On Wednesday, I held the first Transmedia Vancouver Meetup to discuss transmedia and what we wanted from the group. There were about a dozen attendees, which I thought a fantastic turnout for a first meeting. There's a lot of interest in this city, as has been clear from the previous Merging Media conferences and seminars. For those in the meetup group new to the concepts, we talked a bit about what transmedia is (with the usual divergence of precise definition or favourite types of examples). (I would point towards the following resources for a general overview of the basics: my overview from a few months ago, which I think still holds up; one of many great talks from Jeff Gomez; Simon Pulman's blog and especially his look at organizational structures; Andrea Phillip's WTF is transmedia article from last year; also this week's great post from Andrea further exploring the issue of definition, a post which I wholeheartedly agree with; Henry Jenkins debunking seven myths of transmedia; and Anita Ondine's presentations from last month's seminar and lab.)
As I found with the Merging Media seminar a few weeks ago, I loved that the attendees came from such diverse backgrounds -- writers, producers, digital creatives, computer programmers, etc. All have a valid viewpoint to share in any transmedia discussion, and taking each into account helps for a more diverse conversation and new insights. Every area of production in every media industry has a lot to learn from each other, and part of the challenge of transmedia will be to find a common language to share that knowledge -- a challenge whose rewards are great.
My goal for the group is to help facilitate that very sharing of knowledge, and like some of the other major transmedia meetup groups, we decided that it would be of benefit for each meetup to feature a guest speaker who can share a project they are working on, share insight into the transmedia creation process, pitfalls they may have experienced, and other avenues of shared understanding. This kind of openness seems to me the best way to work together to improve the industry as a whole, and specifically here in Vancouver.
Transmedia as World vs. Story
As a writer and lover of mythology and the power of stories, I've always had a large bias towards the story elements of transmedia. It's also something you hear in the community a lot -- that a transmedia project is made or broken on the strength of its story, that no amount of transmedia extension to a property can help it if the story isn't good to begin with. And I certainly still think that holds.
But one idea that was brought up at the meetup this week was that in looking at what makes transmedia as a whole, at what transmedia is and does and why it works and how it must work, is to focus less on "story" and more on "world". It's the idea that beyond whatever medium you're engaging with, there's a wider world to this story, told in other forms, that it goes beyond the singular and into a plurality. And of course, each piece of that world serves to enhance all the others (but perhaps also stands alone), and makes the audience want to find the other pieces and continue to explore that world.
The focus on world is important, because it covers a lot more ground that "story" necessarily evokes. A unifying "world" immediately suggests an overarching theme, and a tone or style. There isn't necessarily a deep story in a piece of art, or a piece of music, but both can contribute to a larger transmedia project by enhancing the world as a whole, by exploring theme and tone in different ways than stories do.
It's also this idea of a world that may help distinguish the "what is transmedia" from "what isn't" (to tentatively step into the definition pool for a moment). Is there a broader world? And this follows for both ends of the transmedia spectrum that Andrea Phillips identified this week -- in a "franchise"-like property, of course, each new piece takes place in the same storyworld and explores different parts of it; in an "ARG" model, you can clearly see how each immersive piece, from the corporate website to the phone call you just received, is part of a greater whole. Opposed to this might be something like the Old Spice Guy campaign, which is perhaps "immersive", certainly "interactive", and spans media platforms--but can you really say there's a world beyond that guy in his bathroom/boat/horse/hot tub? It's a cross-media interactive brand marketing campaign -- it's not transmedia.
I wanted to end by thanking those who came out on Wednesday, and I would invite all the TransmediaVan members to comment and leave their own thoughts, perhaps extending the conversation we started this week (as well as of course anyone else who wants to comment!). Thank you especially to Catherine Winckler of Switch United and Gigi Boyd of the CMPA for offering to help finance the group (and for your wonderful insights as well!). I'm looking forward to some great things in the coming months!