Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China

Review and Response to Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China 

Keyword: Childrens Literature

Review by Kolton Smith; Response by Alexandra Loslier

 

REVIEW:

Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China by Kate Pullinger and babel is a part of the Electronic Literature Collection and is uniquely different from other pieces. One of the main classifications this is under is children literature. Going through the piece I really couldn’t feel it. It did have a child in it, but it was not something that stood out or something that I could relate to as a child. I found that this piece offered a lot things, but Children literature wasn’t one of them. The main thing that struck my eye was that this piece is Flash based which requires the Flash plugin to be run. It offers many benefits that other traditional literature and other electronic literature don’t have. This piece uses sound and visual stimuli that go along with the story.  The sound and visuals are perfectly integrated with the text. The story allows the reader to read the text and still be able to enjoy everything else. The story is presented in a linear fashion just like traditional stories. On occasion the reader is required to progress the story by pressing “>>” or by solving a puzzle. Just like the sound and visuals, this is just another way that the story is able to keep the reader’s attention for the whole duration of the story. Along the way a chapter menu appears on the side of the piece. This allows you to progress backwards in the story, but it doesn’t allow you to go forward read the ending.  Overall the story was very amusing and was able to keep my short attention span occupied for the whole 5 minutes, which was hard for some other electronic literature pieces. This type of story has great potential in the future. It’s able to deliver a detailed rich story in a short amount of time and keep the reader entertained. Flash is very common so other stories could easily replicate this format. The only problem with this format is that being so short and having details highly compressed it’s easy to miss information that the author thinks is important. Maybe that is why I never got some parts of it. I think different people are going to get different things out of it. It’s a unique experience and I hope to read more like this in the future.

 

RESPONSE:

            This piece of electronic literature really tugged at my heartstrings. Firstly, as an only child I can really empathize with the young narrator of the story. The authors illustrated the feeling of loneliness quite well and were thoughtful in they way they used the 8 year olds voice to bring light to what some readers might have interpreted as a dark tale. The setting is a far away place, devoid of playmates and the young girl must use her imagination and her toys to create a sense of peace for herself in what seems to be a hectic and static environment.  The story truly speaks to the only child of not only this generation but of future generations as well. Although I disagree with Kolton about the applicability of the keyword “Childrens Story” I do agree that the use of flash and multimedia is very prominent and a very fitting keyword. Pullinger and Babel use static and aggressive sound, image and vocals to set a mood for the reader, a mood that is somber and tense. The sounds associated with the flash production project the idea that the future holds static filled skies and white noise in barren lands. Pullingers description of this story states that this is a part of a collection of stories that chronicle the growth of a young woman named “Alice,” and that this specific story was written in as a chapter of her early years as an 8 year old. Pullinger calls the title “Inanimate Alice,” which is strange for a children’s piece as inanimate means lifeless, dead, non-living, and dull. What I glean from this title is that the word inanimate refers to the objects, such as the Ba-Xi and her imaginary friend Brad, which Alice must use to fill the void that she feels from not having any physical contact with her playmates.  The tension felt in the story is splattered with bits of youthful naivety in both the interactivity the reader has with the electronic literature and with the sweet way a young girl describes what could be interpreted as a sad, dark and lonely place. I may not recommend this reading to an 8 year old in our present day but I can understand how the authors feel that this will be the format for children stories of the future.

QUESTIONS:

  1. How do you envision the children’s stories of the future? Do you see them being presented in such a format, why or why not?
  2. Why do you think the author’s chose such an uncomfortable soundtrack for the story, do you feel it was effective, what feeling did it evoke in you?
  3. Did you appreciate the interactivity of the story? What did it remind you of? Do you think the author used too much audience interaction, too little, or just enough?
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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China

  1. Jay Buchanan

    Hey Kolton and Alexandra,

    Thought I’d answer the questions you posed about the e-lit piece and it’s ties to the future possibilities of the children’s genre.

