Transmedia storytelling is a mode of storytelling that is gaining speed with the digital humanities. A story that is transmedia is one that utilizes many different avenues for the telling of one story. We call this transmedia as opposed to cross-media, because this type of narrative does not simply cross media borders – we are not talking about merely making a series adaptation of a novel, for instance – this type of narrative blurs the lines between media. It utilizes all different types of media simultaneously to create the story.
Henry Jenkins boils transmedia storytelling down to a few key concepts. Firstly, he claims that there must be additive comprehension. This means that the entirety of the story cannot be told through one medium: “each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (Jenkins). The media used builds upon one another to create a multi-layered and complex narrative. To this end, Jenkins also asserts that those stories that are transmedia are interested in building a vast fictional world. By granting the reader/viewer access to many different experiences with the story and its characters, one can begin to see an entire complex universe unfold. Also, says Jenkins, transmedia stories will appeal to the “collective intelligence.” The collective intelligence allows readers and viewers to unite in order to explore and solve problems within the fictional world: “Transmedia storytelling expands what can be known about a particular fictional world while dispersing the information, insuring that no one consumer knows everything and insure that they must talk about the series with others” (Jenkins).
The beloved television show Lost is an example of a transmedia story. Lost is formatted like a video game, says theorist Steven Jones, and it requires the audience to participate in collective research in order to solve mysteries. Jones says that the audience, in order to pick up on the entirety of Lost, must pick up on what he calls “easter eggs” – little clues that stick out and pull the viewers out of the narrative of the episode and compel them to explore another part of the Lost universe.
At first glance, this means of storytelling can be daunting. As the audience, we like to think that when we finish reading or watching or experiencing we will know the story. We want closure and answers. Believe me, being a lover of Lost, the lack of closure I feel is horrifying. However, it is so incredibly fun to have to dig and ponder and discuss and get frustrated. Not all transmedia narratives are game-like like Lost, however. There are many that have texts that are just supplemental or paratexts for the ur-text of the story. In my opinion there are some para- or supplemental texts that are unnecessary. For example, I am not a fan of role-play sites/blogs. I like to believe that the characters that I read/view are authentic –even though they are fiction. As the audience, I don’t want others to claim to have publishable access to the interior state of these fictional characters if I don’t. But maybe that is just me. All in all, I think that transmedia narratives can be a wonderful exploration in what storytelling is and how narrative can be developed with an audience that has all types of media at their fingertips.
Jenkins, Henry. Transmedia Storytelling 101. 22 March 2007. Web. 23 July 2015.
Jones, Steven E. "The Game of Lost." The Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Strategies. NY: Routledge P, 2008. Web. 23 July 2015.