App Review: The Artifacts
The Artifacts is a book app intended for older children (ages 9-11). Published in 2012, it is still among the featured book apps for “children and teens” in the iTunes App Store.
The story is about 13-year-old Asaf, “a boy who loved to collect.” After filling his home with “treasures” ranging from burlap sacks to live caterpillars, his parents abruptly move the family to a new house, tossing out Asaf’s collections without his consent. His parents would not allow him to collect things in his new bedroom, so he responded by escaping into the world of imagination and into the books of his local library. Instead of collecting physical objects, he collected facts, figures, and ideas. After a few years later, [spoiler alert] he leaves home with “two small suitcases and one very large mind.”
The illustrations vary significantly in quality and tone. None are what you might call cheery, but they become especially dark during Asaf’s self-imposed imprisonment in his new bedroom. The illustrations are intended to look like paintings, and some of them are great. Others have an unappealing “copy and paste” feel to them.
Each page of the story includes an interactive layer. In several cases, the user taps the screen to reveal items in Asaf’s collections (or his imaginings). On one page, tilting the device steers Asaf’s boat/bed across a storm sea. On several pages, wiping away parts of the image reveal hidden elements, or even a hidden page. Some of them add necessary detail or depth to the story, but most are simply for the amusement of the reader.
The app’s sound includes a narrator, sound effects, and a music score. The narrator’s delivery is rather flat, but it is not clear whether this is intentional. The sound effects add to the story, especially the interactive aspects. The music, composed by Chris Hurn gives the story its Tim Burton-ish feel. The narrator and sound effects can be individually switched off, but the music on the main menu cannot be turned off.
On the whole, The Artifacts seems rather weak. It is certainly creative, and it has an undeniable emotional resonance to it, but it is only 22 pages. There really is not much of a story, and there is zero character development outside of Asaf. (What was behind his parent’s decision to suddenly move, throw out his valued possessions, and forbid any further collection?) Even with the interactive aspects, I think that any child in the intended age range would tire of it very quickly.