By Phoebe, August 2nd, 2010

[What to say at the end of an epic, three-part article? Well, not very much (fortunately). My aim here is only to make the connections explicit...and to pass on the same challenge to you that Elan passed to me: this stuff is easy, now you do it!]

[There's so much more! Part I and Part II]

“It’s almost comical how I live in constant fear…”

Let’s review: Elan Lee has been one of the very few storytellers of the 21st century to use media as a collaborative, non-linear, cross-platform distribution mechanism, and make money doing it.

His strategy is simple: Use what works, and then go farther (but just a little bit beyond the boundaries of expectation).

His goal, even more so: Make each player/viewer/leader/lurker feel–in the 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or 10 months they spend in the story world–like a superhero; their contribution, however big or small, makes a difference in that world. [And maybe if people spend more time feeling super, they'll start to see how much difference they make in this world.]


Meet Ben Kling. He is the model prosumer [thank you, Mark] of the 18-24 US population. This is the person for whom we are now making media; more importantly, this is the person who is making media for us. We are in constant dialogue, referencing the shared culture of multiple generations–past and probably future–through our constant, loosely networked content. Ben makes websites, Motown mashups, and tons of friends. If we want to keep Ben’s attention, we’ll need to include him in the ebb and flow of experience moderation that is the defining factor of transmedia as we know it. His willing suspension of disbelief [thank you, Lee] is partly self-induced (and all the more exciting and immersive because of it).

“…that someone will someday figure out how much fun I’m having…”

Good news! According to Elan, the only thing we need to get Ben’s attention is a good story. “Storytelling is still one of the most fascinating things possible for people.  It’s essential that we adapt the way we tell stories to meet the expectations of society–figure out what it means to tell stories using the internet, your cell phone, email, etc–but the fundamental act of telling stories has, and will always work.”

The sky is wide open. From Jane McGonigal’s “absolutely mind-blowing” experiences to the not-really-transmedia, canon expanding story portals of JJ Abrams‘ and Dave Baronoff’s Bad Robot projects, there is room for experimentation and participation. For Elan, it’s fundamental: “I just think up the way I’d like the world to be, and then hire people to build it.”

Transmedia isn’t a revolution, it’s the slow and ongoing adaptation of storytelling to the possibilities created by contemporary forms of media, and, more critically, “community collaboration tools like the internet.” Now that the community can participate in the story world, and stories can be consumed in real time, creators can tweak the inputs (game mechanics, characters, pacing) as the universe unfolds. The personalized, participative, on-demand experience is empowering and emotionally rewarding in an all-encompassing way, because the boundaries of the story and real life are blurred to the point of irrelevance.

“…and that I’d gladly do my job for free.”

Citing The Beatles as “some of the most creative storytellers the world has ever seen,” Elan is creatively humble, and appropriately confident about his achievements: “I see myself in a very, very fortunate position. Because I’ve had successes in a lot of different forms of media, I get to walk into rooms and say, ‘Give me money and trust me, because I’ve got a track record to point at.’ Unfortunately, a lot of the big experiments that have to happen are expensive. And I look at myself as very fortunate because I’m able to get those dollars that need to be spent in order to run tests, which most of us know are not going to be successful. I mean, you just… that’s what experimentation is. But because I’ve got this–for better or worse–reputation in this industry, I can run tests on a very, very large scale, and I can make sure that even in a failure, the client or sponsor or VC or whomever, feels like they’re at least getting a return on their investment. And that’s taken a long time to build up. So I look at my role as… Now that I’m here, I almost feel obligated to try some pretty crazy stuff.”

I was going to say that Elan is a risk-taker, and that’s what makes him more successful than most. But when we carefully consider what he has done, it’s much less of a risk than it looks – he has taken what he knows about storytelling and applied it to the media we all use quite competently today. So then, what is it that sets him apart?

He’s tried it. Period.

Now, go do your part.

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Posted in ARG gaming storytelling transmedia

Phoebe was the co-founder and president of Mstrmnd Ltd from 2003 to 2009. She recently completed a masters in creative management & game design/production at Indiana University, and now works as Lead Designer for a game development start-up. She is a little uncomfortable with writing about herself in the third person, likes playing devil's advocate, and makes stuff in all media (even the old hands-on kind).

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