To summarize, a television/transmedia creator can create a transmedia story by following four steps:
1.) Construct a fully furnished world in order to support multiple story lines. The transmedia world should not only have a complex history, but also implied spatial dimensions in order to encourage exploration and discovery. Hard-core fans can seek out transmedia content to flesh out the world, while casual fans can imagine a vast expanse.
2.) Insert strategic narrative gaps that are reserved for development in transmedia extensions. A television producer should give fans the opportunity to ‘produce’ deeper meanings and improve their experience of the show. Though the exact story of a transmedia extension may not be easily planned at the outset, leaving narrative gaps open for transmedia storytelling is an important part of the transmedia design process. Television is unique in that viewers can attempt to fill in these gaps while the show’s narrative is still unfolding. Sometimes these gaps can be easily filled (by following the migratory cues of the hermeneutic codes), other times they help viewers interpret or predict how the gap might be filled, creating a game of formulating and testing theories.
3.) Develop satisfying experiences in each individual transmedia extension. A transmedia text should stand on its own, making the process of learning new narrative information fun in its own right. Transmedia extensions should be carefully designed to reflect the capabilities of a specific medium and type of transmedia extension. New episode extensions can capture the core qualities of a show in a different medium, diegetic artifacts can capture the core qualities of a show and bring them to everyday life, and alternate reality extensions can play with threshold crossing, puzzle solving, and community building.
4.) Reward consumers’ efforts to explore a transmedia story by making passing references that validate the information they learned elsewhere. That way, stories can flow not just from the television show out to transmedia extensions, but also from transmedia extensions into the television show. This creates a pleasure in seeing how a transmedia text operates as a whole and how it creates opportunities for consumers to engage with a story on multiple levels. When watching with casual fans, the validation effect empowers hard-core fans to become ‘gatekeepers’ of information, allowing them to demonstrate their expertise and even encourage others to pursue migratory cues towards transmedia extensions.
It is not coincidental that this proposed model reflects the logic of many video games. As I will discuss in Chapter 4, many hard-core fans already approach cult television shows as if they are games. They scrutinize individual shots, construct and test theories, collaborate to solve puzzles, and create encyclopedic “walkthroughs” for the show. My model, then, is an attempt to harness this gaming culture through transmedia storytelling. We can see similar strategies at work in Halo, for example. Halo’s designers created an immersive world (a war between Covenant aliens and humans), provided goals or missions within the world (rescue a soldier, investigate a mysterious bunker, etc.), made the process of accomplishing those goals enjoyable (killing aliens with a weapons arsenal), and then rewarded the player for accomplishing the goal (a new cut scene that moves the narrative forward). This formula, when applied to transmedia storytelling, allows hard-core fans to create a deeply engaging experience that goes beyond watching television. In my model, hard-core fans enter an immersive world, explore the world with a purpose (to fill in narrative gaps), enjoy the process of exploring (by creating worthwhile experiences), and feel rewarded by seeing a more unified transmedia text come to life (through the validation effect).
To be clear, I am not suggesting that television shows should be more like video games. Television will always be an attractive medium simply because viewers can relax and sink into a storyline. Most industry professionals know that viewers do not want to literally interact when immersed in a television show. But transmedia storytelling allows hard-core fans to shape their experience and engage with a television show on a much deeper level. The trick is to subvert these gaming elements within a television show’s narrative so as not to detract from the casual fan’s experience. For more specific techniques in accomplishing this, we must examine the lessons from a television show currently experimenting with transmedia storytelling.
Posted by Aaron Smith on June 17, 2009