American McGee’s Alice

americanmcgeesThe fairytale is over.

Yesterday we looked at the 1966 BBC television adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, probably the only version to understand the source material.  It is a stunningly weird interpretation of Alice but in 2000 a PC game adaptation took the surrealism and turned it up to eleven.  I loved this game when it first came out and played it right the way through.  The game play was fabulous and the graphics amazing for the time.  For many gamers it was probably a bit of a frustrating experience because it needed a good system – I built my own computer around this time to cope with games like this, without spending a fortune on an off-the-shelf solution.  Ironically now that computers have caught up with the demands of the game it won’t function on later version of Windows, although you can find a patch for it if you search around.

American McGee was a level designer on games such as Quake before moving to EA Games as a creative director.  He had a shockingly tough time of things as a child, and Alice was his chance to use the negativity from his past and work that into a twisted version of Alice, which is a game that is both disturbing and beautiful.  It takes the premise of Alice as an adult in an asylum, dreaming of Wonderland, which has now become a dangerous place.  Surviving Wonderland and defeating the Queen of Hearts takes on a special significance because it is the only route back to sanity for Alice.

The cause of her insanity is a fire that killed her family, something that her enemies identify as a weakness and play upon.  Like the Doctor post-Time War, she has survivor guilt:

Everyone I love dies violently— unnaturally. I’m cursed. Why go on? I’ll just hurt others…

There are actually a ton of shared themes with Doctor Who which makes sense as Doctor Who takes so much inspiration from childhood fantasy fiction such as Alice in Wonderland.  But, like Doctor Who, this version of Alice actually develops ideas from the wider world of fiction and blends them with horror movie tropes.  If you are a Doctor Who fan (and you probably are if you are reading this blog) then some of the following might seem familiar:

  • Clockwork automatons
  • Cybernetically augmented creatures
  • Buildings that are bigger on the inside
  • A strong Victoriana theme (even the soundtrack uses only Victorian instruments and toys)
  • A battle playing out on a chess board, and subject to the rules of the game
  • Regular characters being killed off and then restored to life

This is a blend of children’s family fiction and horror.  So is Doctor Who.  The difference is that Doctor Who has to do that within the confines of family viewing, whereas American McGee’s Alice could go all out with it.

The game came with an illustrated booklet, a work of fiction written from the point of view of a doctor in the asylum, in the form of diary entries.  It is a magnificent piece of work before you even get to the game.  One day somebody will see sense and make a film version of Alice like this.

A sequel followed in 2011: Alice Madness Returns.  I only found out about it recently, so another surreal adventure awaits…   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… Alice Through the Looking Glass (1973)

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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3 Responses to American McGee’s Alice

  1. Mike Basil says:

    The trailer pretty much says it all for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike says:

    Ironic that you mention this and it’s an EA game. EA, or Electronic Arts, was a company I just referenced 2 days ago for our article on The Ark. Long ago, before they tried to plunder people’s bank accounts through games like the latest Star Wars travesty, EA was known for releasing quality games. I actually bought a new monitor to handle Star Flight 2 when that was released, having played the original on a monochrome screen. That was a game of truly epic qualities, but more in line with Star Trek than Doctor Who.

    Now I’m a PC gamer, so the first thing I did was went to STEAM to see about buying Alice, but alas, the original is not there. The sequel is, but strangely, it can’t be purchased. However, there is a news section that says the following:

    Alice 3, coming…… soon?
    Dear Insane Children.

    Did you know that we are currently putting together a proposal to licence Alice from EA and to independently create a 3rd Alice game?

    So maybe that will spark a revitalized interest in the original 2. One can but hope…


    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s very difficult to access either game now I think. Both are relatively easy to purchase second hand but the first one doesn’t like later versions of Windows and takes a big effort to get around that. The second one has such stringent copyright protection that it demands layers of jumping through hoops including registering it online before it will work, and being as my second hand copy has already been registered by the original user it won’t play. I believe there have also been some issues with getting the steam download version to work. The third chapter was I believe announced back in September but I won’t hold my breath. I mean, there should have been a movie version a long time ago. Guaranteed hit to my mind. But it never got off the ground. I couldn’t imagine a horror version of Alice failing to do big numbers at the box office, as long as it was made with a reasonable level of competence.

    Liked by 1 person

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