ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND:
The paradigm of children's literature and its influence on graphic adventures
In this paper I will try to make a study of the influence of Lewis Carroll's literature, specially his best known book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in the current graphic adventure games. The setting of the story, its singular structure and its didactic purpose may lead us to think of it as the possible precursor of the graphic adventure games.
To start with, the definition of graphic adventure games might throw some light on this matter: Current graphic adventure games are those based on digital support, that have a special graphic environment to figure out a fantasy world where the player must face challenges in different scenarios that can be sorted at the players disposal.
The first issue is the setting of the story. In this section the main point will be how the originality of the setting of the story in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland may have coincidences with the settings of some examples of graphic adventure games.
The initial paragraph of the book illustrates the vision Carroll had about children's literature:
“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”” (ch. I, pg. 9)
In the very first words, Lewis Carroll is making a clear statement on the feeling of the children when reading a book in Victorian times, and makes clear that this kind of literature has to be based on entertainment to avoid boredom. Carroll was skilful and clever enough as to see that the setting of the new story, and furthermore its protagonist, had to supply a new vision of the world. Molly Hite in his book The Other Side of the Story, 1989, talks about otherness and about the other side as contributions of the women's writing to literature, which is gratefully enriching. Carroll could have thought of some other side by setting the story beneath the ground the stories that were written at that time were set. The words “Down, down, down” repeated twice in the first chapter are a symbol of distance from the real world. In his book Through the Looking -Glass the story takes place in another other side: the other side of a mirror. This is the first feature among the ones mentioned in this study that might be considered to think about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a possible precursor of graphic adventure games. As said before, graphic adventure games are mainly set in fantastic worlds, often with gothic environments which is a feature clearly shared by Carroll's book and this kind of games.
As for the other feature mentioned by Molly Hite, the contribution of otherness by women, we can see that it is also present in Carroll's book. The choice of a female protagonist for his book may have been the answer to a personal need, but we could also think of the possible contribution of otherness to the story in the sense of having a different perception of the environment. Hence Alice, the girl in a strange world, was the choice for the adventures in Wonderland, a kind of creature that had little to say in the Victorian period might be also the precursor of characters like Lara Croft. Croft is the choice for the heroine of the graphic adventure game Tomb Raider, a woman in a world of fights and weapons. Furthermore, this otherness can be represented by the fact of having other strange creatures such as talking rabbits, hares, lobsters, caterpillars, cards or mad queens. Different strange creatures are also the choice for the heroes of other graphic adventures issued in the late nineties: Spyro, a little dragon in Spyro the Dragon, Sir Daniel Fortesque, a zombie or a living dead knight in Medievil…
Now, the point to be treated is the structure of Carroll's book and its relation with the structure of the actual graphic adventures. In other words, why could we consider Alice's Adventures in Wonderland's structure a possible precursor of the structure of the graphic adventure games.
Children's literature structured as game catch better the attention of the addressees. This is the idea Lewis Carroll seems to hold throughout his written works and that is why his books are structured as games (a card game in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or a chess game in Through the Looking-Glass). This may let us think again that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland's structure could have inspired the creators of the graphic adventure games.
Alice's Adventure in Wonderland's has not a linear narrative structure. The action has different stages that are part of the same world but have independent identity. Alice starts her adventures falling down a rabbit-hole, then is set in a hall full of doors, then into a house, a garden, a kitchen, a cricket-ground…This pattern is also found in the graphic adventure games. Both in the book and in the graphic adventure games the success in each stage leads to the next, going ahead is a reward.
These stages or scenarios may change according to the flow of the action. For instance in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland a hall becomes a pool of tears where Alice meets some animals and leads them to the shore, or the cricket-ground is used as a place to play, a place where a story is told or a trial takes place. In graphic adventure games we find also different stages and different challenges. Nevertheless there is always a clear beginning and a clear end. The beginning of the adventure is Alice's falling asleep, while the end is her awakening. In graphic adventure games, the different stages have sometimes a random order at the player's disposal, although there is also a clear beginning and a clear end. In both instances, the different stages are meant to provide an environment similar to a dream world, where disconnected events fill in the nocturnal narrative. In these deliberately nonsensed worlds reality is virtual. This virtual reality is often Gothic in the case of the graphic adventures to reinforce the idea of dream, and also to avoid direct connection with the real world. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the dissimilation from the real world is present in many instances like the impossible crocket-ground:
“Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life: it was all ridges and furrows; the croquet balls were live hedge-hogs, and the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.” Ch. 8, pg.73
Back to Molly Hite's terminology, the other side and otherness must not be considered in this case as features of escapism, but tools to help the child grow up. It is important thinking of Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a book that has a didactic purpose. Following this idea, the next issue to be treated in this paper is that children literature structured as game is not only entertainment but literature with a purpose: a didactic purpose.
