the artistry and psychology of gaming


Mysterious East (Alice: Madness Returns)

Mysterious East (Alice: Madness Returns)
It seems that some of the most incredible journeys of my life have taken place within the minds of others. I’ve talked at length about the worlds within my own dreams,  as well as the dreams of others, but today, I’d like to talk about something a little different. Sometime during the Industrial Revolution in London, I met a young  woman by the name of Alice Liddel. She was a beautiful young woman on the surface, and even more beautiful underneath. A troubled sort, she created a sanctuary within  her mind that she knows as Wonderland.
Today’s tale comes from a time during which Wonderland was completely falling apart; great duress does not begin to describe its condition.  The plants were all dead, and there was burning black sludge everywhere, even erupting from seemingly bottomless chasms.  The very skies appeared to be on fire, and a mysterious white smoke was prevalent and thick enough to support giant floating rocks.  It was hard to watch Alice go through all of this, but then, we both saw something beautiful.  There was one small hillside that was lush and verdant, amidst all of this destruction.  When she approached, there was a voice, and she was enveloped by smoke, shrunk down, and brought into it.
That small hillside became a towering mountain, but everything became so peaceful.  The skies were cloudy, casting a dullness upon the colors below.  The ground was a sort of green rock – perhaps jade? – and there was blue water all around.  There was writing that moved through the air in a language I did not recognize, but my guess would be that it was Chinese.  She turned to look back at the destruction, but saw only water, gray skies, and some sort of smoking device in the distance; the death and chaos were no longer visible.
She began leaping across the rocks that stood above the water, making her way to the main land.  On the side of one of these rocks was a trio of beautiful flowers that almost seemed to be made of porcelain.  I drank in the beauty as she floated through the air, wondering if she shared my love of cloudy days.  Eventually, she reached dry land; she stood upon a Mahjong tile with swords upon it and looked ahead.  Upon the cliffs of endless green, two spots of red stuck out: one was a Torii with a paper lantern hung from its center, and the other was a streak of blood.  Warily, she scaled the cliff, heading through the arch.
She wandered for quite a time, scaling this mountain.  She came to a waterfall, which was very serene, and had some sort of structure at its zenith.  She passed blue-gray bamboo with many leaves, and massive pottery, or so it seemed when we were at this size.  There were also a number of large Mahjong tiles; the one near the Torii was apparently not just a fluke.  We saw quite a few anatomically incorrect geisha statues in varying states of undress, as well.  What was truly remarkable, though, was the cave within the mountainside.  There was a room containing little more than a painting.  After staring into it for a while, she became a part of it.
The world within the painting was still very cloudy, but with the rocks being brownish, it had a very different palette to it.  Within the rocks were little pink flowers, as well as other green plants sprouting from the top.  The gray waves raged in the waters below, and several mountains loomed in the distance.  She made her way forward, coming to a glowing red sphere.  Setting foot upon it caused her to spring high into the air, landing upon the roof of a house.  From there, she crossed a bridge, and made her way to a ginkgo branch, from which, she made her way to another cliff.
There were several more of the red spheres, which she used to bounce her way up the mountain.  It wasn’t long before she reached a massive tree, and began climbing its branches to get even higher.  There was a large fish statue  with a chain coming from its mouth and a ring at the end of said chain.  She pulled this chain, which altered the painting in a way that allowed her to progress.  Finally, she came to a large, ornate gateway; passing through it brought her out of the painting, and into another part of the mountain.
No longer in a jade area, she now stood upon gray stone structures.  There was a sort of obstacle course laid before us, with running belts of paper with characters written upon them.  Most remarkable was the tree in the distance; it was pale white with blue leaves, causing it to look like a piece of fine china, the similarly colored vases nearby further propounding this theory.  She came to another fish statue, this one having a chain of red and cyan; apparently, they functioned the same out here as they did in the painting.  It wasn’t long before she came to a beautiful mess.
Before us was a pit of sand surrounded by rock, with vase pieces littered all about.  There were some blue flowers with black stems growing in odd places.  The sand had a bluish tint to it, but the rocks were a bit more iridescent and purple in appearance.  She made her way through, soon coming to a long porcelain slide of white with blue paint upon it.  Islands of fine china pieces with the white and blue trees floated in the air around this slide, making for gorgeous scenery as she made her way to the bottom.
When the ride ended, she was standing upon a floating chest of drawers, which was one of many.  The reddish wood had an interesting contrast against the blues and grays of the rock and vases.  There were also floating covered bridges along this path through the air, which had a very cozy feel to them.  There was a cavern near the end of these, which we entered; the cavern itself was nothing special, but inside, there were pale green paintings of flowers upon the walls.  She made her way through the cavern, coming out of the top to a strange sight.
This was a very ordinary piece of mountainside, with something bizarre staring us in the face: a giant paper fan.  This beautifully crafted fan was several times larger than Alice, and just hung in the air for no apparent reason.  It was fortunate that it did, however, because there was an updraft of smoke that was invisible against the cloudy skies, but very clear to see against the colorful fan.  In the distance, we could see an enormous tree that seemed to use these fans as its equally gigantic leaves.  She continued on, finding herself in another cave – this one made of jade – giving its walls and the ornate carvings thereupon a green color.  The burning sludge at the bottom, however, gave the lower parts of the walls a menacing red color, which somehow brought everything together, rather than creating a stark dichotomy.  She soon came into another chamber with little more than a painting, and soon found herself inside of it, once again.
This painting had more of a green coloration, and some complex puzzles to solve.  She made her way through, moving beautiful pillars and riding stylized clouds.  There were a few trees growing out of the cliffs in the painting that had a sort of muddy look to them.  Though the dangers were great, she soon came to another dragon gate, which took her outside of the painting, very near the summit.  Out here, the world looked almost dead.  The rock was gray, and the few sparse plants were black; the only real color to this area was the burning red sky.  Though ominous, the stark contrast painted a beautiful scene, which I greatly enjoyed until Alice finally found herself in the lair of the Caterpillar, where this psychotic episode came to an end.
Sanctuary is a curious thing.  Even if it is in the very center of death and destruction, just the notion that a sanctuary is able to protect you can make it feel as though it is on another plane of existence.  Feeling safe allows one to block out the horrors of the outside world, even if not everyone chooses to do so.  It creates a little world all of its own, despite being part of a larger one.  Even those of us who spend much of our time exploring the universe like having a sanctuary to which to return; a place to shut out the outside world and rest for a while; a place to simply call “home”.

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