American Mcgee’s Alice and Mental Illness

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American McGee’s Alice is a game that I have been wanting to play, but at the time I could only get the sequel: Alice: Madness Returns on Origin. Last week, I saw a Facebook ad that Humble Bundles released Alice: Madness Returns – The Complete Edition so I decided to get the game again so I could play the original game and get the fun DLC for the sequel which include like new costumes and weapons. I am very glad I did as I loved this game especially due to how it portrayed mental illness!

Background

American McGee’s Alice is a horror interpretation of Alice in Wonderland by American McGee. Alice’s parents died in a fire while she was asleep. She managed to wake up and flee, but her parents did not survive. Alice could not cope so she became catatonic and was put in an asylum until she woke up. Alice goes into Wonderland after her stuffed rabbit appears to beg her for help.

Alice is in Wonderland which has been deformed showing how her mental state has declined. The Queen has corrupted Wonderland turning into a land of ruin and horror. You can see her corruption in the form of tentacles that have spread throughout the different levels. The inhabitants of Wonderland are also corrupted with the Chesire cat being so thin you can see his bones and horrendous creatures such as the boojum roaming around. The music also has a psychological effect on the gamer with eerie synths mixed in with old children’s toys. Occasionally a haunting chorus or mechanical like sounds will be in the soundtrack as well. This music also shows just how much Alice’s mental state has deteriorated since the tragic loss of her parents. Alice’s mental state is also part of the game. Your health bar is a Sanity meter which deteriorates as you take hits and powerful attacks can only be used through Willpower which is like the magic in this game. Most weapons except for the beginning weapon require Willpower to use.

The Loss of Innocence

When the game begins, Alice sees The White Rabbit which kinda resembles her stuffed rabbit except The White Rabbit is in better shape. Alice’s first task is to track down her beloved Rabbit with the help of Chesire’s advice. Chesire serves as Alice’s guide throughout the game. I believe you could ask him for hints as a button exists for that, but it doesn’t work in the remastered version that I played. I believe he also looks so thin because Alice has a real black cat and if the cat survived the first it would also be very thin.

Alice’s first area is a short mining area where the workers have been enslaved. They no longer have a will to fight back so they just do as The Queen says. Alice only wants to look for her Rabbit so she mostly ignores them. Then she goes to a school with Insane Children. Unlike Alice, there is no hope for these children. They are lost in their madness and have been experimented on by someone. They represent various mental illnesses like the happy and crying one symbolizing being bipolar. Alice is different from them as there is hope that she can still wake up from Wonderland and won’t be lost in her madness. Alice must gather ingredients from the school to grow smaller so she can find the Rabbit who shrunk himself.

Finally, the last world is The Vale of Tears which shows Alice’s grief as the water is literally tears from her statue. The first boss is The Duchess who enjoys killing people and The Queen lets her. She’s the first boss which shows you just how corrupted Wonderland has become.

After finally catching up to The White Rabbit, she loses him in The Vale of Tears. The White Rabbit is squished by The Mad Hatter who has grown quite mad. Alice loses the one friend she wanted to see most and she does not know how to go on. She feels that death follows her everywhere. Mentally, Alice cannot recognize that she is not responsible for her parents’ death. The Voracious Centipede is the next boss she faces who is Alice’s last obstacle before she can grow up. Alice shrunk into a small state so she can be with her Rabbit. Now that her childhood has been destroyed with the Rabbit’s death, Alice must grow up by eating a Mushroom which allows her to physically grow and face the Queen.

Facing Guilt

Alice ends up in a hellish landscape which acts as a hub world. This world connects to the next set of levels before Alice will finally fight The Queen. But, Alice must first go through this hell and find pieces of for the Jabberwocky staff which will open the door to The Queen.

While Alice is finding these pieces, she is captured by The Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter shows just how “mad” Wonderland has become. He has turned himself into a machine and has started doing experiments on The Dormouse, The March Hare, and The Gryphon. He also experiments on The Insane Children which shows Alice’s fate. These Insane Children are turned into automaton monsters that attack Alice. They can only do what their creator commands them and no longer have any “sanity” or “will” of their own. Alice’s brain seems to be aware that this will be her fate if she doesn’t wake up soon. Alice has to first fight Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum which reference the orderlies who have been abusing Alice while they think she is not aware of what’s going on around her. Then, Alice must fight her madness through The Mad Hatter.

