So What Is Transmedia, Anyway?
Every so often, I get asked what Stolen Fire is. And then the followup question, “What’s transmedia?”
So here, in one convenient area, is the answer!
Short Answer: Transmedia is how one may experience a story through a variety of different media.
Super helpful, yeah?
Take a story, any story. Generally a complex story, with lots of characters and varied settings. Tell this story in different ways – through books, film, TV, games, graphic novels… whatever strikes your fancy. These stories are generally called entry points – places by which someone may come to the story. There’s usually a ‘core’ story, and the other forms of media support the narrative of the core story. However, a basic understanding of one piece of media should never rely on having already experienced another. Instead, full participation gives a greater appreciation and insight into the full story.
I’ve already written about how Dragon Age manages to be a great example of transmedia.
Some other examples are:
Old school World of Darkness. White Wolf‘s flagship product was Vampire: the Masquerade, which went through several iterations. This extremely popular game eventually spawned a TV show, several lines of novels and two computer games (one of which has a devoted fan base to this day, despite effectively killing the studio which made it). Fascinatingly, the World of Darkness has given rise to two separate global organizations attempting to replicate the ‘feel’ of these games, by allowing multiple games to share an interconnected narrative.
Defiance. An exciting blend of online and traditional media, Defiance currently exists as both an MMOFPS and a TV show. What I find most appealing about this example is the difficulty in deciding whether the game or the show is the entry point. Both appeal to different demographics, though there’s quite a lot of crossover to be had. The game is quite fun, and the show is fairly good (especially when compared to some of the other shows SyFy released in 2013-2014). I’ve caught a rumor that the game was originally planned to be cross-platform – someone on PC could still play with their friends on Xbox or PlayStation. Unfortunately, that ambitious idea never fully manifested; though it would have been amazing to see!
Lord of the Rings. This franchise presents an interesting case. I don’t consider the books and/or movies to be transmedia. The films, though wonderful, do not offer anything new to the story (except perhaps the extraneous bits added to The Hobbit). A retelling or adaptation is not transmedia. And I’m not quite on board with some of the board games involving Lord of the Rings – merchandising is also not transmedia. However, this year saw the release of a much-celebrated addition to the Lord of the Rings franchise, Shadow of Mordor. In this digital game, you play as a unique character, and experience a unique story within the word of Middle-Earth. That is transmedia. Another thing I find interesting about Lord of the Rings is how the entry points and core franchise have shifted. Though there were already film adaptations of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings already, those were generally seen by those who had already read the books. Yet with the Jackson collection, we now live in a world where more people likely have seen the movies than read the books.
Game of Thrones. Presented as an example of what is not transmedia. The show generally follows the events of the books quite faithfully. And yes, there are several board games, but that still falls under the umbrella of ‘transmedia is not merchandising.’ However! Like Lord of the Rings, the new Game of Thrones digital game allows the user to experience a new and interesting story in Westeros with new and interesting media.
Lastly, my traditional recommendation of Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins.
Have questions about transmedia? Ask them in the comments!