Category Archives: Games

Transmedia Journalism in Principle

A factual story can be told in more ways and more places than journalists usually consider. © Kevin Moloney, 2010

Here’s a miniature manifesto for transmedia journalism:

We journalists need to find the public across a very diverse mediascape rather than expecting them to come to us. The days of the captive journalism audience are over, and if we hope to serve our ideals of democracy, human rights, environment and positive social change, we need to find a broad public.

To make our stories salient we need to engage the public in ways that fit those particular media. We lose an opportunity to reach new publics and engage them in different ways when we simply repurpose the same exact story for different (multi) media. Why not use those varying media and their individual advantages to tell different parts of very complex stories? And why not design a story to spread across media as a single, cohesive effort?

To define our goals I’ll remix and repurpose Henry Jenkins’ principles of transmedia storytelling to fit the journalist’s cause. There’s nothing new to invent for them. Examples of all of these principles have already appeared in journalism, they just haven’t been sewn together in a predesigned and expansive story campaign. This is no more a “digital first” idea than it is an entity of ink-on-paper or Murrow-esque broadcast news. But it could embrace all three of those methods as well as games, virtual reality, museum installations or even paper airplanes. It also requires no change in the ethical ideals journalists value.

Transmedia journalism should be:

  • Spreadable: What makes a story infectious? How can we and do we inspire the public to share the stories we craft among their own networks, so they reach beyond our core public? Examples.
  • Drillable: How can we activate the public’s curiosity, enough to sleuth out more depth and detail on their own? If there is more to be found — either among our own extensions of the storyline or among the world’s social and data networks — the public’s engagement will be deeper. Examples.
  • Continuous and serial: As our stories expand across an array of media, how can they keep their continuity of shape, color and tone even as they leverage the strengths of each individual medium? By letting the story unfold across those media in series, would we keep public attention longer? Examples.
  • Diverse and personal in viewpoint: Can reporting from a variety of perspectives strengthen the telling of a complex story or engage new publics we might have otherwise missed? What can we gain from letting the public in on the process and result of journalistic work? Examples.
  • Immersive: We always want to draw our publics deeper into a story, to the point they forget they may be separate from it. How can we put alternative storytelling forms to work on a complex story, to better explain a system or help the public understand a story’s impact on its subjects? Examples.
  • Extractable: What can the public take away from our work and put to use in their everyday lives? The more our reporting enters their world, the more engaged the public will be. Examples.
  • Of real worlds: All our stories are the product of a real, complex and multifaceted world that is the envy of fiction writers. What can we do to embrace this complexity and nuance in journalism instead of always simplifying that world? Examples.
  • Inspiring to action: Most of us become journalists in hope of changing the world for the better. How can we inspire the public to put down our pages or step away from the screen and fix a problem or reward a success? Examples.

For a more detailed look at these qualities and how they have worked individually already continue on to the full Transmedia Journalism Principles page under Contexts at the top of the window, or linked at the top of the column on the right. If you just tuned in, find more context to these ideas in earlier posts on this blog and their related pages.

Coming next: Building it. It may not be as complicated as you think.

Agency, Game and Transmedia Story

© Kevin Moloney

“Story” has been with us for as long as we have been communicating. We tell stories to better understand how we can or should move through life. Existentialists such as Paul Ricour and Peter Brooks argue that an act of narration allows us to deal with time, destiny and mortality, and to create identities.  Narrative allows us to situate ourselves in the world.

But as narratives are a metaphor for our own lives, games are practice for it. “Games traditionally offer safe practice in areas that do have practical value,” notes cyberdrama theorist Janet Murray in Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. “Lion cubs roughhouse with one another in order to grow to be predators. Small children play hide and seek, a good way of training hunters, and ring-around-a-rosy, a good way of practicing cooperation and coordinated behaviors. Older children in our society are understandably drawn to pitting themselves against machines.” And contest stories are as old as Odysseus. Murray places the contest as “one of the most pervasive organizing principles of human intelligence.” These dramas compel us through stories from MacBeth to Mortal Kombat. If the former is the drama told, the latter is the drama happening.

In a game the drama happens to us through “agency,” the pleasurable aspect of play in which the players actions have meaningful consequences in the game. We act, the game responds, the story changes. A novel asks us to set aside our agency, our right to make choices argues Ken Perlin. Instead the agency of the protagonist takes over and we are swept up in his or her struggles. We cannot interfere as we hitch ourselves to them for a ride. “By way of contrast, look at games,” he notes. “A game does not force us to relinquish our agency. In fact, the game depends on it. When you play Tomb Raider you don’t actually think of Lara Croft as a person the same way, say, you think of Harry Potter as a person… While you’re actually playing the game, the very effectiveness of the experience depends on you becoming Lara Croft… Every choice she makes, whether to shoot, to leap, to run, to change weapons, is your choice.”

Game play can also deepen immersion. Murray pointed to the early text-based Zork computer game to demonstrate the difference your presence in the story makes. In the game you enter a dungeon through a trapdoor. It is slammed behind you, and, She says, “The moment is startling and immediate, like firing a prop gun on the stage of a theater. You are not just reading about an event that occurred in the past; the event is happening now, and unlike the action on the stage of a theater, it is happening to you.”

In an effective transmedia franchise the keystone element may be a narrative story told through film or in a novel, in which a fully drawn character acts without our influence. But games offer an important expansion of the world in which that story unfolds. Through a game we can step into that world and exercise our agency to create our own side story or experience the actions of the hero first hand. We can feel the tension as we approach the Death Star’s exhaust port and the elation of a good shot that wins the battle.

The role games play in a transmedia story is examined more on the Lure of Games and Power of Networks page linked here, under Contexts at the top of the site, or near the top of the right sidebar. Stay tuned for posts on how games can work in a transmedia journalism story.