Blog Post

Transmedia Narratives

 

Greetings HASTAC community,

I am seeking some advice regarding a "Transmedia Narrative" course that I am designing at the moment. The approach that I am taking is both theoretical, framed by postclassical narratology and medium specificity, and practical, looking at casy studies, categorized by the different platforms. I am wondering if anyone can think of any "must-include-readings" that I might have been published recently or are not known on a larger scale yet. Some of the most recent publications that I will include are "The Art of Immersion" by Frank Rose, "The New Digital Storytelling" by Bryan Alexander or "Transmedia Television" by Elizabeth Evans.

Any thougts, suggestions and advice would be most welcomed and appreciated.

Cheers,

Birgit

 

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17 comments

Hi Birgit - 

The class seems interesting - I wish you lots of luck with it! I was wondering if you are adding any critical race theory alongside your topics, to discuss the ways People of Color use this form of storytelling to illustrate, explain, or even confuse certain aspects of their lives. I was thinking, then, of Lisa Nakamura's work on race and digitial technology.

 

~kim

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Thanks for your input Kim. In the last few months I experienced how unfamiliar students are with the concept of transmedia. I am teaching a film course at the moment but I refere to transmedia quite frequently. They are all consumers of transmedia but they have never heard the term and they have no idea of the implications that are associated with this form of storytelling. I think we have a lot of groundwork to do in such a course. Henry Jenkins does a fabulous job at UCLA but I am unaware of any other transmedia courses offered at universities at the moment. I like the idea of including critical race theory, so thanks for pointing to Nakamura's work. I am thinking about writing a paper on diversity in transmedia, so you actually helped me in two ways. Thanks a lot, Kim.

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Your course sounds really interesting.  I think it's great you're using Bryan Alexander's work.  Would assume you'd include some Henry Jenkins at some point, too...

Would you mind uploading your syllabus here for us to see what you're doing?  I for one would be really curious to know how your course is structured, and how your students are responding.

Best wishes!

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I recently came across Bear 71. This definitely blurs lines, as Bear 71 speaks and we're to believe the emotions and reactions that have been created for her.  It invites you to be an active participant, which is always interesting. It does give you an idea of what the world potentially looks like for animals once we move further and further into the wild. 

As a filmmaker, I've always thought of transmedia as an amazing partner for narrative films. You've already constructed this world, created a story to tell for whatever reason, why not venture into multiple layers to add to the story. Experimental documentaries like Bear 71, seem to fight against this belief I have that documentaries, while they can lean in a direction and have an agenda, the construction or assumption of information is problematic.  It actually scares me.

Collapsus seems a bit safer since it's all constructed and we understand that from the beginning.  While it's educating me, I still know that this is a constructed narrative with that objective.  It reminds me of the 1984 British film, Threads.  It's a "what if" a nuclear war started today film and the effects that would have on a Northern English city.  You can watch the whole thing online. There's also an American version, The Day After, that takes place in the Midwest. The fact that Threads plays more like a documentary gives it a level of verisimilitude that actually scared me. It felt more visceral. Collapsus succeeds at a bit of that for me.

I titled this post "Nothing New" because of these films. We've been playing with blurring the lines for a long time in order to educate or persuade and I think people are use to it, but I agree that we need to discuss how what is constructed and by what mode of media it's constructed, even within the traditional framework we've been trained to trust (news reels, documentaries, etc.) is as significant as what is constructed. 

Birgit, did you share the syllabus with the group? I'd love to see what you came up with.

-daye.

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Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and the projects. I have not heard about Bear 71 yet, and I look forward to exploring it further. You are making two absolutely valid points:

1. Transmedia is nothing new, blurring the lines between fiction and reality is nothing new. However, many productions move towards an approach where the physical and the fictional world are merging completely. That is of course an exciting development, and I do embrace location based narratives and augmented reality that is often part of such an approach. Some developers of alternate reality games, however,  that make the participants venture out in the physical world to pick up cues about the narrative, are taking that approach to the extreme by endangering the participants. In some cases, participants cannot or do no want to differentiate between reality and fiction anymore because they are so immersed in the story.

