Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads
by Mez Breeze Design and Bradfield Narrative Designs
Virtual Reality Game
is a series of narrative shorts, originally starting as works of hypertext fiction but having since put a foot in the world of video games – not too unlike Alice herself. Starting in 2005, each episode of the series tends to revolve around Alice having a mildly unsettling adventure, and new instalment Perpetual Nomads
is no deviation from this pattern.
Having woken up on a bus that immediately breaks down, Alice Field is tasked with finding a port to charge her phone from whilst being bothered by two new online “friends”. The main dialogue of the game is delivered by these “friends” persistently arguing over a conspiracy theory inside Alice’s phone, despite a potential player choice to refuse their friend requests.
The game is designed to be experienced in VR (although it’s also possible to play it on a regular PC) and having played both versions I recommend setting it up for VR if you have the means to do it. Even something as simple as waking up on the bus and hearing the sounds of the world emerging around you feels more real whilst wearing a VR headset, increasing immersion and as such making for a more enjoyable playthrough. However, if you’re only able to play a desktop version (or prone to motion sickness) then don’t be discouraged; it’s still an interesting narrative to explore.
In some previous instalments of the Inanimate Alice series, the narrative tended to be accompanied by a game element (such as collecting the Russian dolls in episode three); in Perpetual Nomads your main interaction is examining litter and graffiti to learn more about the world around you. You could potentially travel through the game without looking at any of the posters and other aspects of the environment, but you’d be missing out on the most interesting parts of the experience.
My only real qualm with Perpetual Nomads is Alice’s involvement in the Whispurring Nomads chat. More than half the time that Alice responds to a message from the other two characters, she types out an ENTIRE message only to erase it then type and send a completely different message. On some occasions she types out two whole messages and deletes both of them in turn before settling on something to say.
It’s obviously important to the narrative to explore Alice’s inner thoughts on the situation, and this is sassy dialogue that perhaps she wouldn’t necessarily say to another character, but when Alice’s inner thoughts are already portrayed through blue speech bubbles that pop up on screen there’s no reason these bubbles couldn’t be utilized alongside the narrow chat box, in my opinion. In turn, if Alice was to type out and erase maybe only one or two messages instead, that would make the temptation to be rude to her new “friends” in those instances seem more effective overall.
Otherwise, Inanimate Alice: Perpetual Nomads offers a unique storytelling experience, not only as a learning tool to teach children about the use of video games to convey narrative, but also as a narrative itself. Perpetual Nomads is a sub-adventure taking place between episode six and the as-yet unreleased episode seven, padding out a conspiracy around the use of oil in this world and those who control it. The open end and small twist taking place after the credits will increase your intrigued in the overarching narrative of Alice’s life and whet your appetite until episode seven arrives.
VR was viewed on the Oculus Rift System.