’s ‘Heavy Rain’ that ‘games can never be art’. But then again, people once said the same thing about film didn’t they? Film was a base, classless ‘Theatre for dummies’ according to the critics of the early 20th Century. It was never considered to be on par with the art form that was dramatic theatre. So is gaming set to go down the same path? Or is already well on it’s way? As the first part of what will hopefully be my ongoing series of ‘Gaming and Popular Culture’, I will be exploring these kinds of issues in addition to the main body of the piece. As part of this, I would really like to take the feedback and opinions of readers and incoporate it into the article, so please let me know your thoughts!

In this first article I will be studying Alan Wake. From first playing the game, the first thing I noticed was just how rich in references to film, literature and television the games script really is. Upon numerous playthroughs and my going back over other sources, I have compiled a list of the most relevant and recognisable sources I could find. This list is based on my own analysis and independant research, with help from various discussion boards and fansites, I will include sources in a footnote. So here we have it folks, enjoy!

Pop-Cultural references in Alan Wake- 1. Literature

Stephen King:

“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.” – Alan Wake

Stephen King, the critically acclaimed horror novelist, with approximately 50 books to his credit, beginning with 1974 debut ‘Carrie’ has obviously had a huge influence over Alan Wake. There are numorous references to King’s work in Alan Wake’s script, and here I will outline a few of them for your consideration!

  • The words ‘Stephen King’ are the first two words spoken in the script, during the opening sequence of the game.
  • The presenter of Bright Fall’s ‘KBF-FM’ Radio station is named ‘Pat Maine‘. Stephen King has been a life long resident of the state of Maine, and he has always set his work in his home state.
  • Alan Wake is being held captive by a mysterious woman named ‘Barbara Jagger’, and forced to write a story on her behalf. This is an almost identical premise to King’s novel ‘Misery’, in which author ‘Paul Sheldon’ is held captive by psychopath ‘Annie Wilkes’ and forced to write a novel for her.
  • The writers and creators of the game specifically sighted Stephen King as one of their primary influences.
  • When escaping the treatment facility, you escape through a maze of bushes, similar to that at the end of ‘The Shining’, when Danny is escaping from his father.

  • Shakespeare:

  • Alan Wake has an Achievement called ‘What Light through Yonder Window’. When viewed in the achievment screen, the description reads ‘It is the east, and the flaregun is the sun to 50 Taken’. In Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo stands beneath Juliet’s balcony he speaks the quote- ‘But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?’ and then ‘It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.’

  • Miscellaneous:

  • Agent Nightingale variously throughout his scenes mocks Alan Wake by calling him the names of various famous authors: Stephen King, Ernest Hemmingway, Micky Spillane, H.P Lovecraft, Bret Easton-Ellis, James Joyce and Dan Brown. James Joyce’s final written work was a piece called ‘Finnegan’s Wake‘, a story that critics say is written like a series of surreal waking dreams, not unlike the way Alan Wake plays.
  • In Alan Wake’s DLC ‘The Signal’, Barry’s apparition quotes ‘The pen is mighter than the sword’. This is a quote from the play Richelieu by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, which translates as ‘The Conspiracy’.
  • The achievement ‘Let there be light’ is a Biblical reference to the chapter Genesis in the Old Testament. It relates to God creating light in order to drive away the darkness.

  • Pop Culture 2. Film

  • The FBI Agent persuing Alan Wake is name ‘Agent Nightingale’. This could be loosely based on FBI Agent ‘Clarice Starling’ from the film and novel, The Silence of the Lambs.
  • Upon being pursued by an axe-wielding ‘Taken’, Alan makes reference to him breaking into a cabin like ‘Jack Nicholson in The Shining’. The Shining is one of King’s most popular works, adapted for the screen by legendary director Stanley Kubrick, about a writer who begins to lose his grip on reality while staying in a haunted hotel.
  • When Alan is being held at the ‘Cauldron Lake Lodge’ treatment facility, Dr Hartmann tells him ‘Jack has taken the other patients out on a fishing trip’. In the film ‘One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest’, Jack Nicholson’s character breaks out his fellow patients, and takes them on a fishing trip.
  • Alan Wake includes an achievement called ‘They’re heeeere!’ a direct quote from the film ‘Poltergeist’. The game also features poltergeist activity which threatens to title character.
  • In one chapter of the game Alan and Barry are trapped in a cabin which is being attacked by an entire swarm of birds. Barry makes reference to the incident being like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. The manner in which the birds attack is very similar to that of the film.
  • At the end of the first chapter of the game, ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison can be heard playing on the radio and over the ending sequence. This song is remembered in modern culture after appearing in a famous scene in cult film ‘Blue Velvet’, a film written and directed by David Lynch. David Lynch is also responsible for another Alan Wake’s biggest references (See Television).

  • The Evil Dead:

  • When Alan is trying to escape the treatment centre cabin, there are various statues of hunted game. In particular, when the darkness possesses the cabin, the Deer head can be seen thrashing around on the wall, similar to when the stuffed animals come to life and laugh maniacally laugh at Ash in ‘Evil Dead II’.
  • The car driven by Alan Wake at one point in the game, a 1973 88 Delta is almost entirely indentical to the one driven by Ash in ‘Evil Dead’. The car is Sam Raimi trademark, appearing in nearly all of his films.
  • In ‘The Signal’ DLC episode, there are various cut-outs to be found as part of an achievement. One cut-out in particular references a sawn-off shotgun as a ‘Boomstick’, again Ash refers to his same weapon with that name.

