Dear Insane Children,
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about PTSD and Transformation. And much of this thinking – as with much of my creative output in recent years – draws on a personal encounter with Chaos I experienced a few years back. I won’t go into detail other than to say these events resulted in a complete breakdown for me – emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Font Lord was there during the worst of it and can attest to how consuming, painful, damaging, and ultimately transformative the experience was.
So when I write of PTSD and its immediate and lingering effects, I’m drawing heavily on personal experience and all the literature I consumed in the process of trying to heal myself. “Out of the Woods” was an attempt to channel the experience into a creative endeavor. I wanted to retell those classic fairytales because they contain a lot of the original Rules for the Avoidance of Chaos. After my experience, I thought a handy, graphically illustrated reminder would be useful for myself and others.
And to this day I’m still struggling with the last remnants of that encounter. Triggers and pains which serve as daily reminders of the powerful lessons I was forced to learn and the transformation I had to undertake (and am still undertaking).
Despite those pains, I can say that the transformation has led to a place where I am happier, healthier, and more alive than I’ve ever been. So there is a reason to hope that these encounters serve a purpose and can lead to a better place. Keep that in mind if you’re currently struggling.
It’s no coincidence that Alice’s confrontation with Chaos and the return to the Child Self is being presented here-and-now. All of this is strangely serendipitous. I could not explore this story if I had not experienced that awful recent trauma. And, strangely, this mirrors how I channeled my childhood traumas into the narrative of AMA and AMR. Those stories were of my inner child told through the lens of “adult” Alice. Now it seems I’m channeling my adult trauma through “child” Alice.
Well… they say writers are always telling their own stories.
What they don’t say is that a writer’s own story is always changing.
The Illusion of Control
Pain is the brain’s way of protecting us from future harm. PTSD is the pain response pushed into relentless overdrive by exposure to an event so traumatic we’re unable or unwilling to cope with it. Unable to “get over it” the trauma consumes and destroys us.
After an encounter with Chaos, we spend hours and days reliving the past, trying to make sense of what happened. Conversations and moments are relived over and over. It’s in these replays that we jump between states – shock, anger, bargaining, depression – trying to regain our understanding of reality.
The problem is that reality is shattered. The rules no longer apply. What we thought we understood – the constants that defined our existence – are now violated and irrational. Everything on that side of the equation is changed. And our notion of grasping (let alone modifying) anything on that side of the equation is destroyed.
The illusion of control is gone.
If we’re lucky we might eventually realize that unless we change things on OUR side of the equation, we’ll never establish a new reality.
But that sort of change doesn’t happen with the common elements we carry around in our pockets. We can’t sprinkle a bit of Salt on the situation and watch it transform into another common (and harmless) element.
The required change is more fundamental than that. It requires dissolving.
A Dissolving of Self
Dissolving is difficult and painful. It’s also described as “Ego Death” – a process in which we’re forced to face and dismantle the hall of illusions we’ve constructed around ourselves. So we avoid it…
One of the ways people avoid the fundamental transformation required to evolve after an encounter with Chaos (PTSD) is to busy themselves with new projects. They put effort into external problems over which they can feel some sort of control. But this only delays the required transformation. The Chaos elements are still scattered about the scene of the explosion. Ignored. Untransformed.
Occasionally we trip over them. A “trigger” sends us reeling back to the events and outcomes of that thing that blew us to bits.
What’s The Story?
Those are the themes we’re exploring in Alice’s “Asylum” adventure. And here’s how I imagine we present them:
Our story is told from Child Alice’s perspective. It’s the story of a young girl caught in a loop – visiting the various domains of Wonderland over and over, trying to solve a puzzle that can never be solved. This routine has gone on for years and years with no change until one day there’s a great explosion.
Hatter’s increasingly complex experiments have ripped apart the reality surrounding his domain. In his effort to understand the nature of Wonderland – its basic elements, dimensions, and constants – he’s cracked open a gateway through which The Mystery is flowing.
We don’t yet know what form The Mystery takes (hence the name) but we do know that it’s dark, terrifying, and can’t be trusted. Everything it touches is consumed in shadow and it will eventually consume Wonderland if nothing is done to stop it.
Hatter implores Alice to travel Wonderland, collect the necessary (alchemy) elements, and heal the cracks forming in their reality. If she fails in this all is lost.
Alice must now confront a combination of internal and external threats. Wonderland was already transformed into something broken and treacherous. And now this new external threat is seeping in and destroying everything.
An enemy within. An enemy without.
The core revelation elements for this narrative are:
- At age 13 Alice cleaved herself in two.
- The half that “got busy” is the one we know from AMA and AMR.
- That Alice ran forward, knife in hand, to fight the dragons and slay the demons.
- And she eventually prevailed in killing the antagonist (Bumby).
- But something remained broken. She must dissolve and reform to complete the journey.
- Child Alice must be rescued from the PTSD loop and reintegrated.
- But Child Alice is fighting from within against the forces of transformation.
- In her battle against The Mystery, Child Alice will eventually realize what it represents.
- A reintegrated Alice must finally fight to dissolve Wonderland so it can be reborn.
Alice’s other half – The Inner Child – is trapped in the past, stuck in a loop, reliving the horrors of the encounter with Chaos. Her world is a place of disorder and confusion from which she cannot escape. She’s been around and around the place, dozens of times – think “Groundhog Day” – and played all the scenarios from every angle.
Adult Alice’s attempts to enter this place are frustrated by Young Alice.
The Mystery is the manifestation of Adult Alice attempting to reconnect with her Inner Child. But viewed through the eyes of a child, the mature, shadow self of Adult Alice is alien and scary. She does not recognize The Mystery as her adult self. And what The Mystery calls “integration” Child Alice calls “destruction.”
Presented in this way, we’re able to re-tell the story of AMA, AMR, and Asylum from a perspective (of Child Alice) that allows “discovery” of the elements veteran players already know. For someone coming to the franchise for the first time, this means they can play Asylum without first needing to experience either of the first two games.
This also means that Asylum is a self-contained beginning-middle-and end for the series.
But Wait! There’s More!
There is more but I want to pause here while everyone takes a moment to think about what’s been outlined. It will probably take me a couple of attempts to fully capture why what I’ve outlined above is important to constructing the narrative I think we need for this game. Your comments and questions will help me understand where to sketch in more detail. So…
You know the drill. Read. Think. And then drop your feedback in the comments below!
I’m very much looking forward to your thoughts.
From Shanghai with Mystery,