    1. I agree that the use of this type of electronic multimedia is a very promising stepping stone in the evolution of children’s literature. Some may argue that by increasing the amount of animated visuals and various sounds, we could end up suppressing the child’s imagination. I would contend that by adding those elements to a story give the child a more vivid experience that they can use to expand upon in their own minds.

    When I picture future literature for kids, I can see even more interactive properties such as something like virtual reality. It will create worlds for them to explore and discover new things that could possibly expand their knowledge of the real world around them. When we are young, we usually see things as being much more wondrous than when we grow up and become too entrenched in the harshness of reality. By associating the more exciting and joyous aspects of life with the interactive properties in future children’s lit, we could maybe even inspire children to make more of their world as they grow up.

    2. To me, the soundtrack was a perfect compliment to the situations at hand. You had Alice playing with her Ba-xi player the whole time and that was represented by the electromagnetic interference, or “white noise” you referred to. It was a bit of a distraction for us as the reader, just as the ba-xi player was as distraction for Alice.

    The music had such a hurried pace about it and I thought that captured the search for the missing father/husband as well. As Alice and her mom drive across the barren landscape in their car, the music really adds a desperate feeling to the viewer as well. It’s like you’re in the car with them; another concerned member of the family perhaps.

    3. While the interactivity of the story seemed pretty pretty bare-bones to other pieces of multimedia I’ve come across, I do like what it attempts to accomplish. The simplicity is perhaps better suited for a child’s interests but again, I’ve seen it done better on a majority of my own nephew’s games and toys. The way you have to take pictures of the different flowers to progress the story reminded me of the Leapfrog player he had when he was younger. The similarities are there, but even my nephew’s gadgets were more polished than the presentation in “Alice”. Perhaps this was due to the limitations of the flash plugin at the time Pullinger and babel created it?

    I found the interaction to be a little too much overall but only because some if it seemed forced. I guess if this piece is intended for children, it needs to be kept at a pace they can handle though. I’ve played way too many video games in my day so I’m probably a little biased as well!

    All in all, I did enjoy this work quite a bit and I would probably rank it up near the top of what I’ve seen so far in this collection. I think the music and implementation of visuals really connected with me on some levels. Anyways, great job on the review you two.

  2. Jen Zimmerman

    1. How do you envision the children’s stories of the future? Do you see them being presented in such a format, why or why not?
    Interesting question. I took the Children’s Lit course here at CAP this past summer, and we had some opportunity to have a quest editor of children’s book. The long and short of her visit was that kids books aren’t going anywhere they are here to stay as they help children to learn how to read, be creative, explore etc. She did say that the general theme of fantasy is still and continues to be the most steadily growing trend/theme in children’s Lit of the 21st century. So to answer you question NO I don’t think that kids books will go the way of e-lit for many reasons. There are still a great deal in fact I woudl hasten to say over 50% of the world are still without access to computers. Just think about all the 2nd and 3rd world countries. E-lit most definitely does not teach one how to read, in fact, it does quite the opposite, and it tends to confuse the viewer with its speed, fonts, and aesthetic layout so much, so that you begin to question your own abilities as a reader.
    2. Why do you think the author’s chose such an uncomfortable soundtrack for the story, do you feel it was effective, what feeling did it evoke in you?
    EXCELLENT question. Honestly, I couldn’t stand that sound worse than nails on a chalkboard! In fact, I couldn’t even view this piece with sound, it was that distressing. Obviously viewing this piece without sound takes away from the aesthetic that the artist had originally intended. The sound almost made me ill. It was like throwing up when you see something excessively gory or hideous. It was like having someone give you a paper cut and pore lemon juice on it.
    Perhaps the reason why they chose such a horrible sound was to mimic how horrible kids can be at times, with their insistent whinny, crying, and inability to do the simplest things for themselves. Or perhaps it is a form of deterrence of procreation.

    If we go with my interpretation of why they chose the sounds that they did, than YES it was very effective. I for one did not want to see a child anywhere around me, immediately after viewing this piece.
    3. Did you appreciate the interactivity of the story? What did it remind you of? Do you think the author used too much audience interaction, too little, or just enough?
    I thin that this piece didn’t really need interactivity to get its point across, and that its excessive use of it really was overkill.

  3. Hi Jay and Jen,

    hope you don’t mind me jumping in here, but I found your discussion really interesting! It’s always hard to predict how people will come across Inanimate Alice, and so consequently what the preconceptions might be before viewing. This isn’t any fault of the readers/viewers – the ‘about’ page of Inanimate Alice has been due an update for a while! – but it does mean the piece is framed in unexpected ways.

    For example, the piece was never really intended to be for children… though it was never intended to be just for adults either 🙂 The basic conceit is that these stories are being created by Alice herself, who is an artist in her late-twenties working at the biggest games company in the world. She is looking back at her life, and using the skills she has (graphic design, animation, programming etc.) to tell her stories. This does mean that as her age in the stories progresses they will probably become less and less appropriate for children.

    Jen’s point about the interactivity is spot on, though the reason wasn’t Flash. In fact the interactivity is very intentionally extremely simple in the first episode, and then slowly increases over the series. The hope was to appeal to people who have never read/viewed/interacted with an electronic story (or game) before, and take them very gently up to a level of computer game-type interactivity, ideally so gently that they don’t even notice they have become experts by the end of episode 10…

    Of course this is a pretty difficult thing to pull off whilst maintaining the sense – and pace – of a traditional linear story, but that’s the aim! The interactivity also has purposes in terms of the series narrative: Alice engages (interacts) more and more with people, and her environment, as she gets older; and in terms of the metanarrative: this is Alice telling her own stories, so as her skills improve she gets better at telling them, so they slowly look (and interact) better.

    Sorry that you found the electromagnetic radiation sound effect so distressing! There is a reasoning behind the sound, but unfortunately it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling a major series story arc… the real world source of the sound has an important narrative purpose as the series progresses, but this might only become really clear by Episode 7 or 8. However we did dial down that sound effect after the first episode, where I agree it can be too prominent. Part of the problem is that it is set to play randomly, so sometimes you might not hear it very much at all, or at other times a little too much!

    Anyway, thank you both for having a look at it and for your comments –

    Chris

  4. A quick add for Kolton and Alexandra – thanks for your comments too, some really interesting observations and thoughts.

    Kolton – I don’t think you missed anything important 🙂 Part of the feel/aesthetic is that there is almost too much to see, and it moves almost too quickly to see, like the increasing pace of the real world. Hopefully the story stays intact though!

    Alexandra, your conclusion about the meaning of ‘Inanimate’ here is exactly right! And hopefully my explanation above of the backstory (that Alice is the person creating these stories) makes sense in the context of what you said about our description of the story.

  5. Pingback: Reviews and discussions of Inanimate Alice on CultureNet @ Capilano University « Chris Joseph

  6. harbord

    I really enjoyed this piece of “children’s lit”, it respected the reader, whomever that may be, child or adult. It was scary and tense, like a good children’s story should be; children have little control over their environment, and this piece vibrated with the main character’s uncertainty and fear. Her player is her security blanket, the one thing that she can control in this nerve wracking situation.

    I liked the sounds, for some reason I love that interference noise. That sound is what you hear in distress beacon messages from a ghost ship that have been picked up by another vessel – it is always erratic and static-y and creepy. It added to the atmosphere of the story for me because of this connection; the father is missing, there has been no communication, they head out on a rescue mission to find him. It’s a classic science fiction scenario that I never get tired of.

    I don’t know how to judge the interactivity of these e-lit pieces. There is obviously a rhythm to the stories or poems, and the authors decide when your next move will be to keep a structured pace, maybe like iambic pentameter or another system of scansion, but the e-lit version.

  7. Excellent post. Can’t wait to read more articles about this subject.

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