Ian, you are the spiritual father of the digital story and educational tool 'Inanimate Alice'(1), could you first introduce Alice to us?
The Bradfield Company Limited
From time to time Inanimate Alice is referred to as a game. My first task, then, is to clarify that it is not a game but a story about games and the people who make them, conveyed in such a way that the resulting production – an interactive, audio-visually illustrated, narrative - has the look and feel of a game-like world.
Our protagonist, Alice, grows up dreaming of one day becoming a videogame designer. Over the series of 10 episodes - 5 completed to date and the 6th in production - we see her develop her skills from the stickman character she draws when she is 8 years old to the highly rendered 3D game images that are typically found in high-priced AAA game titles. By the end of the series, those final episodes will have the look and feel of such titles while still being primarily a reading experience.
It is Alice who is narrating her story; as we experience each episode we see the world through her eyes. Written from the point of view of a mid-twenties professional, successful in her career and looking back over her life, viewers are given impressions of Alice’s circumstances and technical capabilities at various points along the way. Each episode is incrementally more complex and 'improved' than the one preceding it, the structure reflecting Alice's artistic skills as she grows older. For example, the recently released episode 5, where Alice is 16, provides a selection of 3D visuals within a two dimensional, linear, storyline while episode 6, where Alice is 18, will be the first episode to be a fully immersive 3D reading experience….just like being inside a videogame.
It’s a story about Alice's travels around the world - firstly with her parents, then on her own during her Gap Year and finally in pursuit of her career goals.
The narrative also tells of her career journey and the relationship she has had with the game character she has been developing, seemingly all of her life. Uniquely, Alice has only ever designed one character, her "best friend" Brad. She just keeps making him better and better. For the record, Brad is the manifestation of the internet world we all seem to occupy these days. Everyone stares at screens, small or large, for endless hours and so, in many ways, Brad is the personification of the screen and our relationship with technology.
I read in Wikipedia that Inanimate Alice was named a ‘Best Website for Teaching & Learning’ by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) in 2012. You also told me it has been incorporated into literacy and digital curricula in the United States and in Australia. Inanimate Alice being an entertaining tool, how is it then that it ended up becoming a tool in the Education sector?
The story started out as an entertainment, written and developed as the backstory to a transmedia film/game title I had the impression would resolve many of the issues I saw in the earlier works of that genre. Rather than create a game, the creative team came up with the idea of a story with embedded puzzles and mini-games that would provide a deeper impression of what the story is about. Very simple to start with, the challenges become progressively more complex with each subsequent episode. They act as a primer for those who are unfamiliar with videogames.
Early on, from our website statistics, we noticed that most of the site users were teachers and, importantly, that they represented almost all of the returning traffic. At that time, we decided to actively support those teachers in the use of Alice as an educational tool.
There are several factors that make a transmedia story such as ‘Inanimate Alice’ a popular tool in Education. Firstly, that the approach to visualisation embraces the same techniques as videogames. The products of this technique immediately capture students’ attention. This level of engagement greatly facilitates the teacher’s job. Also, the interaction and many embedded games ensure it remains compelling on re-reading and delving deep into the various topics that are discussed in the episodes.
In particular, Inanimate Alice has an extra interesting twist. Our protagonist is a girl who is going into the videogames industry; a rare event in that currently male-dominated environment. We want to avoid stereotypes by creating a role model with Alice and making the point of promoting the videogame industry and the wider ICT sector among girls.
Could you mention the ‘gamification’ elements present on Alice?
There are a number of facets to the production that demonstrate the benefits to educators of working with a story constructed in this way: