Andy Campbell and Judi Alston’s The Nightingale’s Playground is a digital fiction work that was created with Flash in 2010. The main character is Carl Robertson, who tries to figure out what has happened to his lost high-school friend Alex Nightingale. The piece leads the reader/player through a world experienced from Carl’s perspective. It consists of four individual parts, the first section “Consensus”, an interactive point- and click game that can be played online, downloadable “Consensus II” which transports the reader into a dark 3D flat with text snippets , the “Fieldwork book” is a browser based grungy sketchbook with puzzling notes and the last part is a PDF version of the story.
As a reader you can find many hints, symbols or metaphors that might explain the riddle of Alex existence. The word “Nightingale” itself is an interesting detail in the piece: it is neither a common family name nor does it have an obvious relation to the game. The nightingale is a mere bird playing by night or early morning when many animated beings are asleep. Different from the sound played in the story, the nightingale’s singing is considered very melodic and harmonic. The work also counteracts the playful, chaotic image connected with a “playground”. For that reason, the work seemingly transfers the image of the isolated bird to Alex who is not participating in a “normal” life anymore. Carl is in a similar situation having abandoned most of his old classmates, his life turned into a confusing crisis.
The image of the eye being a sign for the Commodore video game “The Sentinel” that Alex was thrilled about is omnipresent in the fiction piece. This creates a feeling of surveillance and anxiety, such as when “big brother” is watching. This impression matches the philosophical questions such as self-perception, which are dealt within the storyline. At first sight the main theme is the struggle of a fictional character with his own identity, figuring out that he had never been real. The fact that Carl actually questions Alex existence seems rather metaphorical for his own conflict with his sense of the self. The border between him and his high-school friend Alex blurs, it seems doubtful that they are actually two characters. This is emphasized in many frames such as in the scrapbook where the owner’s name switches between Carl Robertson and Alex Nightingale.
The work engages the viewer and reader in a narrative experience and encourages engagement and interaction far from traditional literary practices. Especially in the second part the reader has to act as a player rather than a passive reader in order to find all the pieces of literature that are spread over the different rooms. The arrow keys and the mouse cursor are used to navigate a character through the entire saga. Therefore, the narrative and order of the textual fragments can actually be slightly influenced. The ambient music constantly playing in the background, the active role of the reader and the confusing messages conveyed in the digital fiction create a realistic and intriguing feeling.
This entry was drafted by students in Maria Engberg's Language Studies II course, part of the Bachelor of Science program Digital Culture and Communication at Blekinge Institute of Technology (Sweden) during the spring of 2012.