E-literature creates a unique opportunity for the reader. The author’s vision comes to life and invites the reader into the story. E-lit can be as simple and beautiful as “Shy Boy,” by Swiss, Cina, and Day. This e-lit poem chooses features such as fading and movement of words to create and reflect emotions for the reader. For example, Swiss writes, “You know what he wants to do? / Vanish.” This moment in the poem is emotionally played. The line, “You know what he wants to do?” disappears off the screen, and “Vanish” appears in a different location. “Vanish” then fades out, giving the reader a cold sense that reflects the word vanish. The animation of the words and the music provide an atmosphere/setting in which the reader becomes a part of the story.
However, e-lit can do way more things with text. Inanimate Alice is a larger project that comes in episodes. The episode that I used was “Episodes 3: Russia.” While this project does has a similar effect with word animation as seen with “Shy Boy,” this e-lit project is an interactive story and a game for the reader and presents many different aspects. The plot is centered around Alice. The e-lit medium allows the reader to become Alice. She is never seen; instead, everything the reader sees in from her perspective. This stylistic choice demonstrates the use of first-person narrative element. The first narrative element introduces the reader to the character and sets the tone with its colors, music, font, and jumpy animation (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Introduction to Alice
The reader soon realizes that the small Babushka dolls are part of the game. I had not realized this until many scenes later. The dolls reveal a second layer to this e-lit project, a game. The reader can soon connect the narrative and the game together. This connection is revealed when Alice talks about her “player.” She is hiding in a closet, while her parents are arguing with some Russian men. She feels safer with her game, and she pulls it out (Figure 2). At this point, the reader can look at Alice’s drawings and have another chance to win more Babushka dolls (Figure 3). As the dolls are collected, they appear on the side of the screen by the scene buttons that allow you to navigate through the narrative, such as going back to other scenes.
Figure 2: Alice’s player
Figure 3: Screenshot of game. The Reader must navigate Brad under the falling Babushka doll, so he can catch it.
Soon, Alice and her parents have to leave Moscow, because her father is in trouble. Alice describes the sad turn of events as her drawings, her books, her mother’s paintings, and her father’s job are left behind. The design of the e-lit presents feelings to the reader. For example, as Alice describes the things that she will be leaving behind, a new frame rises from the bottom of the screen and pushes the things out of view. This new frame resembles a tire mark, and this image creates a sympathetic feeling with Alice (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Leaving a Life Behind
There are more scenes in which the images make the reader feel like Alice does. For example, one moment occurs as distant lights (from a check point) come closer to the reader, as Alice’s father drives towards them (Figure 5). The anticipation grows for the reader, as he or she fears from Alice and her family. At the second check point, a guard stops the vehicle and stares at Alice (Figure 6). More fear is stirred in the reader, and he sees Alice’s player. He points his flashlight in her face, as he looks at her (Figure 7). It appears that the guard will not let Alice’s family pass through the check point, unless she gives her player to him.
Figure 5: Lights come closer to the reader as the family drives closer to the distant lights.
Figure 6: The guard stares at Alice through the car window.
Figure 7: The guard shines his flashlight in her face.
It is here that Alice argues with the guard about keeping her player. It brings comfort to her in moments like this one, and it acts as her only friend (Brad). As she shows the guard how many dolls she has collected, he states she does not have enough dolls and needs to go back and collect the missing dolls. The reader can then navigate through the game and try to collect the remaining dolls, so she/he can pass the check point with Alice and her family. After collecting the missing dolls, a message to the reader appears and announces Alice and the reader’s accomplishment (Figure 8). Alice’s family is waved through the check point, and the reader ends the episode.
Figure 8: A message to the reader once the final doll has been collected.
As shown through Inanimate Alice, e-literature is an interactive new medium for written text. One medium, or mechanism, is not better than the other. Instead, each medium has a different audience, and therefore, the purpose is different in each medium. E-literature changes the way an individual reads text, or perhaps authors of e-literature are changing their medium because individuals read differently now. Inanimate Alice reflects many characteristics of a video game. The text is not overwhelming but profound in this case. The reader acts as the main character, as he or she sees from Alice’s point of view. In addition, there is an interactivity element to the game, as the reader’s purpose is to help Alice and her family through the check point. E-literature still maintains many characteristics of the novel, as the author can stir emotions in the reader through words and imagery, can use different narrative styles, and can personify objects (as seen through Brad). The only difference is how technology and visualizations play a large role in changing the way the author represents these elements to the reader.
Link to episode 3: http://inanimatealice.com/episode3/index.html
Questions to the Class:
- 1. Do you think that this e-literature will help the new generation become interested in reading other forms of literature?
- 2. Does e-literature take anything away from traditional forms of literature?
- 3. How does e-literature change the relationship between the author and the reader?