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Inanimate Alice - Digital Fiction

You've seen all the future-of-publishing talk surrounding e-books, but what about digital fiction? Have you heard of it?

I was recently introduced to Inanimate Alice, a digital story that combines text, sound, images, and even games to create an interactive reading experience. It follows the story of eight-year-old Alice and her digital imaginary friend, Brad, as they grow up in the 21st century with a peculiar, somewhat troublesome childhood. With Brad's "help," Alice goes on to become an extremely successful games animator.

"'Inanimate Alice' is a study of human/computer relations in a world where having friends means never having to meet them."

It's co-written by Kate Pullinger, a novelist, and Chris Joseph, a digital writer and artist, and produced by Ian Harper of The BradField Company.

Check out the first episode, China, and see what it's all about. Four of the ten episodes are currently available online for free.

I can see a future for this form of media with reluctant readers, the video game generation, in schools as an interactive educational tool, etc., and I suspect e-readers of the future will be compatible with the format.

What are you thoughts on digital fiction? Do you embrace this as a form of advanced reading or do you think it's too game-like? Please share the link, and let's discuss!


Heather Kelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather Kelly said...

Casey-- I think this is a beautiful art form, but takes away some of the reasons that I love writing. The reader loses the ability to bring the story to life in their own way, so it feels more like watching a movie than reading a book.

I thought it was intense and powerful, but also off-setting and kind of scary for a child. I'm not sure I'm going to let my 9-yr. old watch it.

The visual and auditory cues really amp up the experience, which is great. I think it is an exceptional idea and exceptionally well done. I think this will become a popular medium, but I will always think of it as very different than reading.

Casey Something said...

Hi Heather! I found the episodes to be rather eerie and intense as well. I'm not entirely sure who the intended audience is age-wise as the character slowly grows to an adult with each episode.

I think it's an amazing concept, however. Imagine if they did something much more lighthearted and fun? I think kids would absolutely love it!

Heather Kelly said...

Casey--sorry, I re-wrote my comment since it was so disjointed the first time around-- the experience really did get into my head.

And, I do think it has amazing potential!

pat said...

I found it disturbing and chaotic.

Casey Something said...

Sorry you found it disturbing, Pat! What do you think of the concept though?

Anonymous said...

Am I being heretical by saying that I've been thinking about this? I want to put up a website solely dedicated to one story with graphics and music to enhance the text not take away from it. It would be purely a fun experiment. Some genres lend themselves better to this concept than others.

Tara McClendon said...

I think it's something to keep an eye on.

Sherrie Petersen said...

I actually bought an app for my iPod touch yesterday that is a picture book with beautiful illustrations and the author reads the story out loud (or you can turn her off!). It's cool because a normal picture book is like $16, but the app is only $1.99 and so much more interactive. The kids think it's cool, and they're pretty much beyond picture book age!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I just went and watched China. I thought it was pretty cool, but I don't think of it as strictly a book. It's more like a blend of music video, movie and book. I think I'll show it to my almost 10-year-old son and see what he thinks. I'll let you know :)

Ian Harper said...

Hi....I'm producing the series and wanted to mention that schools are introducing the episodes to children as young as 8, although the mainstream is in the 10-14 range.

It is an inspiration to reluctant learners as well as the gifted. We have learned not to tell students they are going to watch something in which case they are expecting a movie or a videogame, but that they are going to read something. This seems to make a big difference in their expectations, reaction and approach to the episodes.

Heather, I hope you take a chance with your 9 year old. What I have seen with young kids is the get immersed in driving the story forward with the mouse. The really get into the scenes.

I'm keen to hear that feedback from yourself and Solvang.

Best wishes,


Casey Something said...

Stephanie, I think it's a great idea. Something young readers could really get into. If you go forward with it, let me know!

Me too, Tara!

That sounds awesome, Sherrie! I think we're inevitably going to be seeing more and more advancements of these sorts. In some ways, I think it's good for writers to embrace them and follow the trends. We'll probably be expected to market in these ways in the future.

Hi Ian! So glad you stopped by to answer some of our questions. Would you mind telling us how the idea of an interactive reading experience came together? I think it's brilliant!

Ian Harper said...

Thanks for asking, Casey.

The idea for 'Inanimate Alice' evolved over quite some time. I had written a movie screenplay, a sci-fi thriller, called 'E|Mission' where Alice is mid-twenties and working for the biggest computer games company in the world. In 'E|Mission' Alice and Brad - the game character and the only man in her life - and Alice save the world from impending disaster.

I was seeking an interesting and unusual way to pitch the movie. We talked about writing a blog, a novel in print...lots of possibilities. Eventually, we realised that if such important events as those described in the movie were to happen, then we need to know something about Alice and her life before those events take place.

So, 'Inanimate Alice' the backstory to the movie was born. Kate Pullinger the writer and Chris Joseph, digital artist developed a comprehensive story bible for the project.

There would be ten episodes, each episode growing in complexity and interactivity in keeping with Alice's age at the time of the episode as she grows up to become an animator and game designer.

The story bible outlines the themes we would discuss over the story arc as well as the artistic and musical guidelines. Keen analysts, PhD students among them, point to the improving quality of the backdrops, the musical styles and the changing typefaces all of which provide the reader with a sense of time and place. Even Ming's artwork evolves over time - we are experiencing her changing influences with each episode.

We are planning for episodes 6 and beyond now. Things are starting to get really complicated as Alice heads off for college.

Thanks for the opportunity to ramble on about the series. It is a large scale and pretty expensive project. Someone mentioned recently, that this is turning into my life's work, which seems to be the case ;)


Jonathon Arntson said...

Totally late for this train, but Heather just dug this link up for me and I gotta say, wow! This is something amazing. Like you said, if this were given a lighthearted theme, like a pool party, kids would eat it up! I love the idea of using it as an educational tool. Wow, wow, wow. Thanks for sharing this. I feel the need to totally dig deep and find out where this is going.