  • Pop Culture 3. Television

    Twin Peaks:
    Perhaps Alan Wake’s biggest and most recognisable homage. David Lynch’s surreal cult series about the strange goings on in the town of ‘Twin Peaks’ is mirrored heavily in nearly all aspects of Alan Wake’s script.

  • The episodic TV series nature of Alan Wake’s format, could be seen as a reference to the Twin Peaks.
  • Some of the cabins throughout the game can be seen to be exhibiting stuffed owls. In Twin Peaks, there is the famous quote: “The owls are not what they seem”.
  • Both the game and the television series feature an FBI Agent from the big city coming to the quiet towns to investigate strange goings on.
  • Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks at one point in the series confronts a derranged double of himself, Alan Wake has the same experience at the end of the game. Both character’s dopplegangers had the intention of replacing the protagnost in the real world.
  • One of the most famous quotes of Twin Peaks is referenced by Ranger Rusty, who compliments Rose’s coffee in the ‘Oh Deer Diner’. Dale Cooper’s line ‘Damn good cup of coffee!’ is used in the same capacity in the ‘Double R Diner’. Upon collecting 100 Thermoses, there is further reference to Cooper’s ‘coffee addiction’ in the description.
  • Both mediums feature an eccentric old lady, who is seen to be carrying a certain item at all times. Alan Wake features Cynthia Weaver as the ‘Lamp Lady’, while Twin Peaks features ‘The Log Lady’.
  • Characters in Twin Peaks make several references to the ‘Darkness’ in the woods. In Alan Wake, the ‘Dark presence’ manifests almost without fail in the woods.
  • Alan Wake features a place called ‘Mirror’s Peak’ which could be a direct homage to Twin Peaks.
  • In Twin Peaks there is a strange character named ‘Bob’ who crawls up on people from behind chairs. There is a patient at the treatment facility who sneaks up on Dr Hartmann in the same fashion.

  • Miscellaneous

  • As you make your way through the story of Alan Wake, you have the option to watch short episodes of a television program entitled ‘Night Springs’. The shows are broadcast in black and white, featuring an onimous opening narration followed by bizarre and disturbing short horror/sci-fi stories, exactly the same as 60s and 80s television show ‘The Twilight Zone’.
  • The Darkness is often seen as a thick shadow surrounding everything that it engulfs, this visual image is similar to the black cloud of smoke that attacks victims in the American series ‘Lost’. Leading on from that, the theme of light and dark are pivotal in both source materials, and remain key themes throughout.

  • So there we have it folks! I dare not add anymore since this has already shaped up to be a monstrosity of an article! I kept it what I thought would be the most relevant, but if you think I have missed out any other glaringly obvious references then do let me know! As I said earlier on, I would like to run this as a monthly feature, so feedback would be very much appreciated. Do let me know what you would like to see and have me talk about in future installments.

    Research sources:
    The Internet Movie Database
    Twin Peaks Fansite
    Alan Wake Fan Community
    Online Literature
    Night Springs Fansite


  1. Michael Cripps /

    Great article Jen – really great to see how deep the references in Alan Wake really go! Even though I still haven’t played it, alot of these references would go over my head because I’ve not read alot of Stephen King or watched Twin peaks, but some of them I recognised and are very clever!

    I think GTA 4 could be an interesting one to talk about in the future.

  2. Andrew Jack Fenn /

    This is such a great article. So much of this wouldn’t necessarily occur to the average gamer, myself included, but the correlation between game and film is so interesting! Looking forward to the next one, Jen!

  3. Charlie /

    Nice to know you had help from the Alan Wake Wiki -_-’

  4. Tetsuo Neko /

    Great article! Glad someone took the time to spell out some of the references. Came across it via the Alan Wake facebook page.

  5. Andrew Jack Fenn /

    There’s always one…

  6. MestV /

    Nice work! It’s a nice reminder to the fans of the game and the mentioned influences. Most things were noticed throughout the game but it’s always fun to be reminded of them, makes me want to play the game again to check them out ^^

    To Charlie: there always has to be some kind of source to every article… I have no doubt the writer noticed many things herself, and there’s no shame in double checking what you discoverd in various sources.

  7. elisa /

    the correlation between film, muisc, reading history and culture is not only interesting but I think necessary! What a great tool to use as an educator….students still need to know about thigs like the cave at Lascaux, and King Leonidas…without knowledge all those “games” would be mindless fun…like Bouncing balls although even that takes its all good…..

  8. Bagushii /

    “Agent Nightingale” would more likely be a Twin Peaks reference, as “The Nightingale” is an iconic song in the series..

  9. Jen Hawkins /

    Wow! Thank you all for you kind responses, your input is hugely appreciated! Bagushii, I miss that one! Should have been an obvious one! Thank you for pointing it out!

    I hope you guys stick around for further articles, and any suggestions would be gratefully received!


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