You know, I just have this...faint suspicion...it’s probably just my imagination, but I think that Mr Scratch is a little psychotic. Why do I think this, you ask? Perhaps it’s the dead bodies he puts out for trash on collection day, the nightly BBQs, the fact he just hired a bunch of people to make several rooms soundproof, or that he always mows his lawn at two in the morning...But then again it might just be my imagination. He sounds like a decent chap and at least he’s always smiling...even if it’s when he’s holding a bloodstained knife...He’s behind me isn’t he?
Right, now to the article! I have a confession/announcement to make; Mr Scratch has to be my favourite antagonist in any video game, for numerous reasons, the main one being that...He’s just so fantastically evil. Usually there’s a flaw with the antagonist; the main reason why they started their life of villainy whether that would be because they were power-hungry or felt repressed by society, and for a brief moment I was concerned that Mr Scratch was going to admit the fault in one of his television broadcastings...Then someone broke a glass and he MacGyvered a telephone to use it as murder weapon, and all was fine again!
Most bad guys have the “what if...” scenario where if something in their past was altered, they wouldn’t be evil. With Mr Scratch this element is missing, but I’ll talk about this in detail later in the article. I have a theory that if Batman asked the Joker if he wanted to catch a movie, the series would have turned out differently with them making gothic friendship bracelets for each other and skipping through fields of greyscale tulips. I love characters that go home and write in their diary; “Today I did DEATH! It was amazing! And then I renamed my cat “Mr Scratch” and then took him to the vet to have him de-clawed because he was messing up my evil-plotting suit...Then I took it to the dry cleaners...The suit, not the cat...But the cat came with, just in case any agents walked in and a swivel chair was present.” . There’s always that one thing that stops enemies from being pure evil; with GLaDOS it was Caroline, with Big Daddies it was the Little Sisters and with Natla it was believing that Lara wouldn’t have magic guns full of unlimited ammo. Although obviously evilness is awesome if it’s fictional...And that’s my disclaimer for the rest of the article, because I know that without it there will be one crazy person pounding on their keyboards “Won’t somebody please think of the children? Oh these video games!”...And that is BBC Panorama’s job!
With Mr Scratch that flaw or “what if...” scenario seems to be missing, he killed someone for breaking a glass that didn’t even belong to him! Since he has no conscience, there is no cause and effect for him. Even Agent47 from the movie was distracted by another character turning around and saying “what you’re doing is immoral”...And he’s a professional laboratory-born super killer. Actually Mr Scratch is like a combination of Alan Wake, Max Payne, The Master from Doctor Who (the new incarnation), Moriarty (from the recent BBC interpretation) and Agent47...Which now makes him officially one of the coolest people who has ever existed in fiction. Also he buys Poets of the Fall merchandise and request custom theme songs which, if I had had tons of money and control over the entire darkness, I would totally do!
What Scratch represents is quite interesting, he seems to be made from all of Alan's negative emotions; anger, hate, revenge. If any one reading this has watched the Red Dwarf episode called Confidence and Paranoia you may know what I’m talking about. It's like in The Writer where there were two versions of Alan, the Sane travelling across an imaginary construct of Bright Falls, and the Insane lying helpless in the cabin. In American Nightmare you’ve two different sides to Alan’s character. The protagonist is the pure good side representing clarity and light whereas Mr Scratch is the evil, hating, darkness with an unaffected scorn for overeager fans. In this theory it would mean that the flaw that I mentioned earlier would never exist because the emotions which forms Scratch won’t contain anything except cold hatred and pleasure from causing pain.
So if Mr Scratch is supposed to represent pain and nightmares, why do we find him awesome? The fact that we’re not meant to like him as a character makes him more likeable. We should be horrified as Scratch decides to murder seemingly innocent people “just for kicks” yet there’s a strange fascination that goes with it; no one in their right state of mind would do this. That’s the same reason why horror games are so popular. It’s not the mystery, it’s trying to find out the mystery, and if you can’t, in a way, it makes the mystery even more mysterious. The mystery with Scratch is that he acts in a way which you wouldn’t expect or want people to. ..But we don’t know why. Since he’s Alan’s doppelganger, a caricature of the writer, it makes us doubt if Alan is really that sane, and once you start doubting even the protagonist, then you can’t really trust anyone in a horror game.
Furthermore Mr Scratch breaks from what is expected of him, making him unpredictable. In the original Alan Wake we are introduced to Mr Scratch and, although it isn’t told directly, it’s implied that he’s just like Wake. Even though this title is intended to be a standalone adventure from the main series, Departure (in which Mr Scratch was created) and the Night Springs episode in American Nightmare are both Wake’s creation meaning that there is going to be a link between them both. Breaking and bending what people think is normal is how developers create horror titles. F.E.A.R, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, and The Calling all have one main thing in common, they both use the player’s stereotype of girls and the qualities associated with them to turn their game into a horror title. In the games the antagonists are young girls who are associated in society as being innocent, quiet, and often shy are portrayed in the titles as supernatural killing machines which are sometimes obsessed with cult traditions...Which also lead to more death and more pain. Now with Mr Scratch, he’s the exact image of the writer; Alan Wake, but he also wears a suit, all of these elements are twisted in American Nightmare making him unpredictable since it clashes with our ideas about society.Once we are faced with a situation where we can't determine what is good and bad, dangerous and safe, then we're out of our comfort zone.
Doppelgangers are notoriously creepy which is why people write them into works. Even if you've only heard of Alan Wake, just as the title of a game, you would trust him since he’s the eponymous hero, you want to learn more about the character. The same is with any titles like that; Max Payne, Bayonetta, even published literary works like The Great Gatsby. With eponymous characters the reader/viewer/player is often drawn and relates more to that character since the adventure focuses on them. With the majority of protagonists, and in the case of Wake, they are classed as the "good characters" and by being placed in that group, the characters are associated with certain traits. Good characters are often noble, brave, determined, strong and unselfish. So seeing another character with the same appearance, you’re automatically adapting the same traits to the second character, even though you know they’re not the same, mainly because we just can’t help it. The suit also continues this line of thinking; people who wear suits are seen as professional, smart, but can be a little intimidating. Being intimidating is what Scratch is trying to do and with great effect. But evil geniuses in suits?...Well you wouldn’t expect them to be doing any kind of dirty work, you would expect them to send their faithful minions to do their evil bidding. Now, I was going to say something about writers and their ability to write psychotic stuff (I’m looking at you Stephen King) but I wouldn’t necessarily imagine them with going out and killing people...But my line of thought was ruined when I remembered Sam Lake was the face of the original Max Payne.
To draw this article to a close, I’ve been thinking for a while about why the character is awesome; we all know he is, but yet we shouldn’t. In the end I finally settled on a quote by Ilkka Villi who played Mr Scratch in the live action cutscenes, he describes that Alan “can be a bit uptight and serious. Mr. Scratch on the other hand... That dude knows how to let loose and have some fun.” Also anyone who dances to POTF in a Remedy game while wearing a suit after being evil for the day, automatically becomes awesome, and yes, that includes the live action actors too.