By Haley Moore, April 9th, 2010

Maureen McHugh has a piece up on MimeFeed about The Illusion of Authenticity, in which she talks about the most compelling storytelling as an alchemical mix between the mundane and the surprising.

So achieving ‘authenticity’ requires novelty in an established convention. The audience needs some level of comfort and some elements of surprise. For now, Transmedia is pretty much always surprising for the audience. I suspect that in ten or twenty years, we may have to work harder at it.

This got me thinking about a whole range of shared experiences that you and I have every day that push our authenticity buttons.

For example, I’m sure I’m not the only tech-savvy twentysomething who gets in snits with her mother about email forwards.

The people in my life who aren’t very familiar with spam culture are, in their way, playing a very diffuse, but massive and persistent alternate reality game, sketching out a fictional world in which Coca-Cola dissolves ribeye steaks, and the government tests the internet through chain mail.  They don’t like to be told that the stories they’ve passed along are just stories, and nothing more, because it seems unsporting.  Telling game players they’re playing a game is annoying, and checking Snopes is definitely cheating.

The town where I live is home to a MLM company that sells magic sugar pills.  There’s also a lovely mom-and-pop business here that will sell you all the colon cleansers you desire.  The fictions these companies rest on are no doubt viral narratives, and no doubt have supportive communities.

These forms of fraud draw people in by putting an old story in a new context – whether its a urban legend in your email box, a sugar pill that actually works, or a new angle on the old Pyramid Scam, adding a twist to an old lie works to build authenticity – and many people buy it because of that authenticity.  In fact, for many people, the story is no longer just authentic – it’s real.

Storytellers and scammers have always been part of the same ecosphere.  Around the turn of the century, stage magicians and spirit mediums both sold seats to performances where they did many of the same acts – but the spirit mediums indulged the audience’s assumption that the tricks were supernatural, and many of them made fortunes from it.   The mediums’ stories were backed up by a large spiritualism enthusiast community and by publishers who put out spiritualist books and magazines.  The stories told in this subculture are still around today.

For example, the popular belief that images of ghosts can be captured by photographing an empty room probably comes from urban legends spawned by photographs like this one.

That’s Harry Houdini, surrounded by ghost “extras” added in by spirit photography scammers.  This is a plate from Houdini’s book  A Magician Among the Spirits, which could best be described as an angry skeptic rant, debunking a long list of Houdini’s contemporaries for exploiting the authenticity they forged by combining old ideas of the occult with the new technology of stage magic.

The spirit photography scam is a prime example of McHugh’s formula.  It took a recently discovered but familiar concept (x-rays) and combined it with something fantastical (ghosts).  At a time when few people were qualified to evaluate the claim, it seemed plausible enough to be real, and wonderful enough to capture the imagination.

I am sure that the modern game designer thinks about as much of  developers of online gambling sites as Houdini thought of spirit mediums.  Although really, Facebook games might be a better analog.  As TechCrunch reports, fraud in games like Farmville is rampant – both in the form of scams that target the players, and in number crunching that justifies high prices for nearly worthless advertising spots.  Facebook games meet McHugh’s standard for authenticity, too.  They combine something familiar (simple video games) with a twist (social interconnectivity.)

But unlike McHugh, Facebook game scammers, and spirit photographers, and MLM salespeople, and the authors of those email forwards are not using this alchemical combination to deliver a more compelling story experience.  They are using it to hack our suspension of disbelief.

I have a copy of the comic that came out for Chasing The Wish 2, and blazoned across the back is the question, “Can a story be too real?”  Yes, and no.  A story can transcend its medium; it can become more, provide you a more real – more authentic experience.  But, as McHugh points out,

An authentic story is almost by definition an oxymoron. Sure, there are true stories. But we were talking about fiction. About The Matrix, and the Batman movies. About Blair Witch.

So long as something is a story, it will never be real in any, well, real sense.  It can only be authentic, never genuine.  When authenticity bleeds over into reality, you get a lie.

And here, I predict: As game mechanics become more ingrained in everyday experiences, we are going to see more Facebook scams – these too-real stories that use our understanding of games to hack the authenticity-seeking parts of our brains.

In all probability, they will be better than we are at using technology to draw people into a fiction, and we should be ready to extract the compelling elements from what they will do with games, and adapt them to our purposes.

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Posted in storytelling transmedia

Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.

By wbp labs, December 16th, 2009

Believing that Poets undervalue themselves in the creative marketplace, The Madame, and right-hand man Tennessee Pink, set up the Poetry Brothel in order to confirm in writers the literal monetary value of their work, and also to present Poetry in its more natural form – intimate and sensual over the more standard formal and jilted reading. The collective is made up of ‘Poetry Whores’ who ply their trade at specially arranged events, dressed in turn of the century dress, in character. The creation of character, as both disguise and freeing device enables the Poetry Brothel to be a place of uninhibited creative expression, where both whore and John can be themselves in private.

