Transmedia Stories and Games Explained

Posted by Jason Ohler on

“In my presentation "5 Trends that Bend," the 5th trend is transmedia storytelling. This has caught on in entertainment and business in a big way, but is slow to appear in education. This blog series created by Dr. Christy Dena on ABC Splash explores how it might appear in education. To me, one of the essential issues is how to replicate a core concept in transmedia storytelling in education: Fan involvement. It is easy to get people to be fans of Batman. How do we get students to be fans of math?”


via ABC Splash

Opportunity abounds in the area of ‘transmedia projects’, or stories and games that span more than one medium or artform. Dr Christy Dena explains this evolving area of education. This is Part 1 in her blog series.

One of the areas I work in is ‘transmedia’ or ‘cross-media’ writing and design. I work in the area as a practitioner, and also as an educator for industry professionals and undergraduate students. Transmedia or cross-media fundamentally refers to projects that span more than one medium; for example, a book and computer. I work in creating transmedia stories and games, and so also teach students about making their own. Over my two articles for ABC Splash, I share some of the approaches I use when giving students the opportunity to make their own transmedia stories and games.

In each classroom, there are plenty of media already available: a whiteboard, books, and sometimes computers. When I deliver courses, I plan for classes to span live sessions, reading, and online tasks. This is one form of transmedia education. In the MacArthur Foundation Whitepaper ‘Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century’ [PDF], ‘transmedia navigation’ is listed as an important new literacies students need. That is a literacy you encourage through planning classes across media. But what I want to talk about today is creating transmedia projects.

Transmedia projects

Transmedia projects are stories and games that span more than one medium or artform. For instance, Scholastic’s 39 Clues series is not just a collection of books. Each book has clues that demand puzzle-solving, trading cards, and secret websites (see this Teacher’s Guide). Australian author Jenni Mawter has likewise created a transmedia novel experience. Kiss Kill is a novel, with accompanying websites and Webisodes by the young male lead. Importantly too, it helps young adults recognise people with ‘narcissist personality disorder’. There’s also what is called ‘alternate reality games.’ These are games that are made up lots of tiny real-world objects drawing on their immediate setting. For instance, creating social media accounts for fictional characters, running a live event with the characters, and videos of the characters. ARGs have been run in libraries and museums, such as ‘Ghosts of a Chance’ for the Smithsonian.

You could create transmedia projects for your students (there have been ones created using library assets, during orientation week, and so on), or you could have your students create them. Obviously, they’ll learn a lot more about transmedia creation literacy if they make their own.

In my next blog for ABC Splash entitled “Opening the Door to transmedia projects“, I will share some of the design guidelines I have developed over the many years I have been running transmedia projects.

What do you think?