First of all I have to pick a little quarrel with Henry Jenkins’ very useful formulation of “transmedia” storytelling to describe phenomena like The Matrix and Lost. I would argue that this temporary phenomenon of “transmedia” activity, however useful to today’s industry merchandisers, is actually a transitional phase of a long-term development of new story-telling forms within the Digital Medium. The ingenuity and energy behind transmedia activity emanates from the affordances and interaction patterns of digital environments, like social networking, search engines, GPS-mapping, and multiplayer gaming. Transmedia is of interest to me only when it offers a model for new ways of structuring narrative worlds and channeling narrative curiosity.
At Georgia Tech I direct an Experimental Television Laboratory (http://etv.gatech.edu) within the Graduate Program in Digital Media (http://dm.gatech.edu ). We make prototypes based on actual television content to explore design conventions for emerging narrative genres. This clip shows a “transmedia” prototype we made in conjunction with the Cartoon Network and the American Film Institute’s Digital Content Lab in 2007. It assumes that Ben 10 cartoons are being provided by a broadband feed for viewers watching on a Playstation. The challenge was to create a game that would reinforce immersion in the imaginary world rather than distract from it. Instead of making a side-by-side activity to distract from the viewing experience, we came up with an interaction pattern that worked for story exploration as well as gaming, and we illustrated how it would work using both Ben 10 and Lost.
Objects appear at the top of the screen signaling that there is a matching hot spot within the image. The viewer targets the hot spot with the game controller to capture the object and add it to a collection. The captured objects reinforce the imaginary reality of the depicted world, bringing with them attributes related to the story: the strength of the cartoon hero for use in a related mobile game; or the content of a document waved by a character in a dramatic series. The captured items could also connect viewers to play against one another or to share information to decipher the secrets of a mysterious fictional island.
Other applications that we have developed use smartphones or the iPad in conjunction with the television to follow intersecting and multi-variant stories without confusion (http://etv.gatech.edu/projects/smart-epg/ ) . But though our applications might be called “transmedia,” we see no particular virtue in combining transmission formats. Instead, we are focused on enhancing the coherence and complexity of stories by exploiting the affordances of what we think of as a single digital medium into which all of these older representational forms are rapidly converging.
Ben 10 copyrighted by Cartoon Network; Lost copyrighted by ABC.