Outside panels, much of my SXSW experience revolved around discussing the definition of the word ‘transmedia’ with creators and industry observers. This question seems to alternate in importance, engaged sometimes as an idle salon topic and sometimes as a critical industry-wide issue. When the Producers Guild added a Transmedia Producer credit last month, its definition of the word kicked off a new round of discussion.
And so, in the interest of keeping the debate fresh and flame-kissed, I thought we could play the game here on Culture Hacker, using some of the things I’ve encountered lately. Some of them have been presented as transmedia work; some haven’t.
For the purposes of the game, there are two ways to describe transmedia.
From the Edges. We can draw a distinct line around the group of things we think of as transmedia through a hard rule – I’m going to use the three medium rule that’s solidified in the Producers Guild credit.
From the Center. As Justice Potter Stewart said, “I know it when I see it.” We can use our instincts and experience to identify what is transmedia, even without a clear set of criteria for it.
And without further heavy exposition, let’s bring out our first contestant!
Contestant #1: The International Mime Academy
The International Mime Academy was the focus of a SXSW panel titled “The Ten-Minute Transmedia Experience.” It’s a model ARG, created by the people at No Mimes Media to explain transmedia to audiences and clients, so I figure this is a good piece on which to calibrate my transmedia-o-meter.
A couple of phone calls and puzzle solves pull you into the dark and sinister world of professional street mime. I love this game for its efficiency in developing characters, and its glee-inducing twist ending. But is it transmedia?
Okay, you’ve got two websites, some video clips, phone and email interaction. That’s four media, so I think we’re good. And if you’re lucky enough to to encounter it at a conference, there is also real world interaction, rounding it out to five.
This is an ARG, a little mini ARG you can pull out at parties to explain to people what you do. And I only say that because I’ve done it before. So if this isn’t transmedia, I don’t know what is.
Final Answer: Transmedia
Contestant #2: The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing
Told through orchestrated screenshots from Animal Crossing: Wild World, original illustrations, a climactic animation sequence, and excellent first-person narration (which is also available in audiobook form), this story transforms Animal Crossing into a gripping horror adventure. It’s framed as a game playthrough, and hosted on a playthrough archive, adding an extra dimension of rabbitholeness to the whole experience. It’s really cool. But is it transmedia?
Even though the story is rich, I hesitate to separate the illustrations from the text. And the audiobook is an adaptation of the text, so it doesn’t count. That leaves the animation, which counts, but we’re only at two. The only way it could possibly meet the criteria is if we count the original game as part of the experience . Even though I think playing Nintendo’s game before you read The Terrible Secret gives you a more vivid sense of narrative vertigo when the real game and the fictional one line up, this work is subversion of the original, not expansion of it.
The story goes a long way to emulate reality, relying on real game mechanics, dialogue, and context to tell its adapted story. I feel like the authors get something that ARG creators also get, but this is like reading a recap of an ARG. It’s still awesome, but the work itself isn’t actually transmedia.
Final Answer: Not Transmedia
Contestant #3: Twitter Theater
Whether the characters are being played in real time or automated, whether the subject matter is Shakespeare or Lovecraft, Twitter theater is booming. It makes sense; Twitter’s paradigm opens the door for a kind of pervasive, ambient, multi-voiced storytelling. With Twitter’s list functions, we can subscribe and unsubscribe to entire fictional ecosystems. But is it transmedia?
No, from the edges it doesn’t look like it. I mean, no matter how many characters are involved in a Twitter drama, there’s only one medium involved. So it’s definitely new media, but it’s not transmedia.
But look, it synchronizes disparate voices into one narrative. It works with story as archaeology. It takes place in real time. And fictional Twitter users link to content outside Twitter, like real users do. From the center, I can’t imagine how this isn’t transmedia.
Final Answer: Well, Huh…
That concludes our first game of Is It Transmedia? If you were playing along at home, Congratulations! You’ve just won a free copy of our Home Edition!
Er, that’s my ham-handed way of inviting you to leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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