Transmedia thinking

By admin on March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I gave a small talk at Cardiff PetchaKutcha last week, which was nerve-racking but also very good. I didn’t want to list a bunch of transmedia/crossplatform/interactive stories or just explain, or fail to explain, what transmedia is. I decided to talk about the difficult stuff in the middle – the things I’ve been trying to benchmark ideas against and use to come up with new ideas. It was possibly a little to ambitious for a wide crowd but I heh I enjoyed it.

Just an excuse to use a Star Wars image?

Just an excuse to use a Star Wars image?

I started with an image of Star Wars, the point being that what a lot of people label as transmedia is actually just franchising. (I got everyone to boo if I used the word by mistake, see my wrangl debate) Plus it was a good excuse to look at C3P0 sitting on a tape dispenser. (Since the talk I noticed this SXSW diagram doing the rounds which touches on the same point)

I made a tongue-in-cheek argument that the most interesting cross-platform stories are being told by ad men – a brand like Nike tells a story across shops, packaging, service, magazines, TV, running, and of course their products. Their story, their purpose is woven through everything. I probably would say that coming from a ad background. I’m interested in how these complicated campaigns can exert ‘control with no control’ something that is a constant battle I find.

The best transmedia producer?

The best transmedia producer?

Now on shaky ground I came out and said that the best Transmedia Producer is Simon Cowell (I expected a bigger boo). If you don’t think about Xfactor as a TV programme, isn’t this a great cross platform story? It has a very distinct start, middle and end. Played out in Newspapers, magazines, facebook campaigns, twitter, phone voting and of course TV. It has villains and heroes and with mobile in hand, it seems like we are in control.

blah blah blah – bit about ‘choose your own adventure’ books and how we need to look forward. I didn’t but I really wanted to say how much I hated people mentioning Masquerade to me as though this was the most ground breaking piece of information. You get that too right?

First edit

What will Transmedia's first edit be?

I think one of the problems we have at the moment is that we haven’t worked out the edit, this will be the next big step. I love the Arcade Fire video, not just because it is brilliant but the editing is so damn good. I used cinema as the obvious example, it took over 15 years to create the first edit and then another 15 years for it to become main stream. There were technical reasons for this, but the main reason was because filmmakers didn’t trust their audience’s to understand. They wanted to put it all in so it made sense. We are doing the same. We have to learn to trust our audience. But at the same time how many times have you heard a developer say “The thing you have to remember is FaceBook/Internet users are just really dumb.” Really? Are they? I use both and wouldn’t call myself stupid. So not only do we need to trust them we have to understand them too? Feck!

Coleridge - an old photo is deep

Coleridge - an old photo is deep

I’ve learnt it’s always important to get an image of an old bloke which I managed to do seamlessly. This old person is Coleridge and he coined the term “Suspension of Disbelieve” as I found out on Wikipedia. I think that suspension of disbelieve is one of the most interesting challenges and areas of investigation for interactive storytelling. Perhaps it is through understanding the term we can learn how to gain trust from our audiences? My wikipedia search did pull up an interesting fact, Coleridge initially thought it was the burden of the author to create the suspension of disbelieve, in the following years this was revised to be the responsibility of the reader. Is there something that rings true when you read this? Have transmedia storymakers got it the wrong way around?

Howard V Shakespeare

Frankie Howard V Shakespeare

I was very pleased with the next slide and being able to place Frankie Howard and Shakespeare next to each other. Proud.  Two storymakers that used the ‘Fourth Wall’ to comic and dramatic effect. The question that I’ve heard is “What happens when there is no wall?” The question I’ve been asking myself is how do I let the audience create their own wall? I saw a good presentation at Matt Locke’s TheStory about Blast Theory’s SMS drama for C4 and with in it they showed some of the SMS’s Ivy received. They were meaningful, thoughtful and touching. I don’t think any of the teenagers that send these messages believed that Ivy was real, I think they had just allowed themselves to suspend their disbelieve.

So what we end up seeing is a lot of fake CCTV footage, fake webcams, fake facebook, twitter and blog posts. And as a writer it is hard not to think like this. Not to create the fake. But is it fake or fictional? Is that subtle difference enough to write differently? If we trust our audience a little more does it help? It has for me.

This talk was quite a whistle stop tour of some things I try to think about when writing. I do think about the campfire analogy on how can the story be changed or adapted, what feedback will allow me to do that. How can I make this a story a conversation or even dare I say it a community…

In conference land you can’t seem to get away from a pyramid diagram, with super users at the top and lurkers at the bottom. It normally is split something like 80/20%. This power law, discussed by Clay Shirky in 03, is extremely interesting. I also find it interesting the diagram is a pyramid not a funnel. I think we need to design more for the 80%, the lurkers, but we get sucked into thinking about the interesting creative superusers. Did the Simon Cowell design for the 80% or the 20%.


Lurkers are more important that your super users

Following on I think it’s important to discuss what lurking is. Lurking isn’t watching, lurking is on the edge of participating, ready, just waiting for your moment. I think one of the powers of interaction doesn’t have to be the interaction in it’s self but the possibility of interaction; of adding to the conversation. This is powerful stuff and as a confirmed lurker for the last 15yrs I feel an expert.

I spoke about Improv very briefly, I’ve not really delved too far into this but on the surface I often think about it, as a simple metaphor and a prompt. I think we can learn a lot from some of the technics that Improv comedians use. I remember talking to a friend who had just done a course and they said that you need to keep a conversation open, never shut it down. This intrigued me, how can you make your writing open, allowing people to flow into the gaps. It also reminds me of Jeff Gomez‘s ‘Swiss cheese narrative’. As inspiration this is a good article on improv do’s and don’t

Finally I spoke about Froth. I’ve been thinking about this concept since last years TheStory when Coney spoke about, Small Town Anywhere a theatrical event they created. It was a fascinating insight, but what stuck in my head was their description of an important element of the production which was the discussion of the event afterwards, in the bar. This informal space was when the story of the events were constructed. People could explain their actions and piece together what actually happened, the story.

Roll on a year and Mary Hamilton talks about Zombie LARP! and Froth. Mary’s talk was fabulous, full of brilliant drawings and fun. If I remember correctly, she spoke about how they tried to embed narratives into the Zombies LARP’s but it never seemed to gel. But what they did notice is players were creating stories (and boring people senseless – see her slide 55) retelling their adventures. It made me remember a Raph Koster quote “Games are not Stories”. How often do you have to remind some of this? So if games are actions, and stories are the retelling the juice bits, that sounds interesting – doesn’t it?

Right I’m off to get pissed and then retell the best bit on facebook. God, where did my mate get that photo from!!!


  1. Neil Cocker March 25, 2011

    Good stuff, Kev!

    Wish I could have made it. Hope it went well. Are the talks online anywhere?

  2. Author
    admin March 25, 2011

    Didn’t film them sadly, something went wrong, shame.

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