Two posts in the last couple of days — from Simon Pulman, and a response from Alison Norrington — have looked at localization in transmedia, working transmedia stories to appeal to different demographics, international audiences, etc. Transmedia has great potential to do this well — with different storylines fragmented over different media, one storyline could appeal to a particular audience, when perhaps the driving platform does not as heavily.
One paragraph from Simon’s post caught my eye especially:
When Jeff [Gomez] spoke of creating engaging canonical content that appeals to different segments, he was not merely talking about regional or linguistic localization. In time, we will see Transmedia story threads that appeal to audiences by gender, age, sexuality, income and interests. In the internet age, a person active in online communities may identify more with somebody on the other side of the world than his next door neighbor, based on specific shared interests. Transmedia can cater to that.
I absolutely agree, and can’t wait to see the fruits of this. As a gay man, especially as one who grew up without exposure to many gay role models or characters (a product of location more than anything, I think), I’m always excited when I see gay characters featuring in stories (assuming they’re handled well and not the ‘token gay’ or stereotyped comic relief) (and especially when those stories aren’t being ghettoized as “gay stories”). If transmedia can provide by looking to broaden audiences with expanded storylines and thus have some threads featuring gay characters, so much the better.
But there’s a worry in this for me as well. The localization strategy for a broader audience suggests that a side story might feature a character of a particular demographic, with the hope that it draws audience back to the driving platform(s). Which, by comparison, would need to be much broader in appeal in order to keep that larger audience. There’s the danger, then, that that driving platform would end up having to cater to the lowest common denominator (see: much of Hollywood today) in order to be successful, and to me that says that, as usual, minority demographics like gay characters will be large ignored in the central storyline or platform.
Obviously I don’t think every property needs a central gay character, or even any gay character. But my worry is that in the larger body of successful commercial works, those ‘localized’ storylines will be pushed to the side — used to draw in the target demographic, then pretended not to exist so as not to alienate everyone else.
(Is this a pessimistic and perhaps extreme view? Sure. I like hyperbole, because extremes can make a point. Nonetheless, I think it’s also a product of what I’ve already experienced in mainstream media.)
If a commercial transmedia property requires the largest audience possible to be successful, will there be room for anything but the most broadly appealing storylines and characters in the driving platforms, regardless of what’s in the side storylines? I know I’ll fight that in my own work, and I hope that other creators will at least keep it in mind.