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.