After a transmedia producer builds a world, reserves narrative gaps for extensions, and develops worthwhile experiences, adding one more step can be quite gratifying for hard-core fans and at no expense to casual fans. It involves what I will call the “validation effect.” The validation effect rewards fans not just with additional knowledge, but also with a sense of recognition for their efforts to pursue narrative information across transmedia extensions. As one fan said of Doctor Who, “couldn’t there be something for the faithful viewer? Some reward for staying all 13 weeks?” [1] This reinforcement can come from seeing a character from the comic book or ARG appear on the television show. A validation can also come in the form of a hidden object in the mise-en-scene, a piece of clothing, or a bit of dialogue referring to the events of an extension that came before it. One might draw from Long’s six classes of hermeneutic codes to insert validations in the television show.  In any case, a transmedia/television producer should look for discreet ways to validate narrative extensions, creating a more unified, coherent world.

I often see the validation effect happening in televised sports events. For avid fans who know every player’s name, stat line, and background on their favorite team, seeing a little known bench player enter the game is an amazing opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. When people ask, “Who is that guy?”  avid fans gladly rattle off the player’s information, validating their status as a hard-core aficionado.

The validation effect has its origins, of course, from the Star Wars franchise. In the animated Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978, a character named Boba Fett appeared. Damon Lindelof, executive producer of Lost, describes the experience:

The special was, like, the worst thing ever…but there was this Boba Fett cartoon. He wasn't a character in Star Wars. He was just an action figure, and it was like, 'Send in a proof-of-purchase, and you get this Boba Fett.' And we were like, 'Who the fuck is Boba Fett?[2]

Boba Fett became highly popular and fans could soon re-enact their own stories using the action figure. Two years later, when Boba Fett appeared in The Empire Strikes Back, the Boba Fett fans got the ultimate pay-off. [3]

Television’s “nowness” has great potential to provide immediate reward for hard-core fans. For example in ReGenesis, players of the “extended reality game" worked together to create a report on a suspect. In the following episode, the character on the show received a report via fax and mentioned something to the effect of “our field agents have given me this information.”[4] To casual fans, this line means nothing. But to hard-core fans, their work has been validated—they can feel a part of the show. Jeff Gomez sees the validation effect happening in Heroes:

Also powerful on the home front, as families gather to watch Heroes, a teen fan of the show might recognize a peripheral character making her first appearance on a given night's episode as one he originally read about in the online comic. So our fan takes on the role of gatekeeper for the show, filling in family and friends on the back-story of the character, and giving them a greater appreciation of the show with his "exclusive" knowledge, and making the whole experience more entertaining.[5]

Gomez is referring to Hana Gitelman, also known as  “Wireless” due to her ability to communicate with wireless and digital devices. Hana’s back-story began in the graphic novels, which explained her past in the Israeli Army and how she first developed her ability to mentally generate text messages. Then, in the episode, “Unexpected,” Hana made her television debut. Hana’s appearance on the show  rewarded fans who were familiar with her back-story, but her role was minimal enough so that casual fans did not need to understand her character.  The introduction of Wireless was simultaneously a validation and a migratory cue, as many curious fans went on discussion boards to ask, “Who was that girl?” and were directed to read the graphic novels to find out.

In effect, then, validations can also function as migratory cues for casual fans because they can motivate television viewers to find out the identity of a seemingly random character. But for hard-core fans familiar with every text in a transmedia system, the validation effect happens when the primary narrative references a secondary text previously released. Ideally, both the primary and secondary texts should cross-reference each other, forming a more cohesive unit.

Thus, the validation effect is more than “additive comprehension;” [6] it is an explicit acknowledgment that a viewer-player’s transmedia traversals actually matter in some way. Though validations are rarely used today, they can provide a powerful tool for transmedia producers to celebrate hard-core fans without confusing or upsetting casual fans. In Chapter 4, I will explore some examples in Lost.

[1] Russell T. Davies as cited in Perryman Neil. “Doctor Who and the Convergence of Media: A Case Study in Transmedia Storytelling.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. 20.1 (2008):  21-39.
[2] Kushner, David. “Rebel Alliance.” FastCompany.com. 11 April 2008.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Interview with Christy Dena. April 10th, 2009.
[5] Quoted in Jenkins, Henry. “Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (part one).” Henryjenkins.org
[6] Jenkins defines additive comprehension as “a piece of information that makes you look at the whole differently. For example, in the director’s cut of Blade Runner, an origami unicorn caused people to surmise that Deckard might be a replicant. In Convergence Culture, 122.

Posted by Aaron Smith on June 17, 2009
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