Friday, April 18, 2008

Inanimate Alice - game and narrative

One of my (more enjoyable) tasks this week has been to write the draft of a review of Inanimate Alice for the Magazine du CIAC. Here's a brief excerpt of my thoughts so far on the relationship between game and narrative in Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph's text:

...Inanimate Alice’s multiplicity extends beyond its use of semiotic resources, also exploiting the creative synergies between narratives in new media and computer gaming. Ludology-narratology debates are well-rehearsed and it is not my intention to reiterate them here. Instead, Inanimate Alice blends together concepts from both genres. Clearly, the text itself is primarily a digital fiction, and the actual games are embedded in each episode. However, as the narrative unfolds, the points of difference between games and storytelling become less clear. Both the narrative episodes and the games have similar underlying quest-like structures, with puzzles to be completed in order to reach closure. Narrative and gaming segments are interdependent insofar as both must be negotiated successfully in order to progress through the text (the games cannot be played without reading the story and the narrative cannot proceed unless the games are won).

Thematically, narrative and game are intertwined for the central character is also a game animator. Likewise, the audience are both readers (of narrative segments) and players (of the games). The figure Brad is both avatar and character. However, the audience’s interaction with the games and narrative is not identical. Avatars can be manipulated (for example, Brad’s icon can be slid across the screen to catch the falling Russian dolls) whereas although the reader experiences Alice’s focalized perspective, they cannot change the actions that Alice takes. Alongside this, there are subtle differences in the navigation of narrative and game segments. The reader is explicitly told how to move from one narrative segment to the next on the opening screen of the text. In contrast, there is no instruction on how the games are to be played. Instead the viewer has to work out for the rules for interacting with each game by hovering, clicking and dragging the cursor variously, nor do these rules transfer from one game to another or into the narrative segments. Perhaps familiarity with gaming literacy is assumed to be greater than that of digital fiction. Or perhaps the puzzle of how to interact with the game is part of the game, and assumed to be too frustrating for successful narrative processing. Either way, the progressive complexity of the gaming interaction in future Alice episodes will no doubt be fruitful grounds for further hybrid cross-overs between story and game in online texts.

For the full review, we'll have to wait for editorial approval. But if you've thoughts or comments about Inanimate Alice, gaming and narrative, please do add them.