FOE: Producing Transmedia Experiences: Participation & Play

WARNING: Liveblogged, not checked.

While much of the discussion around transmedia tends to focus on the idea of non-linear storytelling, this panel will explore the idea that transmedia experiences — narrative-driven and otherwise — are also characterized by a high degree of audience participation, decision-making and collaboration.  As users engage with transmedia narratives, worlds and experiences across multiple platforms and spaces, participants make a series of personal choices that shape and define their experience and understanding of “the whole.”

If we assume that transmedia experiences introduce new opportunities for the audience to participate, what are the new opportunities and challenges for the creators and owners of these transmedia properties?  One of the most overt forms of transmedia storytelling, the Alternate Reality Game (ARG), often makes participation a central and defining aspect of transmedia experiences, and creates opportunities to engage participants in play, performance and game-like systems.  How can these interactive and participatory experiences be planned for?  What is their function in the larger transmedia experience, and how do we understand the relative roles of the “author” and the “audience” in creating transmedia experiences?

Moderator: Ivan Askwith – Director of Strategy, Big Spaceship; Panelists include: Frank RoseWired contributor and author of Welcome to the Hyperdrome (W. W. Norton, forthcoming); Jordan Weisman – CEO and Founder, Smith & Tinker; Louisa Stein – San Diego State University; Mia Consalvo – MIT; Ken EklundWriterguy, World Without Oil

  • IA: one of the problems, from yesterday, transmedia definition is very board..when is and isn’t it.  It became difficult to tell who decides. Instead of that, can we look at another sets of words, the audience, the creator. Are we lookign for a better vocabulary, to explain things?  Old questions without expanding we get old answers and it looks like it is broke. 
  • KE: game designer, used to work on commercial products, now work only on AR space. Enamoured of verb play instead of noun game. The game is a process of play, many games lose track of that, have too much grinding in them. My focus is to make an experience, connection with audience, not focused on product but the process of playing the game and transformation of audience when they play.  trying to be the Jimmy Wales of game narratives.  Did World without Oil, a crowd sourced narrative. Made me aware there was an opportunity out there. I introduce a new concept, story makers, people who know a story needs to be told, but not in telling it themselves, trust audience to make their own process.
  • MC: A games studies scholar. looking at new media and popular culture. early work at online fan comms, now game players and the worlds they play in. Write book on cheating in games. did not define cheating – it is negotiated and complex and changes. fertile ground to explore. More recently, looking western players of japanese video games, plus how a subgroup of them invests in learning about Japan and japanese culture. Interested in how games can be the space for cultural exploration. Looking at a casual MMO, called Bonosphere (not sure of Sp.). Manly women over 35, but interested in younger players, so looking at conflict between younger and older players.
  • LS: Explore how audiences and fans, especially girls/Millennials engage in transmedia text and story telling., Looking at shifting definition and participation in transmedia.   Looking at types of participation and play in something like Mad Men vs something like gossip girls where the industry sends text out in character etc. 
  • JW: designer of games, find ways to tell stories, also started with  desk top games etc. Moved at virtual entertainment in 80s; built virtual world centers with Disney. Mid 90s went to the PC for games, moved to Microsoft entertainment. Did the Beast/AI, (told not to) great platform to experiment in telling stories over the internet. Started 42 Entertainment, now with Smith and Tinker, trying to do projects for kids. 
  • FR: writer for Wired. currently doing a book about how the internet is changing storytelling. I don’t think someone quite knows, but every new medium requires about 20-30 years for people to figure out what to do with this. Internet is not any different.  We can see directions that it is going, non-linear. participatory, often game-like, and drillable, offers an opportunity for a new kind of fandom, either casual to see the surface, if more committed able to go deeper.
  • IA: a lot of work focused on ARGs and what happens if subverted by marketing.   I’m interested in starting with, going back to World Without Oil as it deviated from ARGs before it.