In the Victorian period James Fitzjames Stephen was already concerned with this idea in 1855, although he was only writing about novels, in general:
“Novels, in the proper sense of the word, are used for a greater number of purposes than any other species of literature”
Probably influenced by the ideas of the critics of the Victorian period, and being at the same time an innovator, Lewis Carroll was kin of childhood and of its proper status. Carroll developed children literature with a didactic purpose. Jan B. Gordon stays in her article “Alice books and the metaphors of childhood in the Victorian period” that development became a myth: humankind origins known so far were challenged by scientists like Darwin, Wallace, Chambers or Lyell. Lewis Carroll created Wonderland in a post-darwinian period, where imagination could inflict changes to create a new world, following though the challenging patterns of the scientists. There is an episode in the book that makes a clear reference to this matter of evolution:
“Alice was just beginning to think to herself, “Now, what am I to do with this creature, when I get it home?” when it grunted again, so violently, that she looked down into its face in some alarm. This time there could be no mistake about it: it was neither more nor less than a pig, and she felt that it would be quite absurd for her to carry it any further.
So she set the little creature down, and felt quite relieved to see it trot away quietly into the wood. “If it had grown up,” she said to herself…” Ch. VI, pg. 55
Jan B. Gordon goes on saying that Alice seems not to progress in maturity since she repeats the same mistakes throughout the novel due to her innocence. Probably this is one of the first didactic purposes Carroll wanted to present and resumed by Jan B. Gordon: learning from mistakes and to see punishment only as the logical consequence of misleading actions, not the consequence of being a child:
““I wish I hadn't cried so much!” said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. “I shall be punished for it now, I suppose by being drowned in my own tears! Ch. 2, pg. 20
Also he seems to reinforce the idea of the child as an autonomous human being, with its own status. Someone that lets imagination fly, that makes mistakes but also someone that has to learn, that has to be taught. Lewis Carroll's novel seems to follow this pattern, and claims for the identity of the children. Following these mistakes are also possible in digital games. The player can make as many attempts as he needs and what is more important: learning is the consequence. The world where the action takes place is always a fantasy world, a world that has many “real” reminiscences but in fact represents a “dream world” .
As Raimon Gaja stays in his book Videojuegos: ¿Alienación o desarrollo? (Barcelona, Ed. Grijalbo, 1993), virtuality is a simile of the real world in which the individual must overcome handicaps or surmount obstacles, but with a basic difference: this world is fictitious and does not mean any real danger in the case of failure. What all this means is that the reader/player can learn from his mistakes or success.
So, Raimon Gaja recalls in his book the idea of videogames, and by comparison graphic adventure games, as educational and therapeutic means to increase self-confidence and skills, and also learning through entertainment. Consequently, Gaja mentions the following authors and graphic adventure creators with their main ideas: sentences such as “learn and enjoy” or “Graphic adventures have to be designed according to educational parameters” said by people from one of the manufacturers of graphic adventure games, Loftus & Loftus, are clear enough and so the pedagogic purpose can be effective in both instances.
To sum up, all games, and therefore children's literature as game, have a purpose and my idea was to compare the setting, the structure and the purpose of the actual graphic adventures and the ones in Carroll's book. The innovation of Alice, a little girl, as the heroine is clear in the Victorian period. Although the book follows some of the patterns of the fairy tales, the criticism to Victorian education and to the concept of childhood is clear, and it is intended to make not only children but the whole society realise this. Hence, actual graphic adventures follow this educational idea of games, to help children grow up and also enjoy the condition of childhood:
“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago;” Ch. 12, pg.110
Carroll, Lewis Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Phillips, Robert Aspects of Alice Penguin Ed., London, 1974
Hite, Molly The Other Side of the Story, Cornell U.P., New York, 1989
Gaja, Raimon Videojuegos ¿Alineación o desarrollo? Grijalbo, Barcelona, 1993
Play Station Magazine # 26, MC Ediciones, Barcelona, 2000
http://perl..gamespot.com/features/universal/tombraider_hist/p2_01.html by Fabian Blache III and Lauren Fielder