On Transmedia Storytelling

Transmedia storytelling isn’t a new phenomenon. Movie studios, book publishers, and video game franchises have been taking advantage for quite a few years. The premise is simple: create mechanisms by which the content will permeate consumer’s everyday life. To do this, a story is developed across multiple platforms of media, delivering unique content that exists within the narrative.

Two common examples are The Blair Witch Project and Pokémon. The Blair Witch Project debuted at the Sundance film festival in 1999. Later released nationwide, a viral marketing campaign developed on the Internet drove popularity. The website quite realistically posed the question, “is it a film or a real documentary?”

This question is a perfect example of creating an integral component of transmedia narratives: “negative capability,” or strategic gaps in storytelling that entice consumers to participate, speculate on unanswered questions, and even create their own content.

Pokémon is an even better example. An imagined world of powerful creatures, Pokémon’s creators created need. The narrative was inherently multi-faceted and encouraged children to buy countless trading cards, video games, comic books, movies, and television series so that they could “fill the gaps” in the story.

A good “story world” is key to success – it can sustain multiple characters, and their stories, and thus successfully launch a transmedia franchise.

In what may be the most visible example and significant development to date, J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore, a virtual Harry Potter wonderland, is leveraging a gigantic worldwide audience, introducing a new way for fans to come together and engage with the Harry Potter world. Starlight CEO Jeff Gomez told Forbes why he sees Pottermore as so important:

“It exists not just to sell ebooks, but to nurture and ultimately expand the canon of Harry Potter itself. That’s historic in many ways…They’ll be doing what most movie studios have yet failed to do, which is to officialize and galvanize a massive fanbase into a single location, and then service their wildest dreams.”

There are, however, examples that exist outside of traditional media. A new project called “The Numinous Place,” which is currently seeking funding through Kickstarter, has the backing of actor Russell Crowe (along with his $25,000).

The brainchild of his longtime friend and screenwriter, Mark Staufer, The Numinous Place will use “video, audio, fake security camera footage, fake newspapers – all of (which) will have more of a visceral impact than words on a page.” A self-proclaimed “cosmic detective story,” it will center around a multi-platform ebook app containing audio and visual components, as well as elements to assist lucid dreaming, or the ability to control your own dreams. The Numinous Place website describes the project as “the world’s first truly multidimensional work of fiction.”

I look forward to The Numinous Place, if only because I think it will be interesting to see how they develop a world from the ground up. When you’re talking Harry Potter, you’ve got an audience – and a huge one, at that – built in; but The Numinous Project will seek its audience, just as it is seeking its funding, digitally – and truly from scratch.


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