  • KE: I became interested early, I saw the intense interaction, the play that occurs. The real powerful thing that happens is the connection with the players. I was thinking about that with UGC and the leverage that can happen in financing projects, if you can get UGc you need less money. This became important when looking at a proposal; suggested a create a game narrative that got people to submit themselves. So the hook was about the next oil crisis, what would it look like. Gave you the minimum amount of information and asked you to send your stories. It posed a what if scenario. I did not target transmedia, just accepted it was the way it was. I had a phone, a site, etc, I accepted the world is transmedia and opened up as many channels as possible. I had to be agnostic, make it as open, get people to tell stories who would not normally. I looked to see if people were playing then that was my job done properly. It is not just a collection of stories, It was a process, each day was a week in story time, so you submitted something today and it could change as it goes.  I had a team of experience ARG people, but we were just playing, they were not trying to game us as we did not know what would happen, it was an experiment. We would have a huge network combined into a mass which describes what it would be like, with stories form 1000s of people. For a completely fictitious thing, it was really authentic, they were writing abut the 10% oil crisis and 90% their lives.  It was a mythology extractor, got people to write abut how the world worked, how we would do when it arises.
  • IA: What was the funding?Who asked for it to be done? What was the set up
  • KE: ITVS, public non-profit, through association of public broadcasting. No brand involved, but it can be done with a brand. the mission was to tell stories?
  • MC: what was their reaction?
  • KE: they wer eover the moon, very happy., they had world wide press.
  • JW: was the theme of oil from them ir you?
  • KE: from us, I looked for something that was in everyones lives?>
  • IA: there was a high comfort in experimentation?  But with 42, what..there were marketing objectives…how did the marketing imperative shape it?
  • JW:  the Beast was not a marketing programme. It was conceived as they had a need, MS had a licence to make games on the movie IA.  IA was not a ‘game’ movie…for the 18=35 demo male who would by xbox, this was not the game. I used it as a mechanism to get the back story. there was an interesting world that Spielberg created. the theme, mother’s love, the definition of humanity, a universal theme. We have  a history of defining humanity so we can exploit was it is not human, we viewed this as a way of getting a deeper subject. we needed a back story to create a context. That was the challenge, to give context for the games. I said how I would do that but they said this was the dumbest thing they had seen!  So, they would not let me spend money on it. So I went without permissions and pitched ot Spielberg and Kennedy, they were excited about a new way of telling stories, they did not see it as marketing. It was a story in the world without ruining the plot of their story. Kennedy sent him to Warner brothers and told them to write him a cheque.  The marketing dept were having some trouble and later in the game it did help with marketing.  Why so Serious, or Year Zero, in both cases were started by the creatives, not the marketing depts. Eventually someone has to pay for ti and marketing dept gets stuck wit the bill, it was about telling stories.
  • IA: When you approached Spielberg it was about telling stories in a new way, instead of make a story
  • JW: the ‘classic’ ARG is in between, there is a strong creator component, we write a story, create all the evidence and then we throw the story out and just publish the evidence, the audience find the evidence and they tell the story. the story they tell is not the same as the story we wrote a they interpret the story differently. it is like an archaeologist, they tell the story of the evidence they find. we keep re-writing as we find more evidence. That is the process of the story. Not as freeform as Ken, but sits in the middle, a collaborative between creators and audience
  • IA: when making a ARG, or co-ordinating the components, are you making decision about where people working on..or you build in hooks for it? but people don’t always wait for hooks
  • LS: you describe an ARG as opening an audience to control what narrative to get told and waht the narrative that always intended. You were told it should not conflict to the film..openness to a degree but still tension as one singular primary story that needs to remain sacrosanct. And that is a distinction from producer side. that there  should be this singular narrative and as long as you crate something without interfering that is desired transmedia experiences. But especially with fan experience there is tension, about canon and multiplicity, not just of openness abut also allows closure, you can have interpretation of main text while there is still a fetishisation of the primary text. it is more flexible approach to the process…
  • FR: I’ve spoken to the Mad Men twitters..it is a rich and ironic case..Mad Men is about the the end of command and control in ad space…it is ironic that the creator of the show is confronted with this.  Struck by how seriously how the twitterers take their role. Betty draper researches her tweets quite carefully, so everything she says reflects what BD would do. 
  • LS: the Mad Men is exemplary of one end of the spectrum as they are invested in canon narrative and reluctant to create larger narrative. Minute, day to day narratives that departs a little, getting in their head.  Other RPGs in fandom would not be so concerned with staying close to canon.
  • MC: those kind of fan activities, fan will jump in, even after conclusion of runs. They use new techs to exploit connection in different ways.    Eg a group On Loise and Clark, created fiction, series etc, they created a award show for best fan fiction.
