Participation and Crowd Control: Stephen King's Under the Dome promotional puzzle
In build-up to the release of his much anticipated new novel, Under the Dome, Stephen King's UK publishers Hodder & Stoughton have launched what they're calling "the biggest ever game of literary hide-and-seek." For the game, fans across the UK are enlisted to help both hide and find the 5,196 excerpts that makes up the 335,114 word novel both online and in the real world. The found pieces are then posted to Stephenking.co.uk, where people can take a crack at piecing all the parts together.
While the initial description of the project reminded me of Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg's Implementation -- a novel that was distributed across the globe on a series of stickers that was then reassembled online -- the commercial promotional focus of the Stephen King effort seems to have elements intended to control and curb certain types of participation even as it hopes to incite fan engagement and interactivity.
Futures of Entertainment 4 - Transmedia Tacos? You Bet!
Continuing with the weekly Futures of Entertainment theme of transmedia, we'd like to call your attention to the most recent essay posted to Henry's blog, "Transmedia Tacos? You Bet!"
Written for Henry's Transmedia Entertainment & Storytelling class, this essay was composed by Ben Burroughs, a current student in the Masters program at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, USC.
Burroughs, as Henry puts it, writes about how "transmedia tactics are moving from the entertainment industry to other sectors - in this case, the food industry." Whether we can consider the Kogi taco truck to be a transmedia experience in itself or if the truck merely represents similar strategies employed to a non-entertainment industry, this essay represents original thought on the topic, which helps us at least understand how to craft transmedia design in novel ways. As Burroughs explains, "It is important to note that we are not looking at a mature transmedia franchise but are looking for where this my take us in an attempt to synchronize the transmedia model to more seamlessly sew together online and offline disjunctures as well as multiple media platforms."
Perhaps one of the novel takeaways from this essay is the clash and combination of culture and technology:
Kogi's uses of new mediated technology and multiple platforms of this technology have attempted to bridge the gulf between the producer and consumer. No longer is the chef a distant 'other' in the back of a large restaurant but is now in close proximity and spatially there is the perception of closeness...
The truck is speaking to an age of increased mobility, flexibility (flexible specialization), and fluidity in our culture. Can we not read the taco as a text that speaks to the hybridity of a culture and society where Korean kim chi and Latino tacos are representative of larger forces of cultural fusion?
If you're interested in taking a look at Burrough's essay, we've reproduced Henry's original post after the jump. Enjoy!
Recently, I've been trying to think about the aesthetic and emotional balance of transmedia works. Many have written before that transmedia flourishes when each individual part of a transmedia experience utilizes the strengths of its respective medium. For example, if a movie is paired with a video game, is it beneficial to incorporate cinematic aesthetics into the video game, or should the producers focus on the interactivity that video games afford (and most films do not)? There are certainly arguments for both sides. Whatever the final decisions of the production team, the individual parts of the transmedia experience will affect and impact the transmedia narrative's audience in specific ways.
Henry has written before that "the core aesthetic impulses behind good transmedia works are world building and seriality" (The Aesthetic of Transmedia [Part 2]). Although Henry states that he wishes to see transmedia narratives flourish in genres beyond "fantasy and science fiction franchises", he concedes, "[T]he transmedia approach enhances certain kinds of works that have been udged [sic?] harshly by traditional aesthetic criteria because they are less concentrated on plot or even character than more classically constructed narratives."
While this article will avoid issues of transmedia, I want to explore more the idea of world building (Henry's first core aesthetic of transmedia works) as possessing successful emotional potential for an audience.
In the same article, Henry writes, "It's long been a charge directed against science fiction works that they are more interested in mapping complex environments than in telling compelling stories," but I would argue that complex environments can give rise to a well of emotional response that in turn create the foundations for compelling stories.
After the jump, I'll be exploring three video games that utilize world building and exploratory participation to craft complex stories out of very simple aesthetics.
