Through the Looking Glass: A (not so) Warped View of Alice
Warning: *spoilers* ahead!
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has become iconic, whether as an imitation of the original story or new adaptions. Alice has inspired everything from art to movies to games to story spinoffs. The book has given people pause, conjured bizarre thoughts, made us think Lewis Carol was on drugs, and twisted its way into our everyday language. Who knew the story of an English girl uninterested in her education could take on so many guises? In any adaptions, it is hard to steer away from the incredibly curious, defiant Alice that Carol originally wrote. Her character defied what it was to be a girl, as it was assumed only little boys at the time were adventurous and encouraged to be curious. It wasn’t until I came across Alice: Madness Returns that I truly realized Alice’s independence and determination. It was fascinating to consider Alice in this new, rather dark story, one that made me reflect on a not so obvious heroine. Considering the game on HSA’s Scale of Inclusivity, I would rate it at 14/15 as follows.
Features a woman as the main protagonist = 2pts
Alice Liddell‘s story began with a family that died in a fire, one she believes she started. Following the original game, she has been discharged from the asylum into the care of an orphanage; except, she began to have hallucinations again. She soon finds herself back in Wonderland wherein the Cheshire Cat informs her that an “outside force” is hurting her, thus destroying Wonderland piece by piece. The game follows her courageous journey through the decrepit state of Wonderland and the dark reality that is London. Her perseverance pays off as her journey slowly unveils that she is not the one that started the fire and that the “outside force” was someone she knew. It was Dr. Angus Bumpy, the psychiatrist who cared for Alice at the Orphanage. She discovered that he was hypnotizing children into blank toys to be sold to molesters. It was through Alice’s valiant efforts that he was found out and defeated.
Passes the Bechdel test = 2pts
While the game was demented, I think it did a great job in creating a heroine that grew and overcame the obstacles in her way. The setting reflected a 19th century London and, considering the treatment of women and children back then, it wouldn’t have been easy for someone such as Alice, at 19, to stand up to a doctor. The game is dominated mostly by Alice’s interactions with male characters, both good, bad and ambivalent; thus, it does not fully pass the Bechdel test due to the limited interaction with other women. The two main women with which Alice does interact, however, are powerful in their own realms. One such female character included a whore, Nan Sharpe, who was the proprietor of the Mangled Mermaid. She was once Alice’s nanny. Eventually, her business was burned down because Nan was incredibly disgusted by the selling of children for prostitution and spoke up against it. The other character was the Queen of Hearts, or the “Red Queen”, who was responsible for the destruction of Wonderland. It was clear that these characters represented the people in Alice’s reality, so when Alice confronted the Red Queen, she realized she was confronting herself.
Artist/entertaining = 4pts
Young and alone, Alice is forced to work her way through her precious Wonderland with little originally at her disposal. As you help Alice along, you play through numerous different levels that give you bits and pieces of her memory. These pieces build Alice’s confidence in believing that she is searching for the truth and that she, after all, may not be the murderer of her family. Alice’s determination is not quite clear at the beginning because she is depicted as a warped young girl who seems confused. Her actions in game play, however, where she faces the black ruin that plagues Wonderland, and eventually the Queen, demonstrate Alice’s bravery. Although at times it is clear she is frightened by her own thoughts, her final confrontation with the Red Queen reveals her fear of facing herself and the truth she knew all along concerning her family.
Not offensive to women = 1pts
For starters, Alice does not utilize flimsy weapons. You begin the game with her Vorpal blade and a nice hack-n-slash attitude. As you progress, you can upgrade to the pepper grinder (shooting pepper at pig snouts, totally practical), a teapot cannon (happy unbirthday to you!), the clockwork bomb, an umbrella, and the hobby horse with which you can smash your enemies to bits like any good two-handed hammer. Alice often faces enemies five times her size and slowly earns the bigger and better weapons throughout the game. I am working on making a real hobby horse version for my Alice-Siren cosplay and it’s already fairly hefty. I can’t imagine the effort it must take Alice to swing that horsey around!
Another great adaption was Alice’s outfits. She is always in a dress with an apron, based on the original Alice in Wonderland. Her dress changes with each level to fit the ambiance. These outfits are in no way demeaning or sexy, despite the story involving sexual abuse and the fact that many cosplay adaptations of Alice have created a sexualized version. I will mention, nonetheless, that there was some rather sick humor during the doll house level, but as it contributed to the horror of the game it was not offensive to me. When Alice dodges, she turns into a beautiful kaleidoscope of blue butterflies. When she floats, her skirt will pouff out like a lamp. These more feminine elements counter-balance her hysteria in which everything goes white and gray with blood on her hands and running out her eyes. This happens only when Alice is low on health and you are desperate, and it is not something you would expect of a young woman. I found it fascinating the adaption had feminine elements without it being overpowering or limiting Alice’s abilities. It has become mine and my fiance’s go-to action adventure game.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5pts
What I appreciate about Alice: Madness Returns is that Alice does have to rely solely on physical strength; she also has to outsmart her enemies despite the fact she is neither physically strong nor mentally stable. There are only a few horror games I can name that involve a main female character who is strong enough to make it through to the end: Resident Evil and The Last of Us.
What’s different about Alice is that she is not seeking revenge nor running from anything, she is merely trying to understand what is happening inside her head to uncover a truth. Even if you don’t like horror, I would highly suggest my fellow gamer gals (and guys) scoop it up. It is a fairly easy play style and the colorful imagery is incredible!
What did you enjoy most about the game play? How did you like the re-interpretation of Alice? Did you feel the game was offensive? Don’t worry, we’re all mad here.
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