Convergence Culture

Matt Barton's picture

My segment this month was on Henry Jenkins' book Convergence Culture. There's a LOT to talk about, but transmedia seems like a good place to start. Transmedia is a big thing right now in the games industry, with developers trying to establish more complex relationships with Hollywood as well as comics publishing and more. Instead of having one central property, such as movie, pulling a franchise, the different producers work together to create a "transmedia" experience that extends across the films, games, books, etc. Matrix is probably the best example of this so far, but I've noticed an effort now by Marvel and their upcoming films.

In the future, we might find ourselves in the position of having to play a game or read a book before we can appreciate or even make sense of a movie in the theater. I really like this idea, but naturally the universe or world where it takes place would be critical to push all of this. I love the idea of a story so massive that you simply CAN'T contain it in a single medium, and each medium does what it does best in developing that big story and letting us experience it from so many different directions.

What do you think? Obviously we already have examples of this in franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, but arguably the various media haven't fully unified in a coherent fashion yet. What I'd like to see is something like this -- what happens in a game (perhaps even an MMO) affects the movie, TV series, graphic novel, and vice versa. I could see this working very well with episodic games, since the episodes could follow closely on what happens in a TV episode. Movies could be saved for big, pivotal events.

What do you think? Is transmedia something that excites you or bores you? It could be a very exploitative thing, trying to make you buy a lot more products just to get the experience.

Rowdy Rob
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Joined: 09/04/2006
Only "Loose" Convergence seems to work (so far).

Convergence might be a very cool idea, but I agree with Bill, it would be very difficult to pull off successfully. Imagine a project where, in order to understand, enjoy, and appreciate a particular sci-fi/fantasy novel, you had to beat a level on a related videogame! Or, in order to complete the videogame level, you had to read the book AND see the TV show/movie to understand what you had to do! That’d be crazy, and not in a good way!

Matt mentioned the “Matrix” game/movie as an example of convergence. I have that game, but got perhaps half-way through the game before I got bored. Yes, they did add some extra “story” to the game, but the game itself was not all that interesting. I found myself playing through the otherwise-pedestrian 3rd person shooter/beat-em-up sequences just so I could watch the “cinema” cut-scenes, which were actual full-motion video sequences featuring actual (but minor) actors from the “Matrix” movies. I’d have rather just watched the FMV sequences as part of the movie, perhaps as bonus clips on the DVD’s.

I think “convergence” only seems to work on the “general mythos” level, and not at the plot level. For example, the various “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings/D&D,” “Star Trek,” and various superhero games seem to work in multiple media formats (books, movies, and games), but only because they share a basic setting and maybe loose plot threads, but not strict story structure.

Games are interactive, and stories (books and film) are non-interactive. There are some experiences that just don’t translate to the other format. For example, “Platoon,” the movie, versus “Platoon,” the videogame. Seriously... Platoon: the video game????? Or... “The Godfather: the videogame.” Seriously!?!?! Or how about “Battleship: the Movie.” Seriously!?!?!

On the other hand, I don’t have to be familiar with the comic books to enjoy the “Iron Man” or “Spiderman” movies, because the “convergence” is loose enough that I don’t have to know what happened in “Iron Man” issue number 45 (on page 8). Like I said, I don’t have to participate in the other media to enjoy this one, although enjoying one might spark interest in the other “Iron Man” formats (which it hasn’t for me, really).

By trying to blend an interactive and non-interactive experience, you probably tend to dilute the pleasure of both types of experiences. By having a “convergent” experience, requiring participation in multiple media formats to further your “progress,” you most likely run the risk of paring your audience down to the hardest of hardcore.

I haven’t listened to the AAR episode yet, so maybe I just missed the whole point.... :-p

clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
I love the idea of a Story so

I love the idea of a Story so interesting I need to aquire more of it.. Problem is when money is involved I think there will be too much of a money grab.. A great movie or book, with some important background Info left out that you can only get buy purchasing something else.

Imagine I AM LEDGEND with him alone in the city with the 'vampires', the movie starts with "see comic book to know why the world is this way" then the movie procedes to show him slowly going nuts, batteling the 'vampires', him captureing some and working on them, but no reason is ever given (read the book to know why) and the climatic ending with everything blowing up in the lab (or depending on movie/book) his christ like death on the cross.. and the Video game shows what happened to the people who were with him..

I know its a bad attuitude to have but I just cant see any companies doing it in a way that wont make it a cash grab.

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Transmedia
Bill Loguidice wrote:

The logistics of this even in today's world is unbelievably difficult. Even in your Star Wars and Star Trek examples, there are inconsistencies, rewrites and reboots. There's just no easy way to do it.

Marvel and DC having issues with their respective Avengers and Justice League projects are also telling, in that they've got to swap out actors, change hero personalities established in relatively recent films, etc. It's a terrifically cool idea, but considering it takes years to get a movie done, something clearly not practical. This might work on a smaller scale with more limited cross-over. Anyway, the point is, the appeal is clearly there, the potential payoff is huge, but the potential pitfalls are even bigger. It's just not worth it, sadly.

I agree, especially with the movies. Movies are probably best for introducing or hitting big moments in the story, but it's not really practical (unless you're talking about made-for-web movies or some such). It'd make more sense to me in context of a TV show and episodic games. So you watch the show that week, and then go online to play the game that somehow pushes that story in a new direction. Maybe you could have the TV show about one faction and the game about another, and whatever happened in the game the week before would somehow affect the direction of the show.

Logistics would be a huge problem for this, but not impossible. Production values would probably be slightly lower than a regular show (more like that of daily shows), but it's not infeasible. Producing a weekly game would obviously necessitate a lot of recycling and pre-planning work, so that the implementation could go quickly. I'm thinking here of games that would take a few hours at most to play rather than anything huge.

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
The logistics of this even in

The logistics of this even in today's world is unbelievably difficult. Even in your Star Wars and Star Trek examples, there are inconsistencies, rewrites and reboots. There's just no easy way to do it.

Marvel and DC having issues with their respective Avengers and Justice League projects are also telling, in that they've got to swap out actors, change hero personalities established in relatively recent films, etc. It's a terrifically cool idea, but considering it takes years to get a movie done, something clearly not practical. This might work on a smaller scale with more limited cross-over. Anyway, the point is, the appeal is clearly there, the potential payoff is huge, but the potential pitfalls are even bigger. It's just not worth it, sadly.

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