Transmedia: It’s done what it came to do.
It’s that time of year again… the time when we shake our collective heads and try to have some magical moment where we suddenly all understand what transmedia means. Scratch that. We all understand what transmedia means just fine. This is the time of year when we try to agree on what it means… and, in so doing, prove that the word has meaning and that we understand it more than they do.
They may be marketers or filmmakers, indies or not indies, franchisers or not franchisers, world builders or storytellers…. Maybe we’re talking to the students, to the future… trying to make our mark while we still can. I don’t know.
But once a year, we have The Talk.
Now, it would be easy to argue that this is an exercise in futility. Heck, we’ve heard that argument for years now. We had it when we called this stuff “crossmedia” and we had it when we defined Alternate Reality Games. And generations before us, the creators of their days likely had the same discussions. With every round of discussion there’s always the few shouting: “Less talk! More do!” and “Didn’t we already discuss this?! Move on! Move on!” “Who cares?” As if these talks are a pointless exercise in wankery.
They aren’t. They can even be good. These discussions, as frustrating as they may be, allow us time to reflect on where we (individually and collectively) see things. Under the vast umbrella of transmedia, these discussions can help us find direction for our work by seeing how we fit in with the greater community where our work fits in with the collections of work out there. We can find issues with where things are going and how others may be approaching those things.
No. These discussions are most certainly not futile even if we are making like Sisyphus and rolling the same boulder up the same hill over and over and over and over again.
“Transmedia is a lie.”
That was my tweet last year. I adopted and advocated the word early on. For 5 years, I was a passionate defender of the term. Yet, suddenly, I felt so strongly about it that I returned to twitter after a long absence just to make it and promptly left again. The funny thing is, I couldn’t tell you why I felt that way. Clearly, I was frustrated with the idea of transmedia and, I’m sure, much of that came from the annual post SXSW buzzwordfest. But a lie? That’s awfully harsh.
I don’t think that’s true today, but I do think that transmedia has done what it came to do, as my grandmother would say.
Transmedia served a great purpose – it gave guidance to thoughts, defined work, and inspired projects. More importantly, it brought those thinkers, doers, & creators to the same table. It helped us find each other online and at conferences. It led to meetups and collectives and who knows how many fantastic collaborations.
Through all these discussions and gatherings, we inspired and were inspired. We could talk platforms or philosophies. We could debate and argue over the tiniest details and the biggest ideas. We came together. We formed friendships. We built a community.
We did not build that community around a word. We built it around our works, our thoughts, our ideas. It was built around our desire to share and to learn… our desire to push ourselves forward. Sure, a word brought us together as we googled and followed those using it, but it was never about the word. Any other phrase could have had the same effect.
Any phrase that said: I’m doing things that don’t fit into a neat little box. It’s not exactly a television show or movie or video game. It’s not a book or a comic. It’s not any of those things but it might be some of those things.
It might be highly interactive and social or maybe it’s not. It may be a standalone story or vast storyworld made up of a dozen individual stories. It may be told live or produced well in advance. It may be any number of things. But the one thing it is, for sure, is something that doesn’t fit in a box.
In many ways, we’re angsty teenagers so adamant that we are different and, yet, so desperate to fit in… somewhere.
Fitting in is important. Not just for the sense of community, but because making work that fits into a box means that it can be supported. The supporting organizations, the ones with money and acclaim to give, have to be able to put your project in a box in order to support it. If we want to move away from marketing & promotions, we need to fit in a box. Is “Transmedia” that box?
Things get tricky here because we need to start thinking big. There are a gazillion different supporting organizations out there and getting them all on the same page (or at least a similar one) is a difficult task. There has been a lot of outreach to these groups with the word “Transmedia”. For better or worse, it’s what we were using. Some are beginning to adopt it while others are rejecting it flat out.
In the US, for example, the Producers Guild created a Transmedia credit. A whole new box! Just for us! This was a huge step forward in recognizing projects that never fit into the established boxes. Still, there was strife. The initial limits on work were so strict that much of what had been held up as seminal work did not seem to apply. Over the last three years, they’ve been working to address those concerns, but clearly, creating a whole new box is not an easy task. It is not always the answer.
Last month, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, aka the folks behind the Emmys, updated and greatly expanded the awards for Interactive Media. This is a pretty big deal and they did some great work – and a lot of great work will be able to be recognized because of it. The notable bit, as far as this post is concerned: the word transmedia never appears. Not once. The criteria definitely allows for work that we would all consider to be transmedia, but they never defined it as such.
The Interactive Emmys lack of the word does not negate the use of the word by the PGA. It just means that the two organizations are labeling the boxes with a different word. Some organizations will find it easier to adapt existing boxes. Other organizations will find it easier to create a new box – maybe they’ll use “Transmedia” or maybe they’ll call it “Interactive” or “Multi Platform” or, please oh please “Crazy Shit”. I would so love to apply for a “Crazy Shit” grant! I’d settle for “Crazy Stuff” or, heck, just plain ol’ “Crazy”.
Transmedia has done what it came to do.
It brought us together. It let us find one another. It let us form a community. Through that community, we broadened our horizons and narrowed our focus. We found a few commonalities amongst our many differences. And we’ve amassed a great deal of work that can be used as examples to show a need for funding and support. What it’s called and what box it fits in is irrelevant.
What does “transmedia” even mean now that someone can experience the same television show on a half a dozen different devices… all at the same time, if they so desire! Whether you’re putting together a tv show, video game, movie or book, you are repeatedly told to consider expanding your work to other platforms. This is true whether you are creating a killer storyworld or a cookbook.
True story: A friend who spends all of her time in the kitchen and very little of it online is putting together a family cookbook. In addition to all the standard creating, testing, and writing of recipes, her agent has put together a comprehensive media plan including a complementary website (with a food blog, natch) & YouTube channel. The book alone, much to my friend’s disgust, is not enough. People need to get to know her family; they need to learn and understand the food & techniques.
Everything, it seems, is moving between platforms these days.
Transmedia doesn’t define any piece of work. All it does is beg more questions. It’s a redundant phrase for creators and always has been. We still need to answer what we mean by it – what platforms? what sort of story? interaction? performance? social? solo?
If it’s redundant, why are we using it? Can we not just skip right to the good stuff? “X is a great little project… Fun story world, highly relatable characters. Told mostly through video, but a good dose of social media and I’ve been talking to someone about a comic. Currently it’s set to last about a year with new material once a month, but I’m thinking of ramping it up.” I am so much more interested in you than if you had said “X is a transmedia blahditty blah.” Blah!
Yes. Transmedia has done what it came to do. That doesn’t mean it’s time to throw it out, which is how Grandma always used the phrase. “Brooke,” she’d say looking at my well-worn shoes, “those shoes have done what that came do!” Now, those shoes were well-worn because they had a purpose and a fit. They may be ready for the trash, but I might not be ready to let go.
And so it is with transmedia. With all of the transmedia meetups and supporting orgs who have adopted the use, it is certainly not going anywhere soon. Yet, its use is limited. Depending on the crowd, it’s either a buzzword or not at all understood. Amongst fellow creators, it’s utterly meaningless and, yet, it brings us together. Much like my well-worn shoes, there’s a time and a place. The word has a purpose and a fit, but may not make the best of impressions.