January 12, 2008
As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part I: Immersive Story Worlds

With my class on soap operas coming up, I recently completed a summary of some of the major points of my thesis work, some of which has appeared here on the C3 blog in the past here and here. A draft of the full thesis is available here. Speaking of the class, a quick thanks to the folks at CBS Soaps: In Depth for featuring it in their latest magazine.

As of this posting, comments have been temporarily turned off, so if you have any response to this summary, feel free to e-mail me directly at samford@mit.edu. Our tech guys tell me comments should be enabled once again later this month.

One of the central ideas of my thesis' posits that soap operas exist as one of few "immersive story worlds" in the media industries, narratives that are developed over time with a large volume of characters and text. Many of the reasons why people are attracted to these narratives deal with the depth and breadth of these stories and the feeling that these narratives are immortal. The first chapter of the thesis posits that only three narrative types exist as exemplars of immersive story worlds, even if many media franchises have some of the characteristics:

  • The DC and Marvel comic book universe
  • Professional wrestling
  • Soap operas

As I define it, immersive story worlds have the following characteristics:

1.) Seriality: The narrative is always continued, with only momentary resolution, and the current narrative always relies in some degree on knowledge of plots and characters from the past

2.) Multiple Creators: These story worlds are so vast that many creative hands play a part in their creation at any one time, and--as time goes on--the narrative passes through the hands of generations of creative teams

3.) Long-Term Continuity: A major concern of both creators and fans in each of these genres is the maintenance of some degree of continuity over time. For fans, this is often one of the most important areas for assessing the current narrative, as fans have often been with these shows longer than the teams creating them.

4.) Character Backlog: Each of these worlds have accrued a vast number of characters over years and even decades, so that there are hundreds more characters who exist as part of that narrative than can be featured at any one time.

5.) Contemporary Ties to a Deep History: Implicitly or explicitly, the current narrative always plays off or is understood in relation to previous stories that took place in that narrative world and with some of those characters.

6.) Permanence: All of these factors combine to create a sense of permanence for these narratives, that the story world itself is bigger than any one character, performer, or creator, and will continue to exist for the next generation of fans.