Futures of Entertainment 4 - How "Dumbledore's Army" Is Transforming Our World: An Interview with the HP Alliance's Andrew Slack (Parts 1-2)
The Consortium team's moving strongly into November as we gear up for the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference. Of course, registration is still open for the two-day event on November 20 & 21.
As we've said before, Friday will be dedicated to issues of transmedia entertainment. The final panel presentation of the day, Transmedia for Social Change, moderated by Henry Jenkins, will feature Stephen Duncombe (NYU, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in the Age of Fantasy), Andrew Slack (The Harry Potter Alliance), Noessa Higa (Visionaire Media), and Lorraine Sammy (Co-creator, Racebending).
Asking how transmedia can move beyond promotional and commercial interests, this panel will inquire about the potentials for transmedia to affect social change. What parallels can we draw between the activities fan communities and other sites of collective activity? How does participation in the collectives that emerge around transmedia properties equip young people with skills as citizens? What responsibilities should corporations bear, if any, as they try to court fan communities and deep engagement?
This panel will also consider the cross-over between the forms of collective activity that mark participation in transmedia narratives and other forms of collective activities that harness entertainment media for social good. Fan communities are increasingly aware of their power as social networks. With the ability to mobilize (often) large and passionate groups of people quickly in response to actions that threaten their values and practices, fan communities constitute collective bargaining units acting on the behalf of consumers. These communities may deploy this power to try to protect a favorite program from cancellation (thus working hand and hand with the interests of producers); they may deploy it to challenge a decision they feel hurts the integrity of the franchise (thus pushing back against a producer's perceived interests); or to resist cease and desist letters which threaten their activities. How do buy-cotts, the tactical deployment of consumption that has emerged as a key strategies for fans to have their voices heard, resemble other forms of consumer activism?
To talk a bit more to the content of the Transmedia for Social Change panel, we have reproduced an interview conducted by Henry with Andrew Slack (on the Board of Directors for the HP Alliance), who will speak on Friday afternoon. Henry posted this interview to his blog over the summer. You can read it in full after the jump!
Free Webinar (Friday 6 November 2009) - Moving from "Sticky" to "Spreadable": The Antidote to "Viral Marketing" and the Broadcast Mentality
Although news has been out for a while now, we'd like to remind everyone that on Friday 6 November (from noon to 1:00 pm), the Convergence Culture Consortium will co-host a webinar with Peppercom on the subject of spreadable media, featuring USC's Henry Jenkins, C3's Joshua Green, and Peppercom's Sam Ford (moderated by Peppercom's co-founder, Steve Cody). Registration is free!
Moving from "Sticky" to "Spreadable": The Antidote to "Viral Marketing" and the Broadcast Mentality
Based on years of researching how and why people spread news, popular culture, and marketing content online through the Convergence Culture Consortium for the past several years , our speakers are currently working on a book entitled Spreadable Media. This Webinar will look at what "spreadable media" means, why the concept of "stickiness" is inadequate for measuring success for brands and content producers online and ultimately why marketers and producers should spend more time creating "spreadable material" for audiences than trying to perfect "viral marketing." In this one-hour session, the speakers will share the ideas and strategy behind "spreadable media" and a variety of examples of best--and worst--practices online for both B2B and B2C campaigns.
This panel will address:
-- The concept of "stickiness" and why it cannot solely be used as a way to measure success online;
-- How and why viral marketing does not accurately describe how content spreads online;
-- Why a "broadcast mentality" does not work in a social media space;
-- The strategy companies should undertake when creating material for audiences to potentially spread online;
-- Companies that have learned difficult lessons and/or gotten the idea of "spreadable media" right;
-- Trends in popular culture/entertainment one which brands should keep a close eye;
-- How "spreadable media" might apply to B2B audiences.
