Inanimate Alice

This week, we checked out Inanimate Alice, by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph. This piece was different from anything that we've looked at so far for two reasons: One, it was the first piece that we've looked at this semester that is meant for children and young adults; and, two, it was more game-like than the other pieces. According to the author's note on the introduction page, we the reader must help Alice navigate through a dangerous, half-demolished factory.

Reading further, I learn that this piece is an episode in a series. It is episode number four, so I detour to Wikipedia in order to see what the series is about. According to Wikipedia, this series follows Alice, who's family emigrates from one country to another every few years. There are time jumps between the episodes, and each episode seems to take place in a different country. Episode four finds Alice and her family living in a town in the middle of England.

Upon entering the game, a reader is given two options: the episode or the teacher's version of the episode. I chose the episode, and was then met with an instruction screen. The game-like components of this piece are introduced when the authors inform the reader that "you may need to perform an action for the story to continue".

A film-like title screen follows the instruction screen; dramatic music plays to an image of a factory at dusk. Alice then introduces herself. She is fourteen years old. On the next screen, videogame-like music plays while snapshot sounds introduce pictures of a factory and metal stairs. Alice has been dared to climb the stairs of an abandoned factory by her new friends. When I click on the image of a pointing finger, Alice begins to climb the stairs.

The stairs collapse under Alice, and I am met with a black screen and four pointing finger, each indicating a different direction. I click up, and Alice hauls herself onto the remaining ledge. As she does, the words on the screen move as if pulling themselves upward. I click down, and the bottom of the stairs have completely separated from the building and have fallen. I click right: Alice's friends have screamed. I click left: her friends have run off and left her, or so she thinks. They come back.

They story then takes a detour as there is a flashback of Alice's family leaving Moscow. An interactive tablet appears with an overview of the city. There are options to click. "My House" opens to a blue print of the home that Alice's family rents. There are some rooms that can be explored. I noticed that the home has a very new looking bathroom but a very old, outdated kitchen. Alice calls it "something from another century". I also took note that Alice seemingly has very little privacy. Her parents must walk through her bedroom in order to get to the only bathroom.

From the "My Friends" and "My School" links, I learn that Alice now feels that she has finally made "actual friends my own age" and that she goes "to school now like a normal kid". It seems that in the past, she was homeschooled by her mother and had imaginary friends.

There are two more links: "The City" and "My Project", both of which also provide interesting backstory for this episode. Alice shows the reader how she creates stories on her tablet with iStories. She also explains how she thinks that she is the only person in her family that likes the new town. It is full of old ramshackle buildings and weeds; her mother seems to be unhappy about having to work outside of the home; Alice thinks little of her father's new teaching job. Her parents are arguing all of the time, so Alice goes off on her own, by bus, to meet with friends around town.

The backstory ends, and I am back with Alice of the factory ledge. The reader is again given two options: "play the game" or "read only". I chose to play the game. Alice moves into the factory and the reader must use the image of the pointing finger to make choices about which directions to send Alice in. If you get stuck, you are instructed to press [B] so that Alice's imaginary friend Brad can help you.

The factory is dark and falling apart. There is graffiti on the walls and creepy sounds of dripping and mouse squeaks. At times, the reader finds themselves at a dead end and has to turn back. Alice's internal thoughts appear on screen: "I'm afraid I'm making the wrong choice"; "A labyrinth"; "What's that sound?". She is afraid that something is behind her, following her. She fears that she will never find her way out of the factory.

I played around for awhile, going this way and that, turning back when the path became too dangerous. The author's did a very good job of using sound, text, and image to create a sense of unease. I had the sense that at any moment something could pop out or that something bad could happen.

After awhile, I wanted to test out Brad. He appears on screen, cartoonish and a bit transparent, and he points to the correct path.

When Alice finally finds her way out, she announces, "We did it!". She is standing above the city in the sunlight while triumphant music plays in the background.

All in all, I really enjoyed this piece. My only complaint would be that because I started on episode four, I needed a bit more background than I got. I had to read about the series in order to get a better understanding of what was going on.