White Paper: Transmedia Storytelling
This is an in depth analysis of Transmedia Storytelling. I discuss what it is, give examples of existing transmedia projects, and compare and contrast why these stories work or don't.
As a transmedia artist, designer and storyteller, I’m interested in stories that are breaking the mold of ‘traditional’ storytelling, to see what mediums these stories are told in, how those mediums are best telling their stories, and why other mediums would or would not work better to tell that story. I’m constantly questioning the role of each medium in storytelling (what are the pros and cons and why), so I can use each medium to tell stories the way they’re meant to be told. For example, a picture can be worth a thousand words, people can linger as long as they want on that image and come back to it as often as they want, and don’t have to read a single word to understand the story, but it is silent and cannot create sound, only vaguely allude to it. A picture is still and can only take a snapshot of one scene — unless it is a moving picture of course, which has its own set of pros and cons.
What is transmedia storytelling? To me, it is the use of digital and analog mediums to seamlessly tell a story, using each medium in a way that best tells that part of the story. There are four general categories of transmedia storytelling: Real World, Gaming, Co-Creation and Story (1).
Why is transmedia important? In today’s technological era, where everything seems to be digitized, increasingly mobile and hyper-connected, humans interact with mobile devices more than any other medium (2). With more than
four billion people around the world using the internet [...] well over half the world’s population is now online” (3). In 2017 people were spending more than four hours per day on their mobile devices (4), “48% of millennials view video solely on their mobile device” (5), and “83% of mobile users say that a seamless experience across all devices is very important” (5).
To tell stories, storytellers have to have an audience; since audiences are increasingly connected — watching TV while using their mobile device, playing games online with multiple players, researching printed media on mobile devices while standing in a book store, or purchasing and consuming media through online sellers and apps — storytellers can use more mediums to tell stories than ever before. The endless combinations of mediums, existing and emerging, allow stories to engage audiences in new ways. By combining gaming, education and storytelling,
Frankenstein.Life is educating a younger audiences about how science and technology shapes the world around us. Through a well-designed website, the creators tell the story of Dr. Tori Frankenstein and her Laboratory for Innovation and Fantastical Exploration using: the written word, a chat bot, artificial intelligence, curated archives, video, photography, games, and fun. They ‘recruit’ members to become assistant researchers to Dr. Frankenstein, and through transmedia storytelling they teach their audience digital literacy, self efficacy and inspire curiosity (6 & 7). There is a separate app Frankenstein: Interactive which takes its own spin on Mary Shelly’s work, turning the novel into an interactive, choose-your- own-adventure story. Both Frankenstein stories take the same plot but subvert the premise and change the way you interact with the story, one as a fun interactive co-creation story for an older audience, the other as a gamified learning tool for a younger audience. The desktop, web-based platform of Frankenstein.Life is a great solution for this story, because as a web-based product it can collect real-time data on what people search for in their app, how the users use the app, as well as ask (consensual) follow-up questions after the game to aid the developers in their research and future iterations of the game. This allows the game to stay current to the shifting trends and preferences of it’s users, and allows for potential growth of the game, not only in its content, but in its global reach. Other mediums would not allow the developers to easily, if at all, access the real-time data of their users, and would be out of date shortly after publication. Users are meant to play individually with the support of a parent, guardian or older sibling; by
having a web-based, transmedia product the users can be fully immersed in the story and can stop play at any time or access play at any time. Live-action role-playing (LARP) would not offer the same flexibility and on-demand access. Theatre or video are one-directional, that couldn’t foster the user’s curiosity and learning on-the-spot. Books have the same or better on-demand access (if internet is not available), and allow for stoppage to look up words or concepts, but this isn’t controlled and young audiences could easily be misled by fake-news or accidentally access sites that are inappropriate for children; plus books are not often seen as “fun.” Essentially both the Frankenstein: Interactive and Frankenstein.Life are choose-your-own-adventure stories that offer readers control over the story which makes it personal and allows the audience to connect in a unique way.