  • JW: there has to be an initial critical mass, a work has to inspire an audience to contribute. can come from TV, movies a novel, a crowd sourced place. You have to start with a clarity of vision to create the emotional connection, the critical mass.,.  RPG was like this, You created a world and some characters and handed it over asking them to make stories. you had to make sure what you did, did not go against the audience. We tried to publish things that did not go against what players did. We tried to set some levels in the universe, we would write here and let people write in other sections. We have to look at stories in the same way, look at how to collaborate.
  • LS: a shift, when introducing IP, how can you have this model with IP is a problem
  • FR: you can envision a sliding scale, one end complete author control, at the other, a platform for people to tell their own stories,
  • JW: in terms of IP, it becomes an interesting issue…in the Beast, there was a minor character,  and the audience became fascinated by it. About nightmares, the audience posted their characters, and we started to us them The audience saw their stuff reflected in the character and it became inclusive.  Being able to move things up into canon and down is important.
  • MC: it acknowledges the fans, that your participation matters, you can tell that they have taken your ideas into account.
  • KE: alarms go off for me. I’m aware of the relationship between players and creators. I get alarmed when slider in the middle or when boundaries are indistinct or are arbitrary. If a line is placed they take a risk that the line is seen as unfair. We talked about aberrantly audience, it is those who take issue with where you put the slider,.
  • IA: there are two ways…you can see there are places we are going to tell stories and you can tell it around…others where it is open.some can set rules for a world and others can’t…
  • KE: with World Without Oil we tried to look at things in 4 hours, we judged the stuff. the team was to respond to what happened, to call attention to the good stuff. There was only one thing we could not publish..as we were kid friendly and we had to send it back. Everything we linked to, so they could see there contribution was part of the site. We weren’t judgmental about quality, we did exercise some gentle pointing, the power of recognition is the most powerful thing,
  • JW: but you were still controlling canon….you made decisions about what was happening
  • KE: it was not monolithic..
  • JW: keeping it local helped…but if you say all airlines shut down then there is canon to create a guide..if you want continuity with emotional investment, then you have to add control
  • LS: it sounds like WOE embraced the contradiction
  • KE: a story teller wants to tell a story, a story maker lets the story come to them
  • MC: did people to video, images etc?
  • KE: it was mostly text, but there was a lot
  • IA: one of the challenges to make a story participatory instead of narrative, there a large part of audience who have no interest in driving it or making decisions, who want to know the point, Is that still possible in participatory stores or is that different?
  • FR: it is up to whoever is creating to set roles and expectations.  If you are a Star Wars fan, you want to know canon even if you want to make your own. you don’t ness want to vote on it. You want a story to be told to you you can then respond to it. With what Ken did, it was clearly stated that you were created the story
  • JW: it was still a framework, and Ken out out info each day and that helps creates an arc.  As much as we change medium , there is still the requirements of arc, of momentum etc.
  • LS: can we talk about these different modes, the difference of a story that resonates about mythological extraction from canon, or created…from diverse communities etc…..
  • MC: for me, the stuff came from people in different cultures laying together, for many of the players it was a place to practice their japanese etc on the other side of things, games are competitive, and guilds were limited by nationality , you would see racism emerging as teams create… you would get many arguments emerging etc.  they were creating their stories, there was no inherent PvP, it was Pv Environment.
  • JW: most game have those dynamic, the concept about being know and recognised and most games offered that opportunity to be recognised. Most games still operate in that manner. One goal of playing with ARg was to not offer the opportunity, that any thing furthered the whole game. that was how it worked in the macro level but it did not stop people just trash talking each other.
  • FR: an interesting variant is The Office, a pseudo document, in the show there was a online game, where you could sing up as an employee to the game. You were given tasks to perform, things to write, you were paid in virtual currency and could buy things for your office etc. Designed with game mechanics to get people involved. Something that video game designers etc use all the time…it was clearly tied to the story telling, where the audience was given a structure to create own story in parallel.
  • AI/AUDQ: What is the tension between explicit rules and breaking the frame of the story..
