Transmedia, Henry Jenkins & Chris Goodswen

Transmedia

Transmedia storytelling is a relatively new concept and one that has only really been identified in the past few years. It is a term coined by media academic Henry Jenkins in his work looking at the way narrative is developed and disseminated across various media platforms. Transmedia storytelling is a method of expanding and adding to an existing narrative through the use of additional mediums. For example, a digital game will contain a core narrative. A story that is told throughout the course of the game and comes to a natural conclusion once the game has been finished. Overarching additions to the story will then be published independently through another medium. It could be a comic book series, a live-action feature film, animation, novels and novella’s and many more.

A great example of this is the Resident Evil franchise. To date there has been:

  • Seven main games (plus an eighth in production)
  • Three spin-off series totalling seven games
  • Two games released for portable platforms (with a further three currently in production)
  • Ten games released for mobile phone platforms
  • Seven novels
  • Five comic book series
  • Two graphic novel collections
  • Four feature films (with a fifth in development)
  • One animated feature film (with a second in development)
  • Hoards of merchandise from t-shirts to collectables.

All of these different mediums have been used to develop the overarching story of the Resident Evil franchise, develop its characters, introduce new ones and create an entire universe set within the realms of its fiction. The world of Resident Evil has been displayed across so many different mediums, from moving image to animation right through to the written word and illustrations. The power of and desire for transmedial storytelling is clearly evident with this particular franchise as it has spawned so much additional content across a broad spectrum of media. It shows just how versatile an audience the franchise has and the appetite of its fan base to learn more about the characters and additional narrative elements.

Henry Jenkins

After watching Henry Jenkins’ talk ‘Origami Unicorn’ I have a much better understanding of exactly what transmedia storytelling is and why it is important. Jenkins describes briefly what transmedia storytelling is:

“Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of a story” (Jenkins, 2009)

This statement pinpoints precisely what the culture of transmedia is and focuses on what is deemed as ‘transmedial’. The notion of each separate medium making “its own unique contribution” is key to a particular franchise or series becoming transmedial. He also focussed on the difference between adaptation and transmedia. An adaptation being a work which re-imagines the original narrative as opposed to transmedia which expands upon it.

Jenkins also describes the ‘Seven Concepts’ of transmedia storytelling. Seven elements that at their core turn a stand-alone narrative into a work of transmedia:

1 – Drillability ~ the ability of the audience to ‘drill down’ into the narrative to unearth more content.

2 – Continuity vs. Multiplicity ~ using different perspectives to tell a story. (Resident Evil 2 did this particularly well by integrating four different perspectives of the same story into one game experience, with the player taking control of the character throughout).

3 – Immersion/Extractability ~ a way of taking the fiction of a narrative and bringing it into the real world. Figurines being particularly pertinent to this concept. Taking a character that may have been incidental, e.g. Boba Fett in Star Wars and giving the audience an action figure of this character so they can ‘live’ other narratives with that character using their own imagination.

4 – World Building ~ taking a single narrative and building an entire world from it. The original tale is just the beginning with the world surrounding that tale sustaining multiple stories.

5 – Seriality ~ serialising narratives and using literary techniques such as cliff-hangers to maintain the audience’s interest.

6 – Subjectivity ~ telling the story from the perspective of different and/or secondary characters. This fleshes out the original story and provides further information that wasn’t available in the original text.

7 – Performance ~ furthering concept three and adding the element of performance into bringing the fiction into the real world. Cosplay being a particularly good example of this.

All of these concepts come together to make transmedia storytelling. Some franchises may only opt to use one of the concepts, where others may, and have, used all seven.

The point I agreed with most from the talk is Jenkins’ postulation that the digital age and the now wide accessibility of different types of media have paved the way for the transmedia phenomenon. Even as recently as the turn of this decade, transmedia was relatively unheard of. The boom of the internet, social networking, gaming and the now easily accessible flow of information has given transmedia storytelling a window through which it can reach those who desire it. It is at a point where transmedia storytelling is no longer a ‘want’; it is generally expected of narratives, especially those of large franchises such as Resident Evil, The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer et al.

I now know why and how transmedia storytelling exists and why it is vitally important in the modern digital age. Fans of a franchise or narrative now have an entire world which centres around its core. The original story is just the beginning of what will become a multi-faceted, variable perspective and highly informative world.

 

Chris Goodswen

A really insightful talk from NUCA alumni Chris Goodswen on his journey through the Games Art & Design degree program and MA programme in Dundee. Chris presented with great professionalism and engagement and really gave a sense of just how much hard work and determination is required to succeed in higher education and the games industry.

Chris’ story and journey is one I could personally relate to as it shares many similarities. Both Chris and I entered higher education at a later age after first trudging through the mire that is working for a living. I found myself nodding in agreement and smiling as he recounted his thoughts on not wanting to stay in his dead-end job and go into a profession that he had great passion for. It was inspirational to see that he has made a success of himself and it gave me greater confidence and belief that I too can succeed in my chosen career.

From an academic perspective it was interesting to hear just how much work is involved in the MA programme. As I fully intend to go down this route when I complete my degree it was certainly an eye-opener as to what is required and the sheer amount of hard work and effort that is needed.

Chris served as a great motivator for me and provided an invaluable insight into what lies ahead. I would be content to come out of my degree and MA with the same level of success that Chris has achieved, though I am not satisfied with being content. If anything, Chris has set a benchmark for me and through hard work, determination and a little bit of luck I wholly intend to match and indeed surpass Chris’ achievements.

 

Advertisements

About this entry