Another re-appropriated novel is, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy. This transmedia story is a real-world, modern-day Peter Pan tale set in the fictional town of Neverland, Ohio. The transmedia producer for the series plays all of the show’s characters online, and works closely with the writer and producer to weave an integrated cross-platform narrative. There’s also a vibrant community of fans who create role-play Twitter accounts of their own characters and businesses that exist in Neverland, Ohio (8). The show is available on YouTube and on NewPeterWendy.com. The town has its own newspaper The Kensington Chronicle where the main characters work, and Wendy Darling regularly answers fan-submitted questions on the show from the “Ask Dear Darling” feature on the K-Chron site. The show utilizes platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, Spotify, ModCloth and Storify to give their characters a comprehensive digital footprint and maximize fan engagement. The online community can interact with any of the characters in real-time, and the characters continue the story off screen on social media. Fans who love the show are deeply engaged in the world through virtual role- play and hold real-time Twitter events that are tied into the ongoing plot, for example: fans created a masquerade ball which was then incorporated into the show to canonize the social media experience and reward the efforts of its fan members. Even Tinker Bell has her own Twitter account to which she posts using only emojis, images and Spotify song-links which fans love to interpret and decode (8). The real-time on-line engagement of its fans is a key component to making a story that resonates with them. Fans can buy official merch of the web series online, and even get the same outfits as Wendy from ModCloth.com. This was once limited to live performances where fans might be able to interact with the performers after the show (and now on-line), and could buy special merch at the performance venue, but interactions were generally brief or few-and-far-between. In a physical novel or video alone, interaction is impossible to create, Peter + Wendy social media allows fans accessibility into the world beyond the web-series, and allows live dialog between the fans and characters which builds relationships like never before. The Peter + Wendy web-series are great for allowing readers to picture the world of Neverland, Ohio, but doesn’t offer the audience room to bring themselves or their imagination into the story (the directors get to decide what Wendy wears, what color her walls are, etc) which is why the social media platforms are invaluable. They offer readers a chance to imagine other characters in the town, imagine businesses that might exist in Neverland, and role- play alongside the main characters. Theatre, dance and live music, have one great advantage, the palpable emotional resonance the performers have directly on their audience, something a device can never create. Live performances are at a disadvantage because they are costly to produce, and therefore attend, this prohibits many audience members from going, or returning to a show they’ve already seen, making it a limited, one-and-done scenario for many viewers. Peter + Wendy uses free social media to reach a larger audience. Fans can view and review the material to their hearts desire. The short 4-6 minute YouTube videos allow on-demand access which is impossible for live performances. The mediums chosen for Peter + Wendy are well suited for this bubbly, “adorkable mashup of geek culture” (9) that appeals to its fanbase.
The Pickle Index is a set of two hard-back physical books that work symbiotically, a single soft-cover book, and a mobile app. The two mediums tell similar stories, but each is tweaked to best tell the story in that medium. The idea is to allow readers to choose their preferred method of readership, physical or digital. In the hard-back books, you read a chapter from one book, then a chapter from the next. Separating the chapters are renderings that, “when combined with their counterpart in the accompanying book [...], creates a larger unified panorama. The experience of integrating each pair functions simultaneously as a visual puzzle, sequential art, and exquisite
corpse. [...] In the app, the story unfolds over the course of ten days, revealing the narrative through various features: recipes, daily news updates, dynamic maps and Q&A [...] in a uniquely digital interplay of form and content” (10). The app has video and an interactive cookbook where readers can submit their own recipes that become incorporated into the cannon of the story. The hard-back books work well to engage the audience, because the reader has to physically switch books to continue the story and has to engage with the images to figure out how they fit together to see the big picture. This method of reading is slow, but the authors have intentionally done this to set the pace of the book, it is not meant to be consumed quickly, just like the app. The authors have more control over consumption time in the app by only giving content to the reader once a day. The intentional pacing gives readers time to ruminate on the story, and reflect. The exclusion of social media does not allow audiences to interact with the characters, this is probably because it is set in a different world and the characters do not interface with our world. This give the authors more control over what the world is, and is not, and how the story progresses, which creates distance between the audience and the characters, unlike Peter + Wendy and Frankenstein.Life, which envelop their audiences and gives the audience some control on how the story is told. While audiences have the same ability to bring themselves and their imaginations into a piece of pros more so than any visual medium, the length of pros needed to capture the same detail in a videos can be greater than the length of the video, further distancing audiences who already dislike or don’t have time for reading. The pacing of this story would be inhibiting for live performance, the on-demand availability of books and mobile-app make those mediums more suitable to tell a ten-day story in ten days. The lack of auditory mediums in this work distinctly excludes audience members who have poor eyesight, but it also allows audience members who are able to read the story, to imagine the voices and sounds of the story and bring themselves into the narrative. Overall, the chosen mediums are effective for focusing on the importance of the narrative, and creating a unique space for the audience to engage in.
In the recent past, there have been prescient authors who’ve crossed genres in storytelling, such as Lynd Ward (1905-1985) with his wordless novels using wood engravings (11). Warja Lavater (1913-2007) who created accordion fold books that re-told classic fairy tales with symbols rather than words (or even pictures)” (12). Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) a writer known for his cartoons which he used to tell stories via poetry in his children’s books. These artists were limited to the mediums available during their time, but did not limit themselves to the constraints of genre. Wordless novels transcended language barriers, artwork as a means of storytelling gave readers a breadth of space to interpret, imagine and construct their own ideas of the story, fully immersing the
audience into the story and acted as powerful visual prompts in recalling and retelling the story, much like the aboriginal storytellers in Australia (13). The most is the art of a great storyteller.
powerful stories that captivate us are the ones that combine the visual, musical, performative, and emotionally resonant stories that give us room to imagine ourselves in the narrative (14). Knowing when to employ each method of storytelling, now that is the art of a great storyteller.
“Transmedia Storytelling.” Podcast. Episode 88 - Frankenstein L.I.F.E., an ARG to teach science. Conducttr, 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 24 Apr. 2018.