Inadequate Alice

Reading Inanimate Alice by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph makes me question (again) what makes a text literature. I dedicated a decent chunk of my last blog to my thoughts on the limits of reader response theory and on what makes a text literary, so I’ll try to get off my soapbox and just jump into the piece itself this time. 

I was slightly put off by the aesthetics of this game (and I’m going to call it a game, because despite its inclusion in the ELC, I’m not totally convinced it should be called literature). To my admittedly untrained ear, the music sounds like it’s trying too hard to be “cool” and “epic” and “hip.” The photographs of grimy locations are unsettling enough, but the camera shutter noise that accompanies each new image gets old fast. The excessive use of swipe transitions during the “moving away from Moscow” montage is a little much, too. And the font is much too close to Papyrus for my liking—reading the piece made me feel like Ryan Gosling in that one SNL sketch.

Okay, maybe I’m being harsh. There are parts of the piece I enjoy, like the discordant music and the sounds of static and distortion that create an unsettling feeling for the player. The photographs of dark, narrow stairways in Alice’s house or the underside of bridges in the city add to this ominous mood. 

Once the narrative moved past background information about Alice’s past, her friends at school, and her home life, I started to enjoy the piece a bit more. I love horror movies, and the dark photos of the collapsing, abandoned building coupled with the soft sounds of wind, static, and dripping water really got me in the Halloween spirit. I felt dread reading the hopeless messages flashing across the screen; Alice repeatedly questions if someone is watching her, if she’s being followed, and if she’s taking all the wrong paths. (Though I have to say, the ghostly cartoon of Brad, happily pointing me in the right direction, sort of ruins the eerie effects.)

My enjoyment of the scary, horror filled labyrinth makes my disappointment at the game’s conclusion all the more potent. After wandering through the dark, dilapidated maze for a while, I began to wonder when something actually scary would happen. When would the monster—the one Alice is convinced is watching her—pop up? When would I meet the mysterious figure following me?

The answer, of course, is never. The game abruptly ends once Alice makes it to the roof of the building; triumphant music blares against brightly lit photos of the city skyline while her friends cheer enthusiastically. This sudden transition from winding, cavernous halls to wide, sunny skies is jarring and confusing. I have a lot of questions: Why is everyone celebrating when Alice is now just stuck on the roof instead of inside the building? Did I miss some great, inspiring message here about finding yourself despite experiencing dark, confusing situations? 

Alice never has to engage in any sort of meaningful conflict.  She has no grand epiphanies, and the labyrinth contains no monsters symbolizing inner demons to be slain. Before she enters the abandoned building, she states that she’s happy with her new school— which is filled with kind, diverse friends—and with her home—even though it’s a little run down (and, let’s be honest, has a really nasty kitchen). The only personal struggle she brings up is hearing her parents argue, but this conflict isn’t magically resolved once Alice reaches the roof. This lack of resolution left me disappointed and frustrated with the piece. 

I could see this game being a useful tool for introducing younger students to the concept of electronic literature and exposing them to the endless, multimodal storytelling possibilities that exist thanks to computers and the internet. Kids could even use Alice’s iStories example as a model to make their own e-lit pieces. Despite its possible value as a teaching tool, I’m still not convinced Inanimate Alice is worthy of being called literature. 

Inanimate Alice

Upon entering Inanimate Alice, a dark grey screen appears, with the option of two tabs:

  1. Chapter 4- Hometown 
  2. Chapter 4- Hometown, (teachers addition)

I was immediately intrigued, the teacher in me wanted to go through the teacher’s account, but the inquisitive person in me wanted to know why and how both versions were different. So I made the obvious choice and went through both!

I first went through the student version or what I made out to be the student version in my head. First and foremost, I love this piece of e-literature; this is something I see myself using in my classroom. It’s a digital novel; students can read, listen to music, look at visuals/moving images, and interact (click on arrows/words) to move through the text. The only difference I found between the student and teacher version was that the students couldn’t skip through the text; they have to engage before unlocking the next page. It was an excellent game like touch, which felt like playing Mario cart; you have to pass a level before moving to the next. 