Google Wave: Innovating Innovation at the Expense of Innovation
Platforms for culture and community are no longer a "cool, new thing" online. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have been around long enough that most users understand the basics of their purposes and functions. But now that these systems have been entrenched in the flow of the Internet, some users have begun to hack away at the conventions of Youtube, for example, to create some pretty innovative uses for the platform.
Last year, Sheila -- now a second-year graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies program and a researcher with C3 -- wrote a report for the Consortium on the current state and future potential of online television. One of the interesting perspectives she draws from is that of technological adoption, to which she responds that now is the time for television to adapt and integrate with other technologies. Referring to the research of Noshir Conractor of Northwestern University, Sheila describes three stages of technological adoption -- substitution, enlargement, and reconfiguration -- which describe the evolution of technology to fit social practices: 1) new technology replacing older forms, 2) frequent use of the technology, and 3) a change in the use of the technology to fit social customes, or (vice versa) a change in a cultural practice because of the use of the technology.
YouTube is a great example of this, because in the past couple of years we have witnessed a host of awesome projects that have come out of the third stage, reconfiguration. Most of these projects have attempted to move beyond the ordinary practice of "viewing one video on a single hosted webpage" with wonderfully successful results.
After the jump, I'll briefly describe a set of these YouTube-based innovations, and then comment on Google Wave, the new venture of Google to mix up email and social networking into a highly collaborative space, and how the Wave might be moving a bit too quickly beyond its initial adoption phase.
Fans reject the idea of a definitive version produced, authorized, and regulated by some media conglomerate. Instead, fans envision a world where all of us can participate in the creation and circulation of central cultural myths... Media conglomerates often respond to these new forms of participatory culture by seeking to shut them down or reigning in their free play with cultural material. If the media industries understand the new cultural and technological environment as demanding greater audience participation within what one media analyst calls the "experience economy," they seek to tightly structure the terms by which we may interact with their intellectual property, preferring the pre-programmed activities offered by computer games or commercial Web sites, to the free-form participation represented by fan culture. The conflict between these two paradigms -- the corporate-based concept of media convergence and the grassroots-based concept of participatory culture -- will determine the long-term cultural consequences of our current moment of media in transition.
Henry wrote up a revised version of this essay (which appears on his website, linked above) in his Convergence Culture book, which is obviously an important read if you've never picked it up before.
But coming away from this excerpt above, I can't help but feel that the first sentence suggests a very intense feeling, given what I assume to be a more subdued general viewership that constitutes a given show's (or movie's, or band's, etc.'s) fan base. Given that the modes of "participatory culture" are pervading the contemporary media landscape almost everywhere today, I still hesitate to state outright that fans "reject the idea of a definitive version" of any kind of narrative or media. Fans certainly work inside the construct provided by the "media conglomerate" and participate by interacting with the established narrative or media form.
What these initial thoughts are really leading up to is my attempt to spout a bit about Glee.
As the entirety of Friday will focus on projects and issues of transmedia, we decided to bring you an interview that Henry posted to his blog back in May with Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, the editors of Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives. The third of a set of three books exploring studies of media, Third Person gathers dozens of essays discussing and debating topics surrounding "vast narratives" that draws from the perspectives of artists and academics alike.
Henry is currently using Third Person as a central resource in his Transmedia Storytelling & Entertainment course at USC, so if you would like an introduction to the text or more details about issues of transmedia, francising, branding, etc., we have reproduced the full interview after the jump.
The Thing about The Emmys that Even NPH Coudn't Save
This year's Emmy Awards opened with the divine Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) singing a song that begs viewers to "put down the remote" and watch the ceremony--and commercials--live, without interruptions of any kind. You can watch the video of NPH's song below or read the lyrics.
As the song moves on, it warns viewers to stay away from all the things that have historically worried television broadcasters: remote controls, cable, cell phones, computers. The song was funny and topical, but it revealed what most of us have known for a while: TV networks are very aware of the threats to their business model, but they haven't figured out many viable alternatives.
