Advent Children and Accessibility

Remember all that lovely geek cred I built up by writing a six-part article about Dungeons and Dragons? I'm about to lose it all as I admit--I've never played through Final Fantasy VII. I was a huge Nintendo fanboy as a kid, and adamantly refused to get or play a PlayStation, which meant I missed out on a huge chunk of geek culture that I have yet to make up for. (I started playing an emulator version a few months ago, but got too busy with other things to keep it up... I will go back someday, though.) Final Fantasy VI remains one of my favourite games ever, not to mention one of my favourite stories in a video game. But I never got to VII.

Recently, though, I watched Advent Children with a friend of mine, a computer-animated movie from 2005 based on Final Fantasy VII. The story of the movie takes place after the story of the video game, in a very transmedia-storytelling-franchise kind of way. (No coincidence I think that this property comes from Japan, where platform-changing storytelling is what inspired Jeff Gomez to explore transmedia.)

Under the transmedia-storytelling-as-coordinated-franchise lens (we're not going to do the definition dance today, so just work with me here) we can examine properties like this and see what we can learn from them. In this larger franchise lens, one of the goals of transmedia storytelling is to expand an audience, carrying them from one medium to the next, and ultimately increasing profits by appealing to a core dedicated audience.

There are two important steps there--both appealing to the core audience, and expanding the audience in general (ideally to pull more and more people into that core).

I watched Advent Children knowing only the very basics about the storyline of Final Fantasy VII. Somewhat on purpose, I wanted to see how much I could get out of the movie without having played the game. Knowing some of the basics, as well as the general culture of a Final Fantasy audience, I quite enjoyed the movie, and followed most of what there was of plot. However, there were definitely parts of it that lost me because I hadn't played the game, things that weren't adequately explained within the context of only the movie.

Which is to say--the movie would only have been really successful to fans of the game.

Now, there's nothing wrong with this in general. Probably the goal of the movie was just to make more money off the existing fan base. But, in a transmedia property, we should try to do even more than that. Ideally, a piece of a larger property, like a movie, should be enjoyable all on its own, without requiring knowledge of the other pieces. But, it should also contain elements that especially appeal to existing fans, things that will reward those who are already core audience members and encourage others to become more invested in the property so they can recognize those elements. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it should contain hooks to draw an audience from one piece to another.

Thus, if you're a fan of the game already, you will want to go to the movie and will get a lot out of it. But if you're not a fan of the game already, you can still go to the movie and enjoy it--and in fact after having seen it, want to then go back and become a fan of the game.

In this way a successful transmedia franchise rewards its core audience, expands its total audience, and pulls them from one platform to the next--in either direction (game to movie or movie to game). Multiple points of entry, rather than barriers to entry, as Advent Chuldren would have been to large segments of potential audience.

Of course, being a geek and a Final Fantasy fan in general and being thoroughly embarrassed by the fact that I haven't played such an integral part of gaming culture, I'll go from the movie to the game anyway. But that's just me.