It was great to get back to our conversation last Monday morning after a week respite (due to the UCI world championships in Bergen).
I am happy that Robert chose to present on both Inanimate Alice Vol 1 and Inanimate Alice Vol 4. This emblematic work has been a key “gateway” text for new readers of electronic literature. It has also become a rich resource for educators who are interested in exploring digital literacy (and new forms of reading in a digitized/computational environment) with young readers.
Thanks Robert for an excellent walkthrough of both the first and fourth installments in this multilayered episodic story about a young girl who grows up in varying spots around the globe. Inanimate Alice‘s multimodal combination of text, sound, video, and imagery has certainly served an exemplar of digital storytelling. In the first episode, we meet young 8 year old Alice in the wilds of northern China. She and her family (Mom & Dad) are posted because Dad is their for his work as an oil prospector/engineer. The first story takes us through an ominous experience of anxiety from a child’s perspective. Alice and her mother are searching for her missing Dad. She copes with his temporary disappearance in varying ways. The story ends with relief as they find him in a rescue effort. But the narrative presents considerable foreboding/anxiety. Alice’s life is one of perpetual isolation. She is an only child, but she is also a person who moves to different cultural contexts often, and she has trouble connecting due to her circumstances. She responds to this with her imagination. And her imagination is expanded with her own tinkering, writing, and making on her digital device. In short, her relationship to technology is a formative part of her development.
In the fourth episode of Alice’s overall journey, she is now fourteen years old and living in a small town in the middle of England. Her first real friends have dared her to climb to the top of an abandoned building which supposedly has a great view of the whole town from the top. Alice accepts the dare. As she climbs to the top and the stairs give way. She narrowly misses falling, and is stuck at the top of the building with no clear way out. Alice is frightened, and she must navigate her way out of this dark unknown place. The reader navigates with/for Alice, and we “play the game” until we can find our way out of the abandoned warehouse. Brad (Alice’s imaginary digital friend) is a help if we decide to “use” him for guidance during our journey to the top of the building. The soundtrack and imagery set a foreboding and dangerous tone, along the way highlighting glimpses of surprising beauty in an overall industrial wasteland. Alice has a way of finding the silver lining in her surroundings and her situation. She is a sojourner who survives despite the constrained context(s) she find herself in.
It was interesting to think about the resonance of the title for this piece (an illusion to “Alice in Wonderland” of course, as well as the inherent provocation as we think about what is “inanimate”). We discussed the unique affordances of the “gameplay” version of the story’s conclusion verses the other choice to just read through the factory exploration. The gamed version is more interactive, and as a result, perhaps the navigator/reader is given a more “empathetic lens” into Alice’s trials. We also discussed the way in which this work has been a catalyst for many discussions regarding both digital literacy and globalization. What is striking about this piece is the strong desire to really know Alice. While we do not know what she looks like, or anything beyond the very basic facts of her transient life, we are still drawn to this character through a skilful and dynamic portrayal of her inner workings. The textual, visual and auditory aspects of this digital novel work in powerful tandem – the reader discovers the important role technology has to play not simply in viewing a text, but in forming a more complex and intimate relationship with a character.
We spoke a bit about the forthcoming installment in the series called “Perpetual Nomads” – a new VR installment (which is out in beta this year). We thought about the kinds of affordances that a VR storytelling environment might lend this special serialized story. The spacial dimensions of Alice’s experiences are a clear theme/trope throughout the series. So it will be interesting to see what the artists can do in collaboration to build on the empathy the reader/navigator feels for Alice/. They will literally being placing us in Alice’s shoes. This will be yet another horizon of digital storytelling complexity that will add to our understanding of Alice’s world.
We also has a rich conversation this week about Marlene’s selection of Anna Anthropy’s The Hunt for the Gay Planet. There was comparison made to Quing’s Quest which we spoke of earlier in the semester, since both Twine games. And both texts are also playful and parodic responses the problematic limits of identity (and identity politics) in the gaming industry. Some of you felt that this text did a disservice to the LGBT community despite the fact that it was meant to address offensive stereotyping. In essence, the text was problematic for many of you, and you were thoughtfully critical about it. When we discussed why, we looked more closely at the different elements that go into making elit. While the technical execution of this game text was successful, the writing itself fell short. We agreed that the writing did nothing to complicate gay identity in a positive sense. Rather, it seemed to prefer a campy sensibility and in the process reified the very stereotypes it set out to dismantle.
**NextMonday October 2nd, we will attend Mary Flanagan’s lecture from 10:15am-12:00 – Sydneshaugen skole, Auditorium Q. On Wednesday, Lene will present on Курёхин: вторая жизнь (Kuryokhin: Second Life).
For your Monday blog post, you may write about The Hunt for the Gay Planet or you may write about Second Life.
Have a great weekend!