Monday, September 05, 2011

A Mythic Primer of Transmedia

By James Curcio

There's a lot of talk about transmedia lately.

Haven't heard it? Well, there has been. Trust us.

And heaven knows there are a lot of transmedia evangelists out there. So I just want to talk over some of the possibilities presented by transmedia storytelling as a concept, without pretending that this is the final word on anything.

Most of us (er, them) are motivated by deep excitement. And of course, many corporations are also excited by it as a new way of perceiving the "life cycle of their brands," and "customer engagement," and other terms that sound really creepy in the "bad touch" kind of way. But we see all of the possibilities for new ways of engaging with content. Some of us see exciting creative possibilities and some see dollar signs. (I prefer to see both, when possible.)

A warning
On screen these instructions show
viewers how they can play along.
Engagement. Right there, some people get lost. "You mean there is more than one way to engage with content?"

Yes, there is.  It is not just that you are engaged, but also how.
 When you read a book, you're engaging with that story in a very different way then when it is shown to you in a comic, and when you watch a movie. Your brain is being engaged in different ways to create the narrative.

With a comic book, you are imagining the continuity of time, you are building mental movies out of the storyboard of the comic. The artist provides static visual cues. With a book, you are given the conceptual cues, but all of the sense experience has to be engaged. As such, it is both a deeply rewarding form of taking in media, because so much of the creative process is left up to you, and a very difficult one in terms of generating engagement, because it isn't a passive process. ("Why People Don't Read.")

With a novel, there is a high entrance price, a potentially high payoff. Movies are a passive process where visual, temporal, auditory cues are provided. Boredom is a potential enemy in all cases, but since there's a larger investment in reading a book, it seems to follow that if you get more than halfway through a book, you've already invested so much in creating that experience that you will insist on seeing it through to the end. It's very easy to switch channels on the TV, or surf away through YouTube or Netflix. Commitment seems to be so low on a platform like YouTube that it can be hard to keep attention for as "much" as two minutes.

Regardless of format, all of these are blueprints for an experience.

Of course, there's a dark potential in transmedia that the conspiracy theorists have also latched onto, producing a sort of paranoid PR-wing to the transmedia movement. I can't say if this paranoia is well placed or not, because it is based around things that haven't happened yet. (Maybe.) Can't see the ominous implication of transmedia? The fears engaged here are what drive the plot of the movie, "The Game."

Namely, if transmedia is a way of telling related narratives across multiple mediums, it becomes increasingly immersive for an audience that invests the energy to read a book, watch a movie, and even interact with the characters in the story, and one another within the context or narrative created by the story.

As a creative obsessive, I see this as a good thing. And I see projects experimenting with the possibilities. For example:
CFG is a participatory drama that will play out this summer, with a cast of more than 400 spread over five countries. The plot centres around a secret society whose aim is to change the world; the society has decided to go public andCFG is the recruitment campaign. The narrative will be played out over web videos, interactive puzzles (including clues hidden inside real MP3s such as tracks on the White Album by The Beatles), mobile apps and real-life events. The project is sponsored by Nokia, and a website went live on May 17. This features a video from Tim Kring, who asks visitors to participate in a movement to drive real-world change through interactive storytelling.
The creative team at The company P, Sandberg's transmedia production business, staged several tests last winter and spring. The Stockholm event ironed out kinks in the mobile technology used. More importantly, it honed the team's storytelling. "We learned how to spread people out so as to have the sense of being at the mercy of a big adventure."
This is a methodology I've kept in mind throughout the history of my creative career, before transmedia was a term. So, I guess that makes me some kind of uber-hipster of the transmedia underground. (Full disclosure: I do, in fact, shower.) Or rather it would make me that, except that none of this is in itself new. The media we have at our disposal are partially new, social media especially, but "transmedia" does nothing newer than presenting an entire mythological pantheon, rather than a singular myth, as you might have within a single book or book series.

This approach would lend us toward long-running projects, projects that can span entire careers, where each item is unique and essentially stand alone, but mythically related to the others.

If you look at the long-running history of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other religion, you see a multi-generational transmedia story in effect. Many of those stories have real flesh and blood body counts. That's the side of transmedia that is troubling to most, where we become so immersed in our stories that we kill one another for them.

I hope this short piece has helped you think about media in a new way. Whatever term we use - "transmedia" is a fine one, don't get me wrong - it is most important from here to look forward and ask "how can these tools be used to produce something beneficial to ourselves and the world?" The reasons why this is needed now more than ever has been explored at length already on this site.

[Check out some of the books, albums, and soon movies produced by Mythos Media and our various media partners.]


  1. Yes! I heartily agree with you on the deeper implications of transmedia storytelling/mythmaking. But I'm in the camp that doesn't see it as scary - I see it as something transformative. I could go on and on about this, but I won't. But I will subscribe to this page...


  2. Myths have always been multimodal- I think of storytelling as a verbal event, from written texts, illustrated at times and in many cases there is sculpture, tapestry, and pottery. trans-media is a big part of how the myths stabilized in transmittance



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