Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Transmedia storytelling.

The director of the aforementioned MIT Comparative Media Studies program, Henry Jenkins, has a column in MIT's Technology Review which proves to be very interesting reading indeed. Dr. Jenkins, like myself, is a pop-culture/media enthusiast who thrills in examining the connections and intersections between different types of media. In January he posted a very interesting column on the idea of "transmedia storytelling" – in essence, using different types of media to expand upon a story. This is what's going on with Spider-Man, Batman, Transformers, Pokemon, Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc. -- the creation of a core universe which is explored through multiple stories in different media types.

There are several things I find really interesting about what he's saying. First, each of these properties is a "geek" property. You don't see West Wing or Friends novels. You don't see a TV-only sequel to White Teeth or The Satanic Verses. Why is that? Why is it that the only real transmedia properties so far are "geek" ones? (There may be an exception in a Dawson's Creek novel, which I think I may have seen once, but now I don't remember.)

Second, most of the time, stories told in different media don't really push the main story forward. They might tell another story, but they're episodic in nature in the worst way: if you skip an episode, it wouldn't matter. This may be an issue I have with the nature of television episodes in general, but I like shows like The West Wing and 24 more than sitcoms because there's a larger story constantly making progress. Yes, Friends had the whole Monica/Chandler wedding arc going on for two seasons, but for the most part you could still miss an episode and be all right. Arguably the most radical experiment currently being conducted with transmedia storytelling is the video game/anime transitions between The Matrix and The Matrix: Reloaded. You don't need to play Enter The Matrix or watch The Animatrix in order to understand the second Matrix flick, but it helps. A little. Maybe.

How would you experiment with the Net, books, film, even music, to carry forward a plot? Would the market support a packaged piece of media akin to what went down with that whole A.I. web scavenger hunt thing? Could you sell a bundled book and DVD? Would readers make the switch between media to continue the story? Would each component need to be self-contained (say, a three-story arc, where the first story is told in a comic, the second in film and the third in a videogame), so that consumers who preferred one type of media over another could only consume the part they were most comfortable with, and could then be lured into trying out the other two parts?


As a follow-up to the whole A.I. hunt (which I participated in avidly), there was going to be yet another media used. Sean Stewart, the architect of the on-line A.I. game, wrote a novel (A.I.: the Death of Evan Chan) covering largely the same territory as the game, but which was informed by the often unexpected actions taken by the players. Unfortunately, the various rights issues (Warner's controlled the film property, Microsoft the game property, not to mention ownership rights of the source material) couldn't be worked out in time for the film's DVD release, and since they couldn't work out any cross-promotional deals, the novel -- despite being finished (in first-run form, anyway) -- was scrapped.

It kind of bugs me that this whole novel is *out there* right now, and I'll never be able to read it.

Maybe you could email him and ask for a copy of the Word doc. And then it could somehow appear on a BBS somewhere... Mwa ha ha.

(Do they still have BBSes these days?)

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