Created by the Brad Field Company and produced by Dreaming Methods, “Inanimate Alice” because it’s by the same company responsible for “Inkubus” and the icon for it looked like a SF/F version of Kowloon (which I personally find to be a particularly intriguing chapter in HongKong’s history). It’s an ongoing digital novel project and so far it has four completed chapters, each individually ‘playable’ within a browser. Each chapter grows increasingly complicated and interactive as the story progresses. Since it caught my eyes and I’ve ‘played’ through it a few times, I’ve found myself continually waffling on an opinion of it. The story starts with Alice living as an 8 year old girl in a supposedly futuristic China (the About page describes the setting as the ‘near-future’ but it must be very near because there was nothing at all in the chapter an 8-year-old of today couldn’t do).
The music utilizes recognizably Asian instruments put to a fast beat that rings with tension. The tension is echoed in the way the story starts of with Alice’s Dad (an oil prospector) having gone missing. The story is laced with tension and angst that is heightened by the music and the little girl’s apparent disconnect from it all (as she just wants to play with her phone, or her Player as she calls it) is rendered as a child’s fear response. The story continues from a building panic at the realization that her dad is well and truly missing, to a hunt to find him, and then they just find him and go home. The happy ending is jarringly abrupt and it doesn’t really feel like it matters. The next episode is the same, minimal plot, lots of angst, random bright and sunny ending slamming in from left field. The third episode finally brings some active plot into the mix, but again the happy ending just appears with no explanation and there’s a LOT of details left unexplained (like why Alice suddenly calls her mum by her first name). In short, the story has an interesting premise, and a lot of potential, but it doesn’t seem like much of that potential is being fully utilized.
Also, I’m not sure what exactly it’s meant to be teaching. Supposedly it won the 2012 award for best teaching an learning website, but I really can’t imagine why. Alice has an odd relationship with “Brad” (a character she drew into her player): in some ways it can be seen as an embracing of technology’s potential to comfort and provide guidance, but on the other hand it seems to be made as more representative of Her levels of unhealthy obsession, so perhaps it’s trying to disseminate that sort of wariness of obsession through classrooms (particularly as the title seems to warn of a human child becoming inanimate, presumably via reliance on technology for emotional support). The story is incredibly straightforward and rather dull in its over-angsting, but it’s a well phrased look into a child’s mindset and delightfully multicultural. As far as new media goes, it’s nothing revolutionary; there’s music, there’s blurry flashy images, there’s a puzzle and a game or two. It’s all internally contained and localized; it doesn’t make connections to the real world or even attempt to bridge the gap between reality and fiction. There’s no real presence to it and that was disappointing. “Inanimate Alice” seems to be a cool experiment, but it’s definitely not my favorite. Even if it is meant to educate small children, I was playing more compelling and technologically complicated games than this on my Vtech when I was 7.