The early nineties was an experimental time for video game development, particularly in the PC space. As computers became more affordable, they entered more homes, which opened up an entirely new market for art and storytelling.
Small start-ups like id Software were able to combine money, resources, and different sets of skills to create different and unique experiences. Games like Doom, Myst, and Alice: An Interactive Museum were able to flourish and thrive as the video game medium continued to evolve as technology became more advanced.
Alice is not unlike contemporary titles like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home in that the game’s primary objective is exploring and existing within a simulated space. Fine details and mysterious messages from faraway digital worlds replace more standard gameplay mechanics, such as jumping, attacking, and drinking health potions.
Through the Walking Glass — Alice: An Interactive Museum
In Alice: An Interactive Museum, players are placed within a strange museum with twelve different rooms. Each room is filled with strange and surreal fixtures and paintings holding hidden clues. Solving the puzzles within the paintings unlocks playing cards, which are necessary for full progression.
It’s as bizarre as it is beautiful. The photo-rendered graphics blend with occasional low-poly objects that stir in an eerie way. I can’t outright recommend playing Alice since it’s obtuse in its design and requirements, which was common with early PC titles.
As technology has improved, players have been forced to make fewer compromises when it comes to understanding what’s necessary for progression. Many of the puzzles in Alice can be difficult to decipher, which may just damage any immersion the title could provide.
The different rooms almost feel like they wouldn’t be out of place in a Resident Evil mansion. They’re as inviting as they are ominous. And yet, it’s hard to look away. Scanning objects and exploring each room’s contents feels like a ride through an iSpy book but viewed through Lewis Carroll’s eyes.
The game’s interactive artwork is something else. The paintings contain images pulled from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but they’re somehow even more surreal and partially detached from whatever reality this world is set within.
Making it through to the end and solving all the museum’s puzzles leads players to The Last Room and the cinematic ending, which is somehow more confusing and beautiful than the rest of the experience. The game’s events largely feel up to interpretation but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.
Alice: An Interactive Museum is an interesting relic from a far different time. Its surreal environments and paintings make for a haunting experience. Consider taking the trip with a YouTube playthrough the next time you’re looking for an escape.
Alice may not be a traditional title but it’s proof of the wonders and imagination that can only be explored in games. For anyone interested in playing the title, it’s thankfully been preserved on Internet Archive. It was developed for Windows 3.x though so it may require some work to get it going.