Inanimate Alice

Inanimate Alice is a digital novel that incorporates visual, sound and interactive elements. In one description I read, it is called “transmedial” – a storytelling technique that utilizes multiple digital platforms and formats. It even includes a game within the game for the player if they choose. The overarching theme of this story for me was a sense of loneliness and feeling out of place. In this Episode 4 (of which I discovered there at least six episodes), Alice discusses moving to a new city  in England. There is heavy digital/electronic/industrial overtones here – from the staticky soundtrack that accompanies most of the game to the repeated imagery of buildings, factories and urban decay.  I get the sense that it’s important we recognize that this is not just a story about a human individual, but how she relates to the urban landscape and (as I found out later) to the digital world. In the telling of the immediate setting for the story (Alice climbing the stairs of a rickety factory and getting stuck), I notice that the words take on the motions of a person – like climbing the stairs or “struggling” to get up on the platform after the stairs collapsed. Interesting to see human characteristics animating previously inanimate words. I notice early on that as the scenes progress, boxes are revealed on the right side of the screen, making it possible to view any section of the story at any time, but only after the scenes have been revealed in order the first time. I would note that this is kind of like memories of how you got to a certain point in your life (or predicament) – like once it happens, you can think back and try to figure out how you got there, but can run through the memories in any order you choose.

Alice’s recollections of Moscow show that she reflects on the same parts of that city as the one she’s in. Very industrial with fences, lots of buildings and walls and even stairs. The stairs I sense are a critical symbol in her story.  The literal stairs that brought her to where she is can also be a metaphor for the experiences she’s had that brought her out of Russia and into England. Yet, just as the stairs are swept out from under her, the experiences that brought her to England haven’t necessarily given her the sense of belonging or satisfaction she had hoped for, and now she’s left, marooned or stuck in a sense, in a new place, with no way to go back and only an unmarked path to go forward.

It’s clear through her recollections at school and with her project that she is allied with digital technology and uses it as a pathway to make friends. She is trying to make the best of the situation she finds herself in, but has her doubts of whether it will work out. She wonders if her new friends really like her or is she is just a “novelty”. We see the indications of her wanting to do what it takes to fit in. Her parents are obviously not try to make things better for her, and both the imagery and the way she discusses her parents she tons of limitations. The home is limited because its skinny and outdated and the layout is bad (with walls everywhere and long stairs – again!). She calls it horrible but says she likes the idea that they are staying, again trying to make the best of a bad situation. Her parents seem incapable of the same emotion and its interesting how she makes a literal list of things she doesn’t like about them (very teenager-like). We never see any images of her parents. I think its interesting that school, home, friends, her project and her city are the only options to click on – like they are the only things in her world.

I should mention that I liked the idea of her building projects on her phone, but I felt it could have been more interactive for the player.  We could only really click one place at a time and had limited options.

I think her imagery of the city is fascinating. Based on everything I had seen and experienced up to this point, I expected the imagery and sounds would have been much more industrial. But the imagery was almost pastoral – the music calmer and less urgent and she even mentions how she likes the weeds and we see drawings of geese – showing us she is working to see the natural part of the city (or maybe again trying to find the silver lining in a nasty situation.)

Back to the factory, I felt like the creators did a great job using the imagery and the sounds to communicate a haunting loneliness. The idea that Alice keeps going even when she runs into obstacles is a good metaphor for how we’ve seen her conduct herself in this new city up to this point. I didn’t realize who the sketch of the boy was until I googled the story series and discovered its her imaginary digital friend Brad. This part of the story adds another layer, in that it allows the reader to either play the game by trying to escape the catacombs by themselves (or with help from Brad) or to simply read a narrative that walks them through. Both are effective, although there were images I felt like I saw in one or the other experience that weren’t present in both. I like the idea that you could get a different experience depending on what you chose. The constant image of urban decay, abandoned industry and desolate, crumbing rooms and tunnels simply underscored the loneliness that Alice must have felt and several times, she starts to give  in to paranoia, wondering if someone is watching her or if she hears something that she cannot see. The multiple faces that show up on the walls in graffiti form are very distressing. Especially this one:

alicescream

Maybe they are the ones she senses are watching her? The fact that she emerges to triumphant music and to a scene of more buildings is almost disappointing.  What about her friends? Her home? Instead, for her, the moment of success seems to be that she can see with true perspective – no longer limited, she sees the city before her – “like it all belongs to me”. Being able to see everything with clarity seems to be her victory. But I must say, that throughout the story I had assumed that getting out, or overcoming the challenge of being trapped in an abandoned building meant getting out on the ground floor. It wasn’t until the end that I realized she was escaping upward… Is the key to her happiness to not look to the next challenge until she has to, namely how to get down from the top of the building?

As for my ideas, I am sticking with my idea of using musical lyrics to tell a story between a father and son. They will each be represented by guitars. The plot structure will be an encounter between the two, in which each tries to communicate in his own “voice” (the boy with rock and roll or heavy metal lyrics and the father with blues or ’50’s rock lyrics), but they will be unable to communicate or understand each other. At the point in which clicking between the two builds the conversation to an impasse, we will transition to a scene of a concert (where the boy will have fled) and the player can hit different points on the screen to play guitar solos.  It will then transition back to the home scene and the father and son will attempt to communicate again. At some point in the back-and-forth, they will strike the correct “chord” and they will begin speaking in a common “voice” to resolve the conflict. I will need imagery of guitars for the main characters, as well as a concert and home image for the two scenes. I will then need a bank of prechosen audio snippets to represent each character’s voice, with one set for the before-concert conversation and one set for the after-concert conversation. They will be randomly chosen when the player clicks the guitars. At some point, clicking two “correct” snippets in succession will erase all of the audio snippets except two – which will represent the final exchange between the two. (in the same “voice” or song).