My current Dunegons & Dragons activity includes being a player in a weekly game. As is common, we were asked when we made our characters to devise at least a modicum of a backstory — some reason why we were in our current situation (we started the story as slave gladiators) and perhaps what we were before. Usually these kinds of backstories simply give some context for playing your character, some role-playing cues.
But they also give the Dungeon Master the opportunity to integrate a player’s backstory into the story of the campaign, cementing their engagement with it. I would argue that this is so prevalent that there are even tropes that have developed — such as having one’s parents be surrounded in mystery, allowing the DM to make them involved in the plot somehow; or the player will note someone in their life that is dear to them, practically asking the DM to have something bad happen to that person. Players create opportunities like this for the DM even if it could mean Bad Things for the character, just because it makes the story more compelling for the player.
The backstory I created involved my character having once been a slaver himself, sold into slavery by his superiors to take a fall for someone else, but not actually knowing the circumstances around it. I thought, ripe for the DM to have fun with.
Several sessions in, I wondered (aloud) why no one from my organization had ever tried to contact me. Surely I had friends there. Later, we escaped slavery, and I tried to contact people I knew previously, but was essentially told that no one would have anything to do with me. At the last session, I tried again to make some contacts to help with the current plotline, through another avenue of inquiry, and was told by my DM, somewhat exasperated, that he’d have to get back to me on that because he hadn’t really figured out the circumstances around my backstory, not thinking it would be important.
And I thought, Really? It’s not like it had been the first time I’d tried to pursue the issue. And it’s not like he hadn’t integrated other characters’ backstories.
So what’s the point?
I’ve drawn the comparison between D&D and transmedia extensively. So now imagine that I’m a member of the audience of a transmedia property. I’m so engaged with the story right off the bat that I’m providing content to add to the story — content I’ve been requested by the creators to add, if I so desire, in fact. And then — I’m ignored.
And then I try to integrate my content again — and I’m continually ignored.
It’s extremely difficult to get an audience that engaged with a property, to pull them into the core audience, the evangelists. It’s extremely easy to lose them forever.
If you have someone offering you that level of engagement, do not ignore it. They’re giving you a huge gift. Not only will taking it and using it strengthen your property, strengthen your audience, and quite possibly make you more money in the long run, but you have a responsibility to your audience to do so.
Have you had experiences in which this has been done poorly (or well!) in transmedia? I’d love to hear your stories.