Game developer American McGee is renowned for his thematically dark take on Lewis Caroll's Alice novels. His first incarnation, American McGee's Alice, showed Alice being interned at Rutledge Asylum for mental instability after her family perished in a fire many years prior. 'Wonderland' was established as a place she visits in her head to cope with the tragedy. Its sequel Alice: Madness Returns dealt with Wonderland being on the verge of destruction and it is up to Alice to find out who was causing it, and how to stop them. The third installment Alice: Otherlands was split into two shorts and entailed Alice entering the minds of people to help them resolve their psychological traumas.
It goes without saying that these games featured acutely disturbing elements in their gameplay, story and visual design. In a 2001 interview with Gamasutra, McGee revealed that his inspiration for the first game came from his love of everything macabre, and his upbringing.
You know what? A lot of my inspiration comes from dark things (laughs). I like dark music, dark movies, and dark fiction, so I guess the question is, why am I so infatuated with things of a dark nature? I don't know. I think that it probably has a lot to do with my upbringing. I was raised around a lot of religion. Very early on, I started rebelling against it in an intelligent manner. I started picking apart all the basic tenets of this religion that was being forced upon me. I think that going in the dark direction was just a rebellious sort of thing on my part, but over the years it has become a big part of who I am. I just have a taste for that darker side of things—it's the way my aesthetic goes.
In another interview for Wired, McGee described his childhood as being "fucked up" and consisting of "1,000 episodes of Sally Jesse Raphael." A couple incidents that stood out in his mind were (his first recollection of) seeing his father for the first time and being abandoned. The event happened while McGee was celebrating his 13th birthday. His dad came to his home intoxicated, made his way inside and began threatening his son.
He started literally attacking me, shouting stuff like, 'I brought you into this world, and now it's time I took you out... He jumped on me, held me down on his lap.
McGee mentioned that his father tried to gouge out his eyes and kill him. He then suggested to his dad that they "take both cars" to a pub and get hammered. Yet, this was only intended to distract him as McGee was convinced he'd wind up either molested or murdered. Fortunately, his father only made it 100 feet away before hitting a telephone pole. His mother didn't seem bothered and she even threatened to call the fuzz on McGee for "stealing her vehicle."
A few years later, McGee came to find his home empty. His mother and step-parent had up and left, abandoning him. McGee ended up dropping out of high school and working a variety of jobs before starting out in the game industry as a level designer for id Software. After he was fired, he was employed by Electronic Arts, his first gig being creative director for American McGee's Alice. Since then, he's co-founded his own studio (along with Anthony Jacobson and Adam Lang) Spicy Horse and produced a slew of games including: American McGee's Grimm, Crazy Fairies and Big Head Bash.
Many artists draw on real-life incidents to influence their work. For example, Hans Christian Andersen reportedly based The Little Mermaid on his unrequited loves. It's a simple but (depending on the person's perspective) painful resource to draw from. However, with McGee experiencing darkness firsthand, he knows how to realistically depict it. It makes the experience of playing these games even more chilling and resonating to us gamers. Overall, it's inspiring that McGee moved past the travails and made a success out of himself.