Andrea Phillips, who is a transmedia producer, gave an interesting talk a couple of months ago, scrutinizing ethics in transmedia. Her talk had many relevant and good examples.
I could not find the talk online, but a good description of it. http://www.pearltrees.com/#/N-u=1_234061&N-fa=2443309&N-s=1_3406303&N-f=...

Again, the ethical question is nothing new as well, but as those narratives become more frequent, we have to be cautious how they are executed. Don't get me wrong, I find alternate reality games fascinating, but I hope producers will keep thinking about the consequences of real being too real. 

2. Collapsus and similar stories are too constructed. You are absolutely right. This really addresses the production side. Just on Thursday, I attended a seminar with transmedia producer Anita Ondine, and she brought the topic up as well. How much are producers willing to let their story go? That is really up to the individual producer, and it might be a scary thought to some to think that the participants take over the story and take it in a different direction.

The audience at the seminar consisted almost exclusively of producers (unfortunately that is my experience at transmedia seminars, it is me, being the only one in academics and transmedia producers--but that is a different topic) that were tied to a certain broadcaster and they talked about the difficulties to create stories that leave to much room for interaction or participation (obviously, there is a difference between these two approaches).

I really think the more realistic those narratives are, the more the storytelling (creation) proccess is left to the participant, the more challenges we face. But challenge is good, right? Again, I hope I am not coming across as an opponent to these development, but I think we -- educators and hopefully producers alike -- need to create awareness. My students have no clue what an alternate reality game is. I find it crucial to educate them about contemporary narrative strategies.

I have not shared my syllabus yet. I mentioned earlier that it was submitted for a course director competition at my university, and since I did not win that competition, I feel like I still have some work to do. 

Well, thanks again for your post. Obviously, I am thrilled to be able to discuss transmedia with you all.

Birgit

 

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Sounds great. I teach a course on Children's Digital Literacies, which certainly includes transmedia narrative. It's worth looking at how folks learn to read transmedia narrative, how they're used in instruction, issues of access, etc. I wouldn't attempt it without Lankshear and Knobel's 2 books titles "New Literacies." They also have a pretty rich website here: http://everydayliteracies.net/.

Children's and YA Lit is also where a lot of the neatest transmedia and other new lit narratives are being written. What are the narratives you'll be looking at in the course, beyond the theoretical readings?

 

Patrick 

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Hi Patrick,

Thanks for your input and also my apologies to you for my rather late reply. Thanks for mentioning the books, I will definitely look into the titles.

There are many interesting projects that are worth integrating in a syllabus. I just mentioned one of my favorite projects: I think mixing documentary, an online graphic novel and an interactive panel is a very smart way to encourage the audience to engage with the topic.

You also might look at this website that describes another interesting project: http://www.teachthought.com/?p=2207 - depending on the age group that you are teaching.

I love a Canadian based project called "Highrise" that raises many issues that are relevant and need to be discussed in a classroom setting. http://highrise.nfb.ca/ The project is still in development. I find it amazing.

Many people/students are still not familiar with the concept of Alternate Reality Games, even though they might stumble upon one without even knowing. The project that I am discussing in my syllabus is called Pandemic that has a very elaborate narrative. It is a story about a virus that only affects adults and puts the youth in charge. The narrative spans across a variety of media. http://lanceweiler.com/2011/01/pandemic-1-0/

I think we are at the beginning of a very interesting change in storytelling that we as academics can take advantage of. We do, however, also have the challenge to separate the wheat from the chaff, to use a German idiom because many projects are mere brand extensions. There is nothing wrong with this approach as long as we are aware of it.

Well, as you can see, I could go on and on about that topic. I will soon have my website running where I will discuss current projects. I'll post the link asap.

Thanks for your thoughs, Patrick.

 

Best,

Birgit

 

 

 

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Hi Birgit,

Quickly, I should have been clearer. My course about Children's Digital Lit is for undergrads, in the Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers.

