By Owen Stewart
This first work in a series of ten by Kate Pullinger represents an interactive children’s story that circles around Alice, her mother, her toy ba-xi and her missing father. The story follows a linear path, beginning with Alice’s father not returning home, Alice and her mother looking for the father, and then the father being found.
Throughout the piece there is sound and some interactions that the reader (or player) must perform to continue the story. As a children`s story, it deals with some fairly dark subject matter, and at times the music that goes along with it is bleak (the sound your speakers make when your cell phone is ringing beside them, if that helps at all).
The core of Inanimate Alice centres on her relationship with technology. Ever present in this first episode is the interaction between Alice and her electronic toy, ba-xi. The best way to describe ba-xi is as a palm pilot for kids. Alice plays with her toy as they look for her father, and you get the idea that her toy is her friend and main outlet for childhood creativity. As you interact with the piece you get the sense that technology is a go between for Alice and the world, or Alice and her parents, and this is expressed in multiple ways. Searching for her Father Alice takes photos of flowers and e-mails them to him, she creates a friend on her ba-xi, and when they travel her ba-xi registers new places on its map, prompting Alice to hope that it helps her to find her dad. As the author`s description explains, Inanimate Alice is part of a series of works that documents Alice as she grows up with her ba-xi, blogs, and other technological devices. Inanimate Alice raises the issue of how children are plugged in from birth, and brings up questions (albeit limited ones) about health, and, to use Kate Pullinger`s words, “electro-sensitivity“. Some of the sound in the story, specifically the speaker-cell phone sound is directly connected to health as it is generated by potentially cancer causing radiation.
Inanimate Alice is a children`s story with a message for adults. The idea of electro-sensitivity is present, without being overriding. As it stands by itself, Inanimate Alice, Episode One: China is a solid piece of writing, but it is very much the first step in a series of works. It achieves its goal of pointing out the child technology relationship, but doesn`t feel complete. How it connects to the rest of the Inanimate Alice series will decide the value and stance of this first episode.