Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Transmedia sans fiction

I'm a big fan of @Jeff_Gomez, as you've probably noticed. He really opened my eyes to the powers of transmedia at The Pixel Lab in Cardiff last summer (and he also helped create the Magic The Gathering card game, which I thoroughly enjoyed playing back in the day :) .*

I've enjoyed listening to his visions and his presentations (a great and touching video from the TEDxTransmedia conference can be found here, and a review of his Cinekid presentation last week here) and firmly believe that more and more properties and stories will go the way of transmedia, for the better of all story-interested members of mankind.

One aspect that I'm struggling with at the moment is when a development project strays from the path of fiction, or never originated as fiction to start with. As with the examples Jeff talks about in the links above, well executed transmedia projects in the vein of Avatar or Pirates of the Caribbean have a rich story world to build on, to create stories in, just as it should be. At the same time, this is almost a prerequisite for creating these types of transmedia projects; you need that fictional world, well built and stable, to be able to tell your fictional stories that complement each other and build the world onwards.

The challenge, as I see it, is to figure out what happens when you base these in the real world, omitting or at least limiting the fictional elements. Is it still transmedia? Or are we then reverting back to cross media (if that indeed can be considered reverting?). If it is still transmedia, is it possible to base it in the real world and still create a good transmedia narrative?

My opinion is that this is more than possible. What you need to do is to create the narrative superstructure in as great a detail as when you create your fictional world. Just because what you're creating is based on the real world, doesn't mean you can take it for granted that everyone perceives this world the same way as you do - not even your collaborators on the project. When writing this narrative superstructure, the mythology of your project, you need to explain the essence of, say, London, as represented in your project (if London is a part of your story of course) in as great a detail as the essence of Pandora is explained in the Avatar mythology. You also need to be able to explain this essence, via the descriptions and the mythology, to each and everyone involved in the development and the production. I believe this is the only way to avoid mishaps in the production (such as people not realizing what you want to get out of the narrative, what feelings you want to convey, how you want people to interact etc). One hour spent on the mythology will save you five hours in execution; production and editing.

This will also assist you a lot when bringing new people into the development and/or production team. Finally, I agree with Jeff on one point he has been making; if you feel the need to make some material to explain your project, a graphic novel is a great way to go. And if you base it in the real world, so what? Who wouldn't want to be in a graphic novel??



* see Jeff's comment below; the honor of creating MtG goes to Garfield and WotC.

5 comments:

Juxachim said...

Simon, what is the best way you can describe the difference between transmedia and crossmedia?

Simon said...

From a couple of years back, here's an interesting definition by Nicoletta Iacobacci, EBU's Head of New Media http://www.lunchoverip.com/2008/05/from-crossmedia.html

My two cents is that while cross media can represent the same content repurposed for different platforms, in it's broadest sense, transmedia implies a much deeper integration in the story; both from the user's point of view and from the developers. The Producers Guild of America has this to say for the credits as Transmedia Producer:

"A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms. " (http://www.producersguild.org/?page=coc_nm#transmedia)

All in all I think a definite line between the two is impossible to draw, as they overlap. Still, I do believe it is possible to know when to define a project as cross media and when to define it as transmedia, based in part on the above material.

Jeff Gomez said...

Simon,

First let me say that I'm thrilled that my thoughts on transmedia storytelling might have contributed to such well considered observations. The dialog on these approaches has finally surpassed definition and gone onto the finer points of the art.

I did want to point out two things: 1) Though I'd love to make the claim, I'm not the inventor of Magic: The Gathering. That honor goes to Richard Garfield and the team at Wizards of the Coast. I did contribute significantly to the early incarnation of the Dominia universe and Dominaria storyworld featured throughout the first several card sets: characters, locations, storylines, history and tons of content, some of which persists to this day in the form of references made by the cards and accompanying transmedia.

Second, transmedia incubation, development and implementation is a technique that can be applied to any form of narrative, which includes the most compelling of all, our reality. Transmedia techniques are being experimented with in education, politics, international relations, urban management and social services. This is perhaps not the most glamorous aspect of the work we do at Starlight Runner Entertainment, but rest assured companies like mine are being tapped to do all of this more and more with each passing month.

As I inferred in my TEDx talk, Simon, there is no question about this. It's happening right now.

Jeff

Simon said...

Jeff,

thank you for your thoughts. Will edit the part on MtG :).

I'm aware that transmedia is, for a lack of a better word, infiltrating society on a much grander scale than mere entertainment. I know we're going to use transmedia techniques to better define the role of the company I'm working at, for instance. I agree that these kinds of projects perhaps are not the most glamorous ones, but all the more challenging for that. It requires such a strong grounding in the fabric of reality - tapping into peoples imaginative powers while at the same time keeping it logically connected to the real world where these people and the project you're working on exist.

The reason I compared with your projects is because the one we're working on right now is very much in the entertainment vein, just another branch of it.

I am thoroughly looking forward to the coming 12 months. It will be a ride I wouldn't miss for the world!

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