Research Report on Inanimate Alice
The art of storytelling invites the engagement of its readers in Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph’s interactive digital novel series, Inanimate Alice. The notion of traditional reading expands with the increased capabilities offered by the digital medium. Pullinger and Joseph explore a multitude of ways to engage interactivity of readers and enhance the reading experience. Text, sound, and imagery come together in this digital format to present an episodic storyline that transcends traditional storytelling by engaging multiple sensory cues. Inanimate Alice attempts to promote sensory learning by engaging in multiple senses and allowing more narrative control traditional book reading is unable to provide. Considering the rise in technological development and the recent propagation of shallow and skimming reading behavior, Pullinger and Joseph promote a new form of storytelling conducive to an environment in which sensory stimulation and user control is necessary to elicit and maintain reader attention and engagement.
Inanimate Alice is a multimodal digital novel that follows the life of the protagonist, Alice. Narrative text interacts with the images onscreen in such a way that encourages reader engagement as text is displayed at different times, in different locations, and in different ways. Engagement is created further as the story switches points of view, from third person to the point of view of Alice, enabling the reader to control the movement of the screen and immersing into the story even further. In doing so, readers are required to move the mouse and click on relevant images in order for the narrative to continue. User control is a prominent feature in this specific medium as navigation through the story is determined by the decisions the user chooses to take. The reader is able to direct the plot by navigating through the image display. The storyline also provides readers the opportunity to select informational text he/she would like to view without the risk of disrupting the overall progression of the plot. The story continually switches from active to passive forms of attention by presenting information through text in addition to having the reader navigate the maze-like digital environment to acquire sensory information and reach the end of the story.
Interactive stories such as Inanimate Alice embrace the tools online reading has to offer. Digital reading tasks have been designed to require a multitude of skills, including reading skills, navigation skills, and familiarity with computers, which Pullinger and Joseph encapsulate in their project to facilitate engagement. The project is significant in exaggerating the control and freedom of the reader, deliberately creating a complex maze-like structure the reader must navigate through independently in order to follow the storyline. The notion of a linear storyline is challenged as the reader is free to navigate wherever he/she pleases (immersing in the virtual world further) with little to no guidelines, and it is only when a new form of text appears does the reader continue with the story.
Inanimate Alice is accessed online via any digital platform. As text is displayed onscreen in such a way that interacts with the setting, readers are required to click on an arrow to proceed to the next set of text and images (Figure 1). If the arrow is not clicked, the screen remains frozen. As the reader navigates through the text and images, music is playing in the background to add to the user experience.
Figure 1. Arrows signified by “>>”
Figure 2. Each hand directs to a different scene
Between texts are frequent “action” sequences where the display moves as if in the POV of the character, accompanied by appropriate sound effects. To add to the user engagement, text may break away from the narrative and speak directly to the reader. Readers also have the opportunity to determine which sets of information they want to view first by clicking on strategically directed images of hands pointing (Figure 2)—a common graphic used throughout the project, as well as other clickable images (Figure 3). The project switches from actively reading and clicking to passively watching images onscreen that provide valuable insight and contribute to the feel of the story.
Figure 3. Clickable image examples include graphics of photographs and “hand-drawn” circles
In line with the theme of user control, readers have the option to “play the game” in which the reader can navigate during a portion of the project and risk falling out of line with the linear storyline, or they may choose to “read only,” reading the text that is now automated until reaching the end of the story. Even after the story is complete, readers’ sense of control is again brought to attention by having the option of going back to previous “chapters” in order to engage with different parts of the story once more (Figure 4).
Figure 4: The chapter tabs are located on the right-hand side of the screen
Evaluation of Research
The emphasis in multiple-sensory stimulation is a key characteristic of such a project in order to maintain engagement. The benefit of such a method of engagement is that it is a personalized user experience, where the program and user interact with one another. Innovation is emphasized in this project, focusing on the aesthetic appeal and presentation through technological means.
As stated before, Inanimate Alice takes multimodal, interactivity as its main source of engagement. The creation of the project is technological and engaging. Its limitations, however, are found in the creating process and the lack of information presented with the medium. Since the release of the first episode in 2005, Inanimate Alice has only come up with four additional episodes. The inclusion of varying text, sound, and imagery in a creative and cohesive way is very time-consuming and labor-intensive. In addition, the format of the project favors short text with little substance, making the project less efficient considering how much time is necessary to complete each project. The project relies heavily on the imagery displayed onscreen with minimal text, facilitating shallow reading behavior. These limitations seem to contradict one another as the technological effort to engage readers through different sensory stimulation should attempt to assist in gathering loads of information, but is rather an attempt to acquire short text—information which does not need heavy engagement to begin with.
Pullinger and Joseph have developed innovative ways to capture user attention and engagement that proves useful in a digital age where information is bombarding the individual and we are forced to select what information we take in, resulting in negative consequences in our information-gathering. However, the information that is coupled with this interactive program is too few and shallow to determine whether or not the effort put into enhancing engagement is effective. The way the project is set up with its minimal text and sensory input suggests it is a great resource targeted for a younger audience to enhance their educational learning, which is adopted by some educational institutions. With the complexity involved in creating Inanimate Alice, Pullinger and Joseph’s project has the potential to expand as a more sophisticated educational resource.
Resources for Further Study
- Digital Storytelling: http://creatingmultimodaltexts.com/digital-storytelling/
- Gobel, S., Malkewitz, R., & Iurgel, I. Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment. Darmstadt: Springer, 2006.
- In the Classroom: http://fltmag.com/digital-stories/
- Mitchell, A., Fernandez-Vara, C., & Thue, D. Interactive Storytelling. New York: Springer, 2014.