It’s been a couple of years since I last updated one of my more popular posts on this blog – the “First steps in transmedia” post that originated in 2014 and has been updated a few times since.
Back in the day, transmedia had matured from the original phenomenon. To some extent, I then felt the term was becoming redundant as everything was moving towards becoming inherently transmedia, i.e. utilising the best and necessary platforms for telling the stories that needed to be told. To some extent I also felt the saturation of the term had reached an unsustainable level, as marketing and the ad world had adopted – perhaps even abducted – the term, in my eyes often using it to “enhance” the draw of their propositions in the eyes of clients.
I felt I was using the term less and less, while applying the principles more and more as platforms emerged, as audiences matured and as projects became more multifaceted.
That’s where I left off in late 2017. Now we’re in late 2020, at the (hopefully) beginning of the end of a pandemic that has caused major shifts in how we engage and live and at the start of something that some people call the “new normal”. So, where is transmedia in this world, and how should we as producers and creators approach those principles?
I believe we are all to some extent familiar with the term transmedia storytelling at this point (although I have read some research papers lately lauding the “new term” and “new approach” of transmedia storytelling – go figure). To re-iterate – for me transmedia storytelling is the art of using the most appropriate media platforms to tell the stories you want and need to tell, stories that arise from a common story world, where the different parts – the different stories – build on each other to give the participating audience a greater, more fulfilling experience.
There is comparatively little in the way of recent case studies of transmedia projects, which I believe is because it’s now an ingrained part of most storytelling ventures – big or small – that are being created today. Granted, many are stifled by lack of funds, lack of experience or – sometimes – lack of courage, but the knowledge and the blueprints are available for anyone looking to create a flourishing project today.
Increasingly, I’ve been counting interaction with audiences – giving them agency and validation – as a crucial part of any transmedia storytelling project. It’s been years and years since we started talking about the “prosumers”, the active audiences, and that is now the absolute state of affairs. Not only that, but the audience expects it, is used to it, doesn’t see themselves as an “audience” anymore – if any creator does not approach audiences as someone worth engaging with and respecting (while still retaining independence and authenticity) that creator is in for a rough ride. Granted, some might like that, but I’d wager most would rather have less complicated, more fruitful interactions with audiences instead.
One result of this is the need to start building an audience way before you’d actually need it in the traditional sense. I’ve talked about this in previous blog posts; there is a lot to be learned from audiences, and people who have subscribed to your narrative and gone along with your project can be invaluable assets in the future. Proof of concept for buyers and potential partners, vehicles to get your stories in front of more people and unending sources for feedback and inspiration are just a few of the uses of such persons.
The Great Narrative – The Collective Journey
Some years ago I floated a theory I’d studied up on, and found quite a few others who had already taken steps in that direction and had started to look at the world through roughly the same lens. The notion of a Great Narrative – i.e. the underlying brickwork of stories that make up the basics of our humanity – that reflects who we are as a species and as a society is one that I very much subscribe to still. We are the sum of the stories we tell about ourselves. Be they heroic narratives, mundane narratives, stories of betrayal and filth and greed, kindness and heroism and unselfishness – whatever tales we tell about ourselves, that’s who we are.
As such, I feel we’re right now on an edge. What way will we drop, and if we drop off in the wrong direction, how long will it take us to climb back up? The stories we tell – or are told – today are stories that vilify “the others”, stories that sound good in echo chambers but hollow and false as soon as they are exposed to daylight. This, in my view, is unsustainable. The stories we need to start telling are stories of compassion, of understanding, of unity in spite of differences, of an overarching value of all humans that needs to be respected.
In that sense, the talks and theories around the Collective Journey that Jeff Gomez has been steadfastly developing ring very true. We want to be part of a collective, we want to have agency and be validated. We want to share in the risks and the rewards, we want to feel the thrill of succeeding and not only by proxy. Combining these principles with a lessened sense of “us vs them” would bring closer the possibilities of true interactions, of understanding and acceptance and of better stories in the future.
Dangers and possibilities
The dangers are almost too many to mention. In the end, it all boils down to the less desirable parts of humanity – greed, envy, apathy, hate and so on. But the world is, despite all the people that would tell you otherwise, a marvellous place. Humanity has never, pandemic notwithstanding, had it better than today. It does look like we’re continuing on that trajectory, even though we’ve had some bumps on the road as of late. But that there will be setbacks is almost a guarantee. Over time, people move in a constructive and positive direction. Temporarily, though, the direction can turn negative, for a shorter or longer period of time.
This is where stories come in, telling us what direction is the preferable one and why. Giving us agency as audiences to make the stories real in our own life. Giving us the possibility to connect with others, struggling with the same obstacles. Telling us how to overcome and how to share in the joy and the accomplishments. Warning us of what happens if we divert. All in all, keeping us on the right path.
Transmedia storytelling is today an ingrained part of the creation process of any form of media content. The skills to design and create successful transmedia projects are increasingly to be found almost everywhere, to a lesser or higher degree. The audiences no longer view themselves as passive audiences, they are forces of their own and to them it’s totally natural to take an active part in any proceedings that interest them.
If there’s anything to foresee regarding transmedia storytelling in the near future, it’s that these trends will only become stronger and stronger. As creators, we must be in contacts with audiences at all times, not only when we’re promoting something we’ve made. If not, they won’t be there when we do need them.
Some further reading – from a couple of week’s back, here’s a good post on the Entertainment Value Curve and why TikTok is flourishing and the billion-dollar venture that was Quibi fell flat. And do read up (again, if you’ve done it before) on Jeff’s Collective Journey – thinking along those lines will set you firmly on the right path.