Considered as a revolution in the “book publishing” industry, Inanimate Alice is a multiplatform immersive project. Often presented as transmedia, mostly thanks to its interactivity and multimedia use, Inanimate Alice is an interesting case of storytelling usage. With a six figure budget and different levels of utility, this project’s development took an unexpected turn…
Inanimate Alice was created as a digital book; the immersive story allows users to interact with the central character, Alice, and to help her advance into the story. Text, audio, video, special effects and gaming are all used to deliver the narrative in a compelling way.
Written by award winning author Kate Pullinger, directed by digital artist Chris Joseph and produced by Ian Harper, this interactive project introduces us to Alice, a young girl growing up in the first half of the 21st century, and her digital imaginary friend, Brad.
Ian Harper explained that “Inanimate Alice is a multimedia interactive fiction, produced using manipulated images, text, games, music and sound effects.” As the story evolves, the authors describe Alice’s life, told in episodes, her travels around the world with her parents, then at school, in college, and then at the video game company when the main character grows up.
Even though Inanimate Alice is not pure transmedia if you take in consideration the Wikipedia definition by being mainly web based, the project has inherent transmedia features like a non-linear mode of reading, evolving storytelling and user’s interactivity that spans across multiple media platforms (the story can be experienced on any device that supports Adobe’s Flash Player). The reader becomes a part of the story, by participating rather than just consuming the content.
The origins of the project
Ian Harper confessed that Inanimate Alice began as the back-story to a movie screenplay called E|Mission, he had written in 2004. The events presented in that tale called for some explanation of who Alice is, her relationship with her digital friend Brad, and what events led her be the one person who would save the world.
Unlike most digital content, Inanimate Alice is not a traditional text-only story, which has then been reorganized and enhanced in digital form. This project was conceived, written and created entirely for the web.
The producer stated that as the story progressed, each episode became more interactive and complex than the one before, thus reflecting Alice’s character growth and her developing skills as an animator and computer game designer. Even the formats evolve: from still images to video and 3-D games.
The viewer is tasked with multiple actions mostly destined to increase the immersion into the story. The simulated multi-tasking environment is supposed to be similar to a computer game requiring the reader to solve puzzles before being able to access new portions of the text.
In August 2011, Inanimate Alice launched a new website and a new tool, developed in partnership with Promethean Planet that establishes a resources and news-sharing community around Inanimate Alice. These recent developments help expanding Alice’s story world.
It’s quite interesting that one of these developments is Alice’s gadget. Pulled out of one episode, the gadget is brought to life and serves as a centralizer for the new free resources: a trailer, a teacher’s guide, a literary resource pack, a whiteboard guide and a showcase for all user generated contents.
While the Promethean Planet User Group was created for the teachers, it actually created as well a community of involved students eager to create their own Inanimate Alice episodes, alongside unofficial wikis like this one: Alice and friends.
Ian Harper estimated that the total episode views were well in excess of one million, in the US, Europe, Asia, and especially Australia and New Zealand. An official Twitter and Facebook account accompanies the main website, alongside two “Alice’s School Reports” a webzine about the relation between the students and the Inanimate Alice storyline.
After the airing of the fifth episode, the early ones were translated into French, German, Italian and Spanish for the European Commission’s Intercultural Dialogue initiative. The producers discovered then that they might use Alice for something beyond simply reading. That’s when the project started to evolve into an “educational” tool for foreign languages teachers.
The storyline and the graphics let us think that the project is mainly targeted at children and teenagers; this assumption is confirmed by the project’s “educational” evolution. Over the time, the producers observed that Inanimate Alice was, indeed, popular with international schools and language learning schools around the world, particularly in AsiaPac countries.
Alice for education
Inanimate Alice’s producers developed a series of partnerships with different teachers and university students in order to develop complementary educational materials. Now, said Ian Harper “education departments at universities around the world use those lesson plans and worksheets as core materials for literacy and ICT education objectives targeting 10-14 year old students with widely differing competencies.” The early episodes provide the framework for a considerable (100+ hours) modular non-native-language training program. Following the format of the online series, this program provides content for both language-schools and individual learners.
A Million Dollar Story
The project’s producer, Ian Harper stated that “The team’s commitment to this project far exceeds the six-figure sum that has been spent thus far.” In the same article he mentioned that the series completion will demand another investment, pushing the overall budget over the one million dollars limit.
Alice has become a bridge between technologies, languages, generations and education. The producer’s hope is that the industry will, as well, meet them in the middle.