Our protagonist is Alice, a 14-year-old girl; she is dared by her friends to climb to the top of a building with Moscow’s best view. The narrator instantly engages us with Alice’s vulnerability; she’s stuck on top, the ladder broke, how will she ever get down? We see images of the stairs, then the broken stairs, the old worn down building, the sidewalk where her friends were standing, and the top of the platform she was standing on. We see everything besides Alice and the other characters. Cleverly done, I like that the reader can imagine and create the characters in their heads using their imagination. That aspect and the first-person narrative voice are very engaging; it’s as if Alice is talking directly to us and inviting us into her world. 

Right after that scene, there’s a brilliant transition, as Alice is stuck on top of the old building, the next line says, “I’m too frightened to move.” The reader initially thinks she’s scared to move on the platform, but no, we find out she is leaving Moscow to move to a town in the middle of England. In the next scene, we are given a tour of her new city, from the school and house, and more intimately, her friends and project. 

The new home looked very raggedy, the kitchen was dirty, and the place was small, suggesting her parents weren’t very well off and had very little time to take care of small everyday duties such as washing the dishes. She then shows us her school, stating that she now goes to school, so the reader naturally assumes she didn’t attend before. The reader can also assume she didn’t participate before because her family was always moving; she says her friends are also from different places. Her project is fantastic; she is an animator, creating digital stories such as the one we are reading now. As the story comes to an end, we are taken back to the factory where she was stuck, and to help her get out, we have to play a maze-like game to help her escape. 

I love this piece, I know I said it before, but I would love to explore the other chapters. We started kind of in the middle. I’m curious to see the other interactive chapters (1, 2, 3) reveal about Alice. I mean, I am a Language Arts teacher, like my students, I am also captivated by young adult literature. I love seeing their faces when a novel excites them, and this is definitely a piece I could see my students enjoying as much as myself! It’s not just the page-turner story they would love, but the interactivity and the games all pieced together. Technology is a massive part of our society now, and I would love our curriculums to be updated and add electronic literature pieces accessible to our children.

“Inanimate Alice” by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph

“Inanimate Alice” by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph is one of my favorite pieces we’ve reviewed thus far. This piece is a video game and relies on the reader to navigate through Alice’s life and the maze inside the building. The story follows Alice, a young girl from China now living in England. Alice is trying to get to the top of the building to see the view of the city when the metal steps fall apart. Alice’s journey and life are exposed through a series of pictures, diagrams and snapshots which lend themselves to support that she is artistic and appreciates the visuals of the world. This is also supported through graffiti, pictures and her burning desire to see the world from the rooftop. The snapshot pictures also play a significant role because many are introduced and shown after the steps fall apart and before the maze. Alice, between these two sections, says “And now I’m going to die.” I interpreted the snapshots as her life flashing before her eyes before recognizing that she is in danger of dying. 

Alice seems to appreciate the little things around her life in England. Her family has to go through her room to get to their only bathroom, but Alice “kind of likes” the house and the idea of staying there. Despite her family not enjoying living there, Alice likes it. Alice also likes the weeks that grow in the crack on their pavement, the old, rickety buildings. At school, many of Alice’s classmates and friends are from different countries and she seems to celebrate and appreciate this. 

I love that the story ends with Alice seeing the view, appreciating the view and saying that the world is hers from that view. After the terror and hard work Alice exert just to see the view she is finally able to get there and be supported by her friends

I think a topic that is recurring in the ELIT pieces we cover is mindfulness, being aware and appreciative of your surroundings and being grateful and conscious of little things. I’m not sure if that’s just in my reading of the texts, in the way I interpret meanings or if it is genuinely just a major topic for ELIT but it’s worth noting and learning from.