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Alice in the middle of ones and zeros

XI: Code

In The Matrix, those who've been down the rabbit hole and seen the difference between reality and a computer-generated Wonderland are aware of the underlying code. The endless lines of green symbols fill the screens, falling and flashing as Operators monitor for data. This digital rain cannot simply be translated or interpreted. True power over reality comes to Neo through his ability to see and understand code—to look at his virtual enemies and see how they work. Alice and Neo share their awareness of what lies underneath the Wonderlands they face and construct.

"The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!"

"Consider your verdict," the King said to the jury.

"Not yet, not yet!" the Rabbit hastily interrupted. "There's a great deal to come before that!"

In "Who Stole the Tarts?", Alice is confronted by a court out of order. Most of the structures of jurisprudence are in place, but only in name. The court tries to put the verdict before the trial, and sentences are regularly delivered if not executed without consideration for evidence. Rules are once again broken: while the Mad Tea Party mocked the extremes of social rituals, the trial carries the attention to systems to the next level. (This provides the foundation for some of the political adaptations of Alice.)

Alice's identity therefore doesn't end on the surface of coded adaptations: she is surrounded by rules and algorithms, by reimagined logic, and now by code. Alice's Wonderland easily serves as a metaphor not only for the Internet and virtual experiences online but for the databases and structures beneath these adaptations and archives. The web already holds many Wonderlands, such as those built from the Open Wonderland toolkit for 3D worlds. These worlds call to mind the gravity-defying freedom offered by Second Life, which is likewise home to an Alice in Wonderland ride that brings the familiar characters of Alice's world into a mostly user-generated 3D space. The choice to build Alice as a ride, recalling the literally on-rails physical experiences of Disney parks, suggests a passive experience, but the ability to bring one's own code into the space inherently contradicts such assumptions.

Other virtual projects, such as the Project ALICE cultural computing interactive experience, take both the text of Alice and the text's challenge to "the strongly held belief of a linear, single track and sequential reality" as their foundation (Rauterberg 17). They also reject any model of passivity, relying on the addition of code to a movie-like experience to create interactivity. In that experiment, the user is invited to become Alice and encouraged "to experience the same sequence of emotional and behavioural states as Alice did in her quest through surreal locations and events" (Aart et al. 125). Such interactive adaptations borrow the underlying tenets of Wonderland to invite us to become Alice, but only a few further invite us into code.

Alice's code begins with words.

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