T is for Transmedia (MP Edit)

| February 24, 2014

Getting into the spirit of digital age creation for this week’s post, I figured I would cover the idea of transmedia storytelling. Transmedia storytelling occurs when a single story is told throughout multiple forms, genres, or formats of text (in particular, incorporating digital elements). Given how impossibly prevalent the internet is in our daily lives, and how frequently we use our computers for games, web-browsing, or other features (on top of normal work tasks, of course), it is not surprising that storytelling is starting to slowly evolve to incorporate multiple elements across a digital or technological platform.

Transmedia storytelling creates an expansion of what is considered “canon” (or material that is considered to be official or approved of by the creators/ controlling powers that be) for a given text or series. It creates a rounder story experience. Rather than relying on a singular text or means of communication, a story is composed from many—with additions, supplements, complements, or simply various information given through the multiple forms.

One example, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, is also an example of intertextuality, or a text or creation that responds to a pre-existing text. This can be in the form of fan fiction, sequels, references, re-makes, and more. As a modern-day remake of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, the main story occurred through a series of video blogs by “Lizzie Bennet” on Youtube. Although the main story occurred on one channel, several spin-off channels also included vlogs that gave shape to the events. Furthermore, the characters each had their own Twitter account (and some even had blogs) with which they could interact with one another as the story also unfolded on Youtube. Although it was clearly being acted, scripted, and produced, the multiple layers of texts added a type of “reality” to the story, since social media was presented as being such a large part of the characters’ lives as it is to many people today.

A few other examples of transmedia storytelling include the Assassin’s Creed series, which is a highly popular video game franchise with additional novel, comic, and video content. Nine Inch Nails also created Year Zero, which featured a website to accompany their album (source: Wikipedia). Even book series that have tremendous life and popularity on their own are being reinvigorated through transmedia content. Pottermore, for example, is a website that was created to serve as an accompaniment to those reading the Harry Potter books. Featuring games and social activities, it mirrors what happens in the books, while at the same time providing addition content by J.K. Rowling that is not featured in the original series.

I believe that transmedia storytelling is a way to make full advantage of our often disjointed lives and pursuits, which often ties back to our internet and digital connectivity. Drawing upon various aesthetic forms, transmedia incorporation creates a fuller experience out of a given story or concept.

The concept of transmedia itself is more relevant than ever within the English/ Writing classroom. With so many modes of creation available to us, it makes sense to encourage students (perhaps through a final project to correspond to a text we read in class, or as a type of “writing” assignment) to create along these lines. After all, many of us tell types of transmedia stories all of the time when sharing our own lives. While we present ourselves one way in any given situation in person, many nowadays also have online websites where corresponding or dissenting narratives can be shared. Photos of Instagram give a visual of our experiences; Facebook reveals our friends and personal tastes; LinkedIn describes the state of our professional career; and Twitter captures our emotions in tiny snippets. If these multiple aspects are a part of our daily lives, doesn’t it make sense to incorporate them into the fictitious worlds we create?

I believe that asking students to craft a story using elements of transmedia would allow them to unleash their creativity and engage with telling a round story. Additionally, creating transmedia supplements to go along with course texts (such as creating fake Facebook profiles for characters **like the one above or using images to capture key symbols or plot points) can offer modern ways to interpret and appreciate the words within them as a type of response to the pre-existing art form. In this sense, Transmedia necessarily is a multi-modal work, which is already an assignment we can easily find in the English classroom. It is a way to widen the experience of any given text, with both aesthetic and educational benefits. With technology, our many new modes of media are able to interact to shape an overall experience beyond what just any one could offer.