  • jW: witht he first one we did not announce, there were no rules, there was just the content, the creators were obscured. One of the early challenges was a group professed to be the creators of the games told everyone was doing it wring (game jacked) the team asked what we should do…we decided that as we believe in the hive mind they would arrive at the conclusion they they were not real.  you had to set it up from the beginning as a collaboration of the audience, the difference between an immersive fiction and a hoax. Se tup to fool the audience, you look to debunk this, you set ht hive mind against you and you cannot win. you have to be careful to invite people in through suspension of disbelief. you will still be tested, to make sure you are worth trusting with time, it is a fuzzy space but with good intentions.
  • KE: this is one of the slider issues, in the middle you have this. In World Without Oil, there were no rules, you had to do your own.  the players are invested, they want to make it work.
  • MC: playfulness, I want to touch, it may be a game and people not sure what the rules are and you are giving people the opp to be playful, give people opp to get deep in or just touch lightly
  • LS: not ness one hive mind but there are multiple hive minds.   People approach things differently, 
  • AUDQ: Can brands like Verizon and Best buy do this? There was recently a levis thing, plus Verizon also was doing it…
  • LS: we are seeing models that are between things, eg Gossip Girl and Bluefly, you can shop based on the show etc. you can have production of transmedia text by products and products leading to new stuff
  • JW: there has been a lot of stuff with compelling stories already. Many have done work creating experiences around a brand. Still you have to come to what that creative work is.. it is doable, places that have physical places like best Buy would be great.  the ‘classic’ ARG is a limited format, that needs so much from audience, that is a big ask, from an audience, only a small percentage. As a format, it is relatively limited and there has been a lot of exploration and there has been a lowering of the bar.
  • KE: if brands are just thinking it is about them, then they are limited, but if they think about the relationship or the narrative then it is possible.
  • JW: it is also about release of control,
  • AUDQ: One of interesting things with Why So serious, when it came to the physical world., it was risky, so how did that change the game,
  • JW: it was about every medium and that includes the physical world. It was much more extensive with I Love bees and we had months working with lawyers on this, we had to scout everything. Using physical world with big brand ups the risk quotient…
  • AUDQ: based on IP issues, what do you think about The Guild,
  • MC: I think it’s cool. I enjoy good stories; if their are companies that create these stories that they want to invest our lives in how can they not expect us to play with it?
  • JW: if you are lucky enough to create something that people care abut, you have to expect people to be invested in it.
  • IA: How do you foster participation and play for anti-fans?
  • JW: is there an anti-fan? if you care about it enough to participate but change, then you are fan
  • LS: there are people who love to hate things, you don’t have to foster it, it just happens,
  • JW: don’t pressure it, there’s no advantage  to taking it away or reacting to it
  • KE: anti-fans have a legitimate gripe..they are an opportunity. A friend plays WOW but he and his friends all hate it, they are waiting for something to come along that is better. People want to be fans of stuff and they are. There is a level of abstraction that many people take for granted, but many can’t, what can we do as game designers to do non-competitive games, without tension
  • AUDQ:  Multiplicity rather than canon, multiplicity is a little more like perspective in the real world..is there that emergent quality in World without Oil, the hero commenting on it.
  • KE: they looked at people who posted about a neighbourhood that was fine, or in trouble and aksed why they were fine and in trouble. They did not look for a hero to save them. There were ‘hero’s’, there were popular players, who were regarded as knowledgeable.  They had comments and thanks etc.
  • AUDQ:  in putting people together in real-world, even with real world clues meant to be bought back to online. Do args become more involved in real space, when real space become part of the story?
  • JW: with Smith and Tinker we are trying with this. Our tech dev over last 30yrs, you cannot move the tech, now with mobiles, you carry the web in your pocket, there are opps to connect people that way, opps to create unique game play. There are good examples of this being built.  We are just at the beginning, it is the most exciting part of what is coming up
  • MC: but there is risk. the online space allows people some freedom; working out ways of doing this is key.
  • JW: it is not just in the park, but in your room with multiple people.
  • LS: with fan coms etc, a web that extends from space to the web
  • FR: one example of this real space game play, in Year Zero, that game ended with a very specific real world experience..a group of people who came to a place and were driven somewhere they knew not where. They thought they were being recruited into army (In game)…the reward was a concert.
  • KE: a lot of people in the museum world are interested, a museum is an asset, you can do stuff in the real world. If you have a local client with a local community then lots of opportunities.

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