After that comes a very emotional boss. The Jabberwocky. The Jabberwocky is all the pain and guilt Alice is feeling. He tells her that she was too busy dreaming of Wonderland to save her parents and the boss fight takes place in her house on fire. Alice receives help from The Gryphon, but he is killed when she has to face The Jabberwocky the second time. Alice must face her guilt alone, but The Gryphon gives her advice before passing away. He just tells her to try her best to face The Queen. It’s such a small line, but it has an impact on me. I have anxiety and sometimes it’s really nice to hear that I just have to “try my best” instead of feeling like I have to do everything perfectly.

Facing Yourself

Alice must then fight through The Queen’s castle. The castle is macabre; full of tentacles, blood, and flesh. It’s a physical reminder of how disturbed The Queen is. Before Alice can face The Queen, she has to lose everyone. The Chestire Cat dies while explaining to Alice how both she and The Queen cannot survive. The Queen makes sure that Alice has lost all of her allies and must face The Queen alone.

The Queen is a two part battle. The first part shows a figure with no face whose body is connect to Wonderland through tentacles. After that, the form changes into Alice and The Mad Hatter, The Queen is Alice and her madness. That’s why Alice must face her alone. She must face all of her trauma and mental illness by herself as she needs to free herself from this hell she’s trapped in. The Queen tells Alice that there is no hope causing Alice to feel despair. But hope appears in the form of a butterfly which protects Alice through the final fight. It quickly restores her Willpower while she fights against The Queen until The Queen dies.

The End

After facing herself, Wonderland is restored to it’s beauty. Also, all of Alice’s friends are brought back to life. Alice is able to wake up and leave the asylum. She also finds that her cat has survived. By facing her madness and learning to accept everything she has gone through, Alice can finally wake up and live her life the way she chooses.

Have you played American Mcgee’s Alice? What games do you think portray mental health in a positive light?

7 thoughts on “American Mcgee’s Alice and Mental Illness

  1. I played the original game back when it came out. As a fan of Alice and her derivatives, I was very enthusiastic. But not being a fan of shooters and action games, I was a bit less than thrilled by the game experience. It was beautiful, but I don’t think I ever finished the game. Although I tried to run through it at least three times. I’m glad that you posted about its availability through Humble Bundle, because I wouldn’t mind giving it another try. But I note on the Humble Bundle site that it still appears to be meant to run on Win7/XP et al; it isn’t described as compatible with Win10. Can I ask what machine you got it to run on, and how that went? Thanks.

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    1. I played it on Windows 8 and it seemed to run well. The original Alice crashed a couple times when set to full screen in the middle of playing the game, but was fine if you set the game to full screen before you play. For some reason the game will always start in windowed mode. I’m not sure how it would run on Windows 10 to be honest as it’s an old game.. The sequel I’ve had no problems with at all on Windows 8 so I can’t imagine their being problems on Windows 10.

      As for the game play I will admit it can be frustrating at first to aim, but working with the mouse sensitivity should help. It also helps to learn which weapons work well with each enemy. Like the boojum,I couldn’t figure them out until I released that pressing the melee button for the cards was more effective then ranged attacks with the cards.

      Hope this helps!

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  2. I played this close back when it released. It had that strong 90s/early 00s feel of romanticising mental illness. I played it very close to when I read Prozac nation for the first time and was looking for materials that would reflect my own struggles with depression. Alice (in fact both the Alice games) were great for this, and playing them alongside the edge of Goth culture (I was never fully immersed in the culture) was interesting to see how people talked about and shared such illnesses.

    Both American McGees games and future games like FranBow that is very similar, were amazing for me at the time, though now being older I see some flaws, yet the artistry and creativity of these titles strongly remain. Alice in particular as there are so many interesting readings on this game, relating to a womans coming of age, and dealing with issues of coming to age as a woman (you know Aunt Flo, fertility and all that jazz). Was thoroughly impressed by the game.

    Thanks for highlighting it again in this way!

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I’ll have to look for other interpretations on this game as I’m interested in how it could be interpreted as a coming of age story. Having anxiety, I tended to focus on the mental illness aspect while playing. It’s great that you got to experience the game when it released as I was too young at the time to play it. I doubt child me could have handled the horror seeing as how scary this game is for me now like The Duchess battle.

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