Collaboration or Competition: Levi's Go Forth campaign
Levi's recently launched a new ARG-style scavenger hunt to promote deeper involvement with their brand mythology. The story centers around the last will and testament of Grayson Ozias IV, a fabled friend of Nathan Strauss who disappeared mysteriously into the wilderness with $100,000, which in turn is the grand prize for the game.
While the game and story themselves seem like a fairly straight-forward multi-platform scavenger hunt -- a three-tiered system of challenges, quizzes, and puzzles that will eventually identify 100 finalists that will compete for the grand prize -- the nature of the grand prize caught my eye. While it's certainly not the first of it's kind of offer a large cash reward as an incentive to participate (Mind Candy's Perplex City memorably offered 100,000GBP to their winner) , the Levi's campaign does represent a rising trend in contest-focused efforts.
During the weekend of September 25 to 27, I was invited to speak at this year's event, where I presented on elements the conflict of transmedia storytelling and franchise in relation to Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion (1996 - 2009+). If you've never encountered this epic television series (or any of its movies, video games, toys, etc.), there's a solid set of Wikipedia articles explaining the original Japanese animated television program as well as the expansive franchise.
The last panel on Sunday -- usually a comprehensive panel consisting of the conference's guests -- attempted to answer any and all questions posed by the audience. The discussion evolved into a debate surrounding the innovations, debacles, and general future of the Japanese animation and manga industry, both in Japan and the United States. However, at least in my opinion, the discussion by the panelists was fairly unenlightened.
While there are many points that I could tackle in a tl;dr article, I'm going to introduce one series that has attempted a few unconventional endeavors to innovate an industry that has been fairly static over the past forty years.
Futures of Entertainment 4 - The Aesthetics of Transmedia: In Response to David Bordwell (Parts 1 - 3)
The Futures of Entertainment 4 website has been live for a few weeks, and you can now register for the event, held here at MIT on November 20 and 21.
This year, the entire first day of the conference will be dedicated to interrogating some of the issues around the creative and business practices behind transmedia projects.
In order to review some of the concepts and implications of transmedia, we've reproduced a recent and interesting three-part essay published by Henry to his blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan. In these three posts, Henry responds to an article written by his graduate-school mentor, David Bordwell, and discusses the concepts of world building and seriality as elements of the artful nature and potential of transmedia. The three installments are available below, after the jump.
I originally had another topic planned for this article, but I decided haphazardly to change it at the last minute, because one video made such an impression on me yesterday morning.
My morning routine consists of a few primary objectives, one of which is to browse my Twitter stream to find anything of note or something missed during the night. I noticed that Henry had posted a link to a YouTube video late Wednesday night under the guise of:
Susan Boyle's Legacy?: Winning performance from Ukraine's Got Talent has Drawn more than 2 Million views. http://bit.ly/zDFFT
The link sent me to the video embedded below. While the clip lasts 8 minutes and 33 seconds, I highly recommend taking the time to watch through the entire video. This is storytelling at its finest.
The astounding ability of a hand to shape a story is purely evidenced by Kseniya's work. It's simply awe-inspiring at how simple movements of addition and subtraction, how curves and lines and cuts can craft such simple yet refined art. I find it more beautiful because the scenes flow and crash (literally) into each other. Metaphors become real images. After the planes enter the scene, at 1:47 Simonova scrambles the bench-sitting couple into a blur of sand, a blur that represents fear, but a physical swirl that becomes the scared face of the female onlooker. When the bombs hit at 3:08, Simonova throws a handful of dust onto the baby, eliminating him symbolically and literally from the picture.
This video represents a piece of wondrous art and fanciful storytelling. And by the posting of this article, it has probably reached over 3 million views on YouTube. After the jump, I'll examine some more implications that this video presents about YouTube, transmedia, and cross-platform distribution; how we explain our understanding of popularity online; and how the Internet complicates our comprehension of foreign cultures.