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Grown Adult Coward: ‘I’m OK With Just Watching Alan Wake II’

Thanks, YouTube

9:07 AM EST on November 10, 2023

Video game character Alan Wake shines a flashlight in the dark. Behind him is a red glowing neon sign that reads "typewriters."

I’ve got exactly two hours left in Alan Wake II. I don’t know this because of How Long To Beat. I know this because that’s how much time is left in “ALAN WAKE 2 Gameplay Walkthrough FULL GAME (4K 60FPS) No Commentary,” the YouTube Let’s Play I’m watching because I’m too scared to actually play the game myself.

I wasn’t an Alan Wake person before Remedy’s most recent release, though I did have a brief fling with the Max Payne series way back when. I had the vague understanding that Alan Wake was about a writer; during my undergrad in playwriting, I was taught that writing about writers was the last resort of the narratively desperate, so I avoided it based on its premise.

But folks’ excitement for the sequel, and the praise I saw it garnering, got me curious. Plus I knew it had tie-ins to Control, a game whose vibes and world I was utterly enamored with, but whose gameplay I struggled to get into until I eventually let it drop. I watched an Alan Wake universe lore explainer on YouTube right after Alan Wake II came out, and I have to admit I was hooked. I didn’t know the game was so esoteric and weird, and its connections to the secret agencies and occult science of Control got me even more curious. When a copy of the game came my way, I felt primed to play.

Except for one problem: I’m a coward.

I hate horror. I hate jump scares. I especially hate watching people be scared or in pain, and I literally have to turn the TV off if any of that is happening to a kid. I read every “How scary is Alan Wake II?” article I could find on Google, disappointed to find most of them saying “It’s pretty scary!” I consoled myself that I’d never cared about Alan Wake anyway, so it wasn’t a great loss, but as more and more of my friends started talking about how good it was, I knew I had to do something. I stared at it in my game launcher, daring myself to click “download” before sighing and retreating to my couch. I’d open YouTube, type in “Alan Wake Let’s Play,” then pause, thinking, Well maybe I will play it! I don’t want to spoil it! I re-read all those articles about just how scary it was, as if looking for someone to write “Correction: It’s fine!”

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Finally, I saw a gameplay video uploaded by YouTuber theRadBrad, someone I used to watch when I was first getting into video games but didn’t own a console so couldn’t play a lot of them. Watching a Let’s Player is always a bit of a gamble as a trans person, but I’d never heard him say anything objectionable, and I’d always been charmed by his positive reaction to basically every game. (Notably, I remember watching him love The Order: 1886 and Hitman Absolution.) I knew he’d be the perfect person to stand between me and Alan Wake II.

And he was: his enthusiasm made the darkness less dark and the jump scares less scary. The game was moody and bizarre, funny in ways I didn’t expect. And I quickly became glad I wasn’t playing, as I watched him have poorly-lit fights with creepy enemies who took tons of bullets to kill. Resources are scarce, another thing I hate, and I knew I’d never stand a chance making progress in the game myself. Since the game had just come out, he uploaded videos rapidly, praising it and thanking me (well, me and his other viewers) for our liking and subscribing.

One evening I eagerly headed to his page, only to find Robocop where I wanted Alan Wake II to be. I told myself I’d wait, committed to seeing the game through with him, but I wanted to know what was next for Saga and Alan now. I poked around other channels, but none of the other streamers on my personal list of “Inoffensive Let’s Players” was any further along. 

Maybe I could… play the game myself? I booted up my PC and stared at it again. I’d seen for myself how scary it was, which means I wouldn’t be scared now, right? 

Nope. Back to YouTube.

Finally, I decided I couldn’t let the winds of YouTube fate dictate my Alan Wake II pace and typed “Alan Wake II full game” in the search bar. I scanned the list of unfamiliar names, then added “no commentary” to my search–not my favorite type of Let’s Play, but at least it would mean I could focus on the game. I found one that was 10 hours long, and I’ve been watching it in long stretches ever since, grateful not to have a controller in my hands so I can cover my eyes when the warped faces flash across the screen. I was even able to edit my colleague Gita’s Alan Wake II kitsch blog, adding thoughts and arguments with–if I say so myself–such cogence that you’d think I was a big, brave boy who’d actually played the damn thing.

I’ve been saving the end for when the stress of starting this site calms down; even just watching the game can be a bit stressful for me, and I don’t think I can take much more right now. I feel a bit guilty for not playing it myself, and I’m hopeful that maybe Remedy will add something similar to Control’s “assist mode” that maybe also gets rid of the jump scares and maybe also turns up the brightness and maybe also cuts out some of the set piece fights in creepy locations and maybe also makes some of the monsters less scary… Well. I’ll probably just stick to watching for now.

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