Get digitally lost in China with Inanimate Alice -altsalt

Get digitally, frenetically lost in China with Inanimate Alice

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China, the first episode of the digital fiction series Inanimate Alice, is a hotbed of cool aesthetic techniques and an example of good pacing in multimedia literature.

Length: 5 minutes
Devices: Desktop
Technology: Flash
Cost: Free

Some multimedia pieces use mostly sequential art; others lean towards being text-heavy. Then there are those pieces, like Inanimate Alice, that are true digital fiction hybrids, existing comfortably at the intersection of various media.

China, the first episode of the Inanimate Alice series, plays with a lot of cool aesthetic ideas and establishes a signature style that includes frenetic music, impressionistic artwork, spare text, and some interactivity. Overall, it’s a well-executed multimedia fiction whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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The world of Inanimate Alice is fleshed out well; here, the reader is pulled out of the immediate action to read about Alice’s thoughts, represented via text on her mobile Ba-xi.

A precocious eight-year-old, Alice, is our main character. A future computer games designer, she is whisked around the world by her nomadic and ever-busy parents; she also desperately wants a dog and, in her free time, makes art on her “Ba-xi” (presumably the equivalent of a smartphone).

The creators do a great job depicting Alice’s bewildered state of mind with animations and electronic music, establishing a unique atmosphere in the process (I’m reluctant to call it cyberpunk, but it does feel related). Reading mostly comes in one-sentence increments, as Alice’s thoughts are represented through text, image, and sound. Despite the media jumble, though, the narrative always feels cohesive.

At one point, your cursor becomes a miniature cell phone camera, and hovering over images initiates the snapping of a photo, complete with the sound of a shutter release.

At one point, your cursor becomes a miniature cell phone camera, and hovering over images initiates the snapping of a photo, complete with the sound of a shutter release.

Aesthetically, one of the definite achievements here is the pacing. Inanimate Alice manages to strike the right balance between user-driven clicks and spurts of animation among well-composed layouts. Also, it seems like every last piece of Inanimate Alice is alive, whether the text via flickering, the artwork via animation, or the sound effects piping out at each juncture as the story progresses.

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The creators chose to avoid depicting characters directly, instead choosing to create atmosphere through evocative and impressionistic images.

As of this writing, the Inanimate Alice series now contains six episodes, the latest of which was released just this year. The episodes become increasingly complex as Alice grows older, so it’s particularly interesting to see how the series style took root more than a decade ago (China was first released in 2005).

I first found Inanimate Alice through Dreaming Methods, a development trust focused on collaborative electronic literature and narrative games. We’ll be sure to cover more Dreaming Methods content in the future, as well as write more in depth on the evolution of Inanimate Alice.

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Inanimate Alice uses sound to great effect. In this part, we hear a humming noise that, coupled with the text and image, creates a strong sense of atmosphere.

Inanimate Alice was created by Kate Pullinger, professor of creative writing and new media at Bath Spa University, and Chris Joseph, a digital designer and programmer who works “primarily in the fields of electronic fiction and art.” Also, be sure to check out the Inanimate Alice Facebook page for series updates!

About the author

Ricardo Morales

Ricardo Morales is a programmer, digital literature enthusiast, and founder of AltSalt. Perpetually stricken with wanderlust, he enjoys playing music, social dancing, and making awesome work with talented people.

1 comment
Sensational December Machine is a short story with digital spice - April 28, 2016

[…] Simogo’s projects can often feel less like games and more like interactive literary experiences; The Sensational December Machine is a nice part of that tradition. It’s also interesting to note their approach to digital storytelling and how it differs to that of, say, Inanimate Alice. […]

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