Geoffrey Long
Transmedia Storytelling
The challenge

How do we tell stories across multiple media?

The solution

As I noted in my introduction to this section, the bulk of my academic and creative work for most of my career so far has focused on "the future of storytelling", but the main focus of that has been on transmedia storytelling, or the crafting of stories across multiple media.

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I was bewildered by why the stories for Transformers, Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and others – the very storyworlds Marsha Kinder was referring to when she coined the term "transmedia" in her book Playing with Power – could be found in TV shows, comics, movies, games, and other media, but much of the time the stories in these different media were radically inconsistent. A character that was alive in one medium might have been killed off in another, for example – but sometimes, as in the case of the original animated Transformers movie and cartoon, a story that began in one medium would continue on in another. I was smart enough to know that this most likely had something to do with all the colorful lumps of plastic these stories were trying to get me to badger my folks for come Christmastime, but as someone who absolutely devoured stories, this was downright bizarre.

Fast-forward to 2003. I'd completed my bachelor's from Kenyon College focusing on both creative writing and their proto-digital humanities program, learning how to tell stories in such cutting-edge media as CD-ROMs, and then spent a couple of years making webzines and websites and so on. One day I stumbled across an article by one Henry Jenkins, the co-founder of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, describing something called transmedia storytelling. Henry identified transmedia storytelling as a result of increasing convergences both across corporations (leading to such juggernaut moves as Disney's purchase of Marvel and Lucasfilm) and between storytellers and fans. I was enthralled, and the next thing I knew I was completing a Master's thesis on transmedia storytelling under Jenkins' guidance. My central argument was that transmedia storytelling was itself a combinatory medium with its own emerging language and set of aesthetics. Much like how film combines the characteristics of writing, theater, sound and photography, transmedia storytelling combines the characteristics of every medium it incorporates, and requires another extra layer of world-building on top.

That work got me recruited by Microsoft, to come and help them think through such challenges as "storytelling for the cloud", and how to craft storyworlds that would last for a decade or more across all of Microsoft's screens, including those that didn't exist yet. I built a number of these kinds of worlds for them, showcasing such nascent technologies as the Xbox One and HoloLens, but after a few years I wanted to "return to Dagobah and finish my training", so to speak.

I left Microsoft and followed Jenkins to the University of Southern California, where he'd become a provost's professor across multiple schools. One of those was USC's legendary School of Cinematic Arts, and after spending a few years as a research fellow, technical director and creative director at USC's Annenberg Innovation Lab, I enrolled in the Media Arts and Practice PhD program, and soon became the Creative Director of the World Building Media Lab. Once again under Jenkins' guidance, I finished my PhD in 2018, expanding the work I'd begun in my Master's thesis and combining it with the real-world industry experience I'd gained at Microsoft to develop an emerging language of transmedia aesthetics, or a set of best practices and tools for developing beautiful and deeply engaging transmedia storyworlds. In addition to an extensive thesis manuscript, I also developed a process and template for a hybrid TV story bible and game design document called a narrative design document, and a prototype transmedia storyworld called Spookshow to demonstrate how those tools can be put into practice.

Since diving into this subject, I've been fortunate enough to give lectures, workshops and classes on transmedia storytelling all over the world, and have consulted for many of the largest studios in Hollywood. I am currently teaching semester-long college courses with this work as its backbone, and am in the process of turning my doctoral thesis into my first academic book.

The team
Master's and Doctoral Theses Advisor Henry Jenkins
Other Master's Thesis Advisors Frank Espinosa
William Uricchio
Chris Weaver
Other Doctoral Thesis Advisors Kiki Benzon
Richard LeMarchand
Alex McDowell
Jeff Watson



Transmedia Storytelling World Building Media Lab The World in a Single Cell Spaceship Earth 2050 Spaceship Earth 2050
Dry City Project Tesseract Annenberg Innovation Lab Tangible Storytelling Augmented Storytelling
Winklebeans Playful Thinking C3 GAMBIT