Transmedia – the jigsaw puzzle

From the first time I laid my eyes on Robert Pratten’s picture defining transmedia (slide 6 here), it made sense. When we started out creating formats some five-six years ago, interactive television was the rage. In Finland, where I work, MHP (Multimedia Home Platform) was the chosen platform for set-top-box interactivity. What baffled me from the beginning was the limits imposed on creators and users by that platform. It was like being taken back in time to the days when, as a teenager, I was excited about installing Windows 3.1 on a 386. The possibilities were not only decidedly not endless, they were very few to start with.

From the outset, we have worked along the principles that what we create and combine should make sense. Much as a narrative in any regular tv series, movie or documentary, the human mind is used to stories being told in a certain manner. You can tweak this manner of telling; if you do, however, you’d better have it thoroughly planned and tested from the start, and know what you’re doing. The end result might very well turn everyone away from the story you’re trying to tell otherwise.

The same applied (and still applies) to interactive television. What is created must fit logically with all other parts of the narrative, so as not to deter anyone interested in the story. With MHP-interactivity, this was nearly impossible. The slow connection, the weak processors, the slap-on effect… all added up, so that in the end we had to compromise the story, in order to be able to implement the interactivity. The end result? Working interactive television, yes, but nothing to write home about in terms of exciting end result.

Going back to the jigsaw analogy, I can see that what we were trying to do back then was to make a jigsaw puzzle with an axe as the only tool. End result? Four square pieces that a 3-year-old could fit together in under ten seconds. Yes, it was a puzzle. Yes, it fit together logically. No, it was not exciting. No, it was not what we wanted to do.

Looking at transmedia and the state of interactive platforms and possibilities today, not only do we creators have access to a multitude of tools that give us the possibility to make the most intricate jigsaws we can imagine (while of course risking that 90% of the populace give up halfway through the 10.000 piece puzzle, leaving the jigsaw in a box in a closet somewhere), we can also choose material to work with almost freely – heavy materials for stories that should stay put, light materials for stories we want to be spread. We can also hire the best artists possible to paint our jigsaw to be an absolutely beautiful creation. And it is increasingly possible to send some tools to the users themselves, letting them play around with the jigsaw and create their own pieces, or paint pieces we deliberately left unpainted with pictures of their own.

There’s never been a better time to make jigsaws!

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