Monday, August 08, 2016

Transmedial Storytelling at ITU 2016

Transmedial storytelling is the art of telling stories across multiple platforms. Henry Jenkins underlines how in order for this to be transmedial and not just a matter of remediation of a story, different parts of the story needs to be told in different media. This makes transmedial storytelling a kind of serial storytelling, but over several different platforms or modalities: print, film, games, voice, photo, painting, etc.

But transmedial storytelling is unlike serial storytelling in that it is not produced in a linear fashion. This means that we are not looking at a series where we see the story develop over time or with a simple causality. Transmediality often means that stories are linked into unity through perception rather than reseption. This means that logic and structure depends on the perceptions of the user/reader/viewer/ or what we prefer to call the people who enjoy making sense of often disjointed storylines. This links transmedial storytelling to non-linear or hypertextual storytelling. In the Wired article I linked to there, the author claims that hypertext fiction never took off. When we look at transmedial storytelling, we will see that this is spectacularly and increasingly wrong. The difference is that what we see today is not something as simple as a collection of links in a digital "choose your own adventure" book, but grand, complex and intricate stories developed over time and through the effort of a large amount of people.

In the course at ITU, we will look at how the computer offers us affordances that allows for a transmedial storytelling where we can all be part, in the role of our choice. We can be consumers and creators, critics, fans and helpers. We can play a vital role or create a derivative universe: but we can always choose how we want to be involved.

The main genre where we find transmedial storytelling actively used today is in Fantasy and Science Fiction. There may be many reasons for this, but I tend towards looking at the readers of these genres. They are often enthusiastic about technology, they are ready to be very engaged in the fictional worlds they follow, they form strong, tight fan networks, and they follow the fictional worlds they enjoy in any medium possible. And if they can't find anything new to feed their enthusiasm and interest, they create their own, through role-play, fan writing and other fan-based activities. This means that students of this topic at ITU may have to familiarise themselves with this genre. While it would be helpful to read some Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings or watch Star Wars, googling the different universes we will be talking about goes a long way. We will be looking at the Marvel Universe, at Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft and Lego, to mention some that will come up. If you want to understand, reading comics and watching animated series is great. However, you can easily follow this course without a deep understanding of this culture, as the Internet is a fantastic source of knowledge about both the formal productions and the fan practice in the many different cases that will be used.

But why do we spend so much time on these universes? Are they important? What is important in this case is the structure, the techniques and the forms, not necessarily the content. We see that journalists are increasingly under demand to produce transmedially, and there is no real model in place to help journalists remain critical and structured when print media fail. And while we may be nostalgic about print media, this situation will not be magically reversed. Instead we need to understand how the emerging structures of storytelling are built and maintained, what they do and how we can analyse and criticize them. The same goes for advertising that becomes integrated in the lives of the audience, using the audience to contruct their own parts of the advertising, such as with Intel and Toshiba's "The Beauty Inside" advertising (That blog has several other examples and interesting resources).

We want to be able to recognize and understand these structures, appreciate the labour put into their construction, and question constructively and critically the choices made by creators and participants. That is what the fall term will be about, and why we will be creating our own transmedial stories.

Link to 2015 course description.