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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

The Numberlys: An Interplay Between History, Urban Life and Technology in a Children’s Story App

Ture Schwebs (Bergen University College)

Panel: Children's Electronic Literature 1: Readings of Touch-based Literature for Children
Tuesday, August 4 • 14:00 - 15:30 (Bergen Public Library)

The presentation will explore narrative, intertextual and ideological aspects of The Numberlys iPad/iPhone app ( The app, produced by Moonbot Studios and released in 2012, received an American Annie award for excellence in the field of animation in 2013.

The Numberlys is a fanciful tale about the origin of the alphabet. In a world where ways of organization and communication are based on numbers and nobody has a name, only a number, five friends decide to build the alphabet by transforming numbers into letters. By inventing the alphabet the five protagonists let the inhabitants acquire a personal name. Thus the app raises existential questions concerning the construction of identity and our needs for recognition. 

The story is set in a futuristic cityscape inspired by the German-Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang’s landmark 1927 silent film Metropolis. Other intertextual references include ABC books, German expressionism, popular early fantasy epics like King Kong, Flash Gordon and Superman, the Macintosh tv-commercial 1984 and more. Thus The Numberlys seems to address both children and adults.

By referring to the sci-fi universe of Metropolis, the depiction of an urban dystopia, The Numberlys may be understood as a critical commentary of a contemporary metanarrative: technology as a manifestation and a result of progress. Consequently traditional notions of history and nature are questioned in an unusual way. 

The tale is worked out as a hybrid of a sequential film and an interactive game. Constructing a media rich mixture of linear storytelling and nonlinear, user driven components, the app challenges conceptions of narration, game activity and reader response.

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