the artistry and psychology of gaming


Vale of Tears (Alice: Madness Returns)

Vale of Tears (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.

Wonderland is a vast world, and I believe that my exploration of it had barely scratched the surface. My timing, it seems, was a bit unfortunate, however; as she was going through a very difficult time in her life, Wonderland was beginning to fall apart around her. That is to say that it was unfortunate for the sake of my exploration; I was more than glad to be her close friend and confidant, and to help her – what little I could – through her internal turmoil, which served as a reflection for the external. It was very hard to watch this girl – whom I’d grown to love as a daughter – suffer wild psychotic episodes, sometimes not surfacing to the physical world for days at a time. The things she saw, though, were beautiful beyond compare.

I was able to enter her mind, but not to roam freely; I followed her wherever she went. We first entered a place known as the Vale of Tears. It is a difficult place to describe – even moreso to categorize – but I shall do my best. We seemed to be in a forest of sorts, standing ankle-deep in a stream. The water was running off of the edge into open sky, where floating chunks of rock and dominoes could be seen. The trees in the distance – assumedly on some of these rocks; it was hard to tell – wore their Autumn foliage, though the skies bore the blue of a sunny afternoon in late Summer. After staring into the distance for a time, she turned around and began to stroll through the vale.

There were rock walls with tree roots draped over them, with the odd giant snail shell embedded within. The ground was covered in grass – though not leaves, despite the forest’s plumage – and many flowers speckled the landscape. Some were just colorful flowers like you’d see in many places, but others were larger, more imaginative, and gave of their own light. There was a tiny, translucent, prismatic house floating slightly above the ground, and when she touched it, I heard the voices of her family. How fascinating that in such a place, her very memories littered the ground! A little further up the path, there was another lovely vista, this time with more trees – looking almost like boquets in the sky – as well as jacks, marbles, and dice to join the dominoes. I’d wanted to see them up close, and got my wish, as some large dominoes soon became part of the path. As she leapt across them, I saw a snail – larger than normal – slowly making its way down a rock wall.

She went back under the forest’s canopy and up and down ramps and stairs of rock, stopping to admire some mushrooms with a checkerboard pattern upon them. Though I’d only spent a few minutes here at this point, I was already completely unfazed by the notion that they were easily as tall as she. A little further down, I saw a number of mushrooms growing from the same root, but they had tiny pointed caps of varying colors. Nearby, the green haze was replaced by a purplish one as we neared a keyhole in the wall. It looked almost like a doorway, but Alice was too large to fit through it, and so she continued exploring. She soon came to a small topographical depression, into which a very large bottle was pouring a purple liquid. Large, walnut-shaped mushrooms with blue, glowing undersides stood all around this artificial pond. She stepped into it, following the instructions written upon the tag to “Drink me”. I could taste the wine as it flowed over her tongue, and she soon began to shrink.

Fortunately, the effects were not entirely permanent; she would still shrink from time to time, but she appeared to have total control over it. That said, every time she decreased her size, she would hiccup as though drunk. I found this very upsetting; such a terrible fate to fall upon a young woman: she’d given in to the temptation of alcohol, even though she’d had no dearth of problems on her own. Perhaps it was my maternal instincts going into overdrive, a common occurrence whenver I meet a young woman suffering from mental illness, but every hiccup made me want to sink to my knees and cry for her. At any rate, she was able to use this new ability to fit through the aforementioned keyholes, and the purple haze of her vision while small gave her the ability to see things that were otherwise invisible to her. Near one of the keyholes was a beautiful flower, known as a shrinking violet. While small, the flower would envelop her and treat her wounds, soothing her soul, I suppose. She went through this keyhole and came into a new part of the vale.

I’d thought the snails prior had been quite large, but the ones here were enormous; very nearly the size of a house! At first, I was very concerned for the young woman’s safety, but they were beyond docile. She happened upon a beautiful cave of irridescent blue, though I could not discern the materials its construction. She stepped upon a glowing blue toadstool, which sprung her high into the sky. She landed upon several large dice, which sat atop a long slide of dark green with orange sides. She slid down, and I absorbed the scenery; everything here was so beautiful.

Where she landed, there was a large blood stain upon the rocks; it was so fresh that it was still wet to the touch. Looking at the nearby stream, I noticed that it, too, was red with blood; this was when Wonderland began to show signs of its incredible peril. From there, the forests seemed to be much darker, though whether this was reality or a reflection of my perceptions remains to be seen. She soon happened upon a kitchen with lovely tile of white, bits of orange, and varying shades of blue. Through the back door was another lovely dark forest that led nowhere, so she went through the tiny door instead. She came to a bridge of floating dominoes, but fell off, so she wandered around a very large stream, trying to get back up. Near where the stream became a waterfall, there were some lovely rainbow shells. Now crossing the bridge of dominoes with greater success, she came to a large snow globe with a bovine-headed turtle inside of it; I came to know this creature as the Mock Turtle. She continued on her journey for a while.

The landscape seemed to become more and more barren until a terrible thing happened: massive geysers of a black sludge with traces of what appeared to be magma erupted from the ground! The beautiful forest had become a volcanic wasteland almost in the blink of an eye. It broke my heart to see Wonderland undergo something so destructive; this world was all that the poor young woman had left, and now that was to be taken away from her. She made her way through this precarious situation, and I could do nothing but watch as trees fell into the abyss. For a time, she followed a broken railroad, eventually coming to a lifeless canyon of red rock. At the end of this canyon, there was a horrible floating castle made of machines and gears, along with a few teapots. Though ominous, its dark colors – along with those in the sky – had a lovely contrast with the bright red lights that shone from its various sectors. The brave young woman climbed into a cable car and rode it into this mechanical abomination. Though it was far from the end of her journey, or even the end of this particular psychotic episode, it was the end of our trip through the Vale of Tears, and so, I conclude this tale.

Mental illness is a very serious matter; it harms the mind, and if not addressed, can cause its victims to enter a downward spiral. This much is obvious, but what many do not understand is that mental illness is not inseparable from “crazy”. Those who suffer its effects are not the shambling horde of incoherent ramblers that we’ve come to know from many media, but real people with thoughts, beliefs, hopes, and dreams, no different from you or I. Sadly, bearing this stigma causes far too many to discount their insights as tainted or even as delusion. Suffering chemical inbalances does not mean that one has nothing worthwhile to say. So please, my young, hopeful adventurer, treat everyone that you meet during your travels with a level of dignity and respect that assumes there to be no “different” in this universe.

This article is dedicated to my dear friend, Tim; I’ve finally written something worthy of bearing your dedication. My Wonderland shall be forever in ruins without you.

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