Relevant sites:


CREATED & PRODUCED by Lance Weiler & Alex Johnson
DIRECTOR Danielle Lurie
DP Adam Newport-Berra
EDITOR Jawad Metni
“Bie Mir Bist Du Schoen” by Tin Pan Blues Band
“Dandelion” by Tin Pan Blues Band

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Posted in season 2 storytelling

wbp labs

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By Janine Saunders, November 18th, 2009

Illustrator Sophie Blackall has read thousands of missed connections posts. A self confessed addict of these intimate, fleeting moments described in haste and posted in public, she trawls through them daily to find the most visual, humorous, lyrical or wierd confessions or pleas, before creating a similarly spontaneous illustration she then posts to her blog. We talk to Sophie about the significance of shared moments between strangers, and create the moments that might have been.

Relevant sites:


CREATED & PRODUCED by Lance Weiler & Alex Johnson
DIRECTOR Danielle Lurie
EDITOR Jawad Metni
DP Adam Newport-Berra
“Frebeight” by Gregory and the Hawk
“Turbulence Remix” by Bisc1
“I Heart Ichor” by Lavalier
“Shiva” by The Antlers

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Posted in season 2 storytelling

Janine Saunders is a producer, media collaborator, and DJ living in NYC.  She has worked as a producer since a very early age, in music, video and publishing. She has worked closely with writer/ documentarian/ graphic novelist Douglas Rushkoff, and directed and edited Life Inc: The Movie.

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By robert pratten, October 23rd, 2009

Having watched Christy Dena’s  excellent presentation yesterday (see the embedded video below), it motivated me publish the attempts I’ve been making to document transmedia storytelling.

The presentation identifies some key requirements for transmedia documentation:

  • indicate  which part of the story is told by which media
  • indicate the timing of each element
  • indicate  how the audience traverses the media (what’s the call to action?)
  • indicate what the audience actually sees and does
  • take account of the possibility for “non-linear traversal” through the story
  • provide continuity across developers (who may be working on different media assets)

Christy also references music notation and says that it would be nice to present a transmedia project in this way so that someone could see the beauty of it at a glance.

I’ve been looking at this approach myself and I’m not the first. I knew that Mike Figgis (who is a composer as well as a director) when working on Timecode used a kind of music notation to present and explain his ideas for four stories would be told simultaneously in real-time. And in fact I was delighted to see that he’s put his notes online!

So here’s my proposed solution. The breakthrough that came while watching Chrisy’s presentation was to separate the actual story narrative from the experience of it. Hence at the highest level we have two timelines: one for story and one for the experience

Transmedia notation

Taking this idea further, it’s possible to break the media  into separate timelines so that it’s possible to see which media is being used where.

Hence, at a very high level, it’s possible to see in the example above that the audience first encounters the story through an online game which actually reveals the end of the narrative. During the game it looks like there are several mobile media used and some internet video.

At a glance this does meet many of the documentation criteria although it doesn’t reveal the detail of course or say how the media is traversed.

Experiencing the Media

I took the approach that progression of the experience (and hence unlocking or revealing of  media that tells another piece of the story) is via two controls:

  • Triggers
  • Dependencies

Hence, each stage or “state” of the experience is represented by a media asset that is unlocked by a trigger and made available to the audience participant if he/she meets the dependencies (age, location, time, network etc.).

Example triggers and dependencies might be:

  • Time –  media released  to a calendar schedule or lock/unlock it by time of day (e.g. only available between 3pm & 4pm)
  • Location – media released only to those in a certain geographical area or changed/modified based on location
  • Device/Platform – media only available on mobile or only on project sponsor’s network or only on TV
  • Knowledge – media released  only if participant has experienced some other content first
  • User action – media released when person clicks a button or link
  • Audience numbers – media released when enough people are playing game or is switched off if more than six people are in the room
  • Age – must be over 15?

Each media asset that’s unlocked must be described in terms of:

  • The type of media ( e.g. audio, video, image, text, interactive)
  • Device implementations and dependencies (e.g. audio only available via mobile)
  • The story knowledge revealed (info, characters, plot points, props, locations)

So now, at a high level, and without lots of messy lines criss-crossing an A3 sheet of paper, it’s possible to present very clearly each media asset and it’s relationships:

  • to the story
  • to the experience
  • to the audience
  • to other media.

Of course additional documentation is needed for each asset but at least there’s now a simple overview.

This is still a work in progress and I’ll develop it further but I’d be interested to hear thoughts from others or find other approaches.


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Posted in cross-media gaming marketing storytelling transmedia

robert pratten Robert Pratten is CEO and Founder of Transmedia Storyteller Ltd, an audience engagement company and provider of Conducttr, an pervasive entertainment platform. He has more than 20 years experience as an international marketing consultant and has established himself as a thought-leader in the field of transmedia storytelling. He is author of the first practical book transmedia storytelling: Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling: A Practical Guide for Beginners.

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