I wonder about the use of the term "transmedia." I feel like many of the examples given in this thread are just really cool and creative websites. Many of them combine documentary and fiction, but that's something that might be called "transgenre." "Transmedia" to my understanding is a single work that spans multiple platforms. Alternate Reality Gaming usually meets this criteria. 

In my course we deal with "Cathy's Book," "I Love Bees," and "Year Zero." Each of these spans more than one media. They tell stories through some combination of music, website, email, book, phone calls, video, objects, even T-shirts. Lately I've also been looking into "The Carrier" that uses GPS, email, text, comic book (digitized), although the whole experience is one elaborate iPhone app.

Is this different from how other people think of "transmedia"?

Patrick

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Hi Patrick,

There is a whole galaxy of definitions 'out there' that fall under the umbrella term "transmedia." That, of couse, does not make studying this field easier. In general, you are describing transmedia projects. Some scholars argue that ARGs are the most important examples of transmedia, and indeed, a component of ARGs is present in many transmedia projects. In my own research, I am trying to avoid close categories by looking at narrative strategies in transmedia environments. The Producers Guild of America has acknowledged the role of the transmedia producer. You find the definition here: http://www.producersguild.org/?page=coc_nm#transmedia

I know that is not much of an answer but I think it is difficult to pinpoint transmedia because so far there is no common terminology in the field. 

Birgit

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Hi Patrick,

There is a whole galaxy of definitions 'out there' that fall under the umbrella term "transmedia." That, of couse, does not make studying this field easier. In general, you are describing transmedia projects. Some scholars argue that ARGs are the most important examples of transmedia, and indeed, a component of ARGs is present in many transmedia projects. In my own research, I am trying to avoid close categories by looking at narrative strategies in transmedia environments. The Producers Guild of America has acknowledged the role of the transmedia producer. You find the definition here: http://www.producersguild.org/?page=coc_nm#transmedia

I know that is not much of an answer but I think it is difficult to pinpoint transmedia because so far there is no common terminology in the field. 

Birgit

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Patrick, it's your definition that I'm familiar with and have been working with in MMO-related storytelling.

Here's an interesting piece by Janet Murray on the limitations of the transmedia concept that you might find thought-provoking: http://inventingthemedium.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/transcending-transmed...

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Hi John,

Thanks for sharing Murray's work. I look foward to reading her book (after I am done with my comps). Henry Jenkins just recently interviewed her. I thought you might be interested:

http://henryjenkins.org/2012/02/an_interview_with_janet_murray.html?utm_...

 

Birgit

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Hi John,

Thanks for sharing Murray's work. I look foward to reading her book (after I am done with my comps). Henry Jenkins just recently interviewed her. I thought you might be interested:

http://henryjenkins.org/2012/02/an_interview_with_janet_murray.html?utm_...

 

Birgit

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(I have a head full of fairies right now -- I just submitted my chapter on Disney Fairies to an anthology so! Keep that in mind as you read this)

Would the world of Disney Fairies be an example of a transmedia product for children? There's the website http://disney.go.com/fairies/ which is sort of a clearinghouse for all things DF related, there's the Pixie Hollow game with both subscriber and free content, there are the costumes for pretend play, the Fairy Tale Pavilion at Disney World, the movies, the book-verse (which has different fairies than the movie-verse, depending on what age range you're looking at), and fandom fora where people exchange and design dolls. Also the game Pixie Hollow has a part where you gotta do "real life" good deeds to help your fairy.

 

 

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I keep wondering about the concept of agency in transmedia...what does a participant do, and when does watching or reading become making?  I think it's interesting that there is a children's lit entry to all this.  And I do think Disney Fairies is a good example of transmedia on a large commercial scale.  I'm trying to put together a study on Moonbot Studios, which released both a short film and iPad App of THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE, which I think is genre defining.  I do wonder if children are more willing to participate in spontaneous roleplaying than adults.  Too bad for us, eh?

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@Emily

 

Heh, if we're looking at children's lit and transmedia stuff there's always Harry Potter and other products with an intense, fan-made subculture. 

I think sometimes children's lit is under analyzed in the context of the digital, even tho McKAy's Literacies Across Media (w. a focus on children's media literacies) is such a key text

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