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The Trance of Transmedia Storytelling- How Video Games Are No Longer Just Games


On late nights I like to sit down at my desk, prop my feet up, open my laptop  and load up a few game videos. As I am about to indulge in someone’s creative efforts, a short video pops up for a recently announced game. We have all seen them before: some big budget titles, but more often than not some low brow games in which many have not heard of. However, one pop-up, in which I will not reveal, peaked my interest one late night. After showing the typical action sequences and explosive gunplay the final screen came up saying “Play the game, watch the show”. This intrigued me. There have been a multitude of games in which have begun to advertise for television series, comic book adaptations or online series in which relate to the game. This got me thinking about transmedia storytelling and how it has come to shape the video game industry.
Transmedia storytelling is a term often used by communication theorist and is used to describe a story is told across multiple media platforms. This can be anything from film, television, comic books to video games themselves. While this has allowed multiple entertainment industries to sell their product on multiple media platforms, this has come at the cost of fans either having to pay more than is required to fully comprehend a story, or suffer being excluded from particular details.
Although I am a huge fan of all forms of media and entertainment, I have come to be excluded from particular details because I did not pick up a book, or see a movie. Being a big fan of survival horror games, I became obsessed with the game Dead Space. I played it so many times, to the point that I knew when a necromorph would pop up, let alone whether I needed my plasma cutter to be aiming vertically or horizontally. When Dead Space 2 was shown for the first time I was so excited. I could not wait to hop back into the world created by Visceral Games. Flash-forward a few months later and I am sitting at my computer anxious to play. After narrowly escaping some necromorphs I come across some presumably new characters. However, my protagonist, Isaac Clarke, without a hitch begins talking to them, as if they were old friends. As it turns out they were. Had I missed something in a earlier cut scene? Was I just not paying attention to what was being said? No, as it turns out it was none of these things. You see EA decided to make some direct to DVD animated films based on the Dead Space series, one film being the prequel to Dead Space 2– a Dead Space 1.5 if you will. Because I had not seen this movie, I missed out on character development in which was not in the game. I missed out on a video game, because I did not pick up a film.
The Dead Space franchise is certainly not the first game series to do this. More and more companies are trying to make their product, or franchise, as varied and marketable as possible. That is simple business, and I have no problem with that what so ever. You can choose to purchase that comic book, watch the television series or play the game- or if you want you can do all three. I have done this on multiple occasions with multiple series. Star Wars, The Walking Dead, Bioshock– I have bought books, comics and films on these series and love all of it. It adds depth and expands on what was a complete story.  Where transmedia storytelling becomes an issue, is when it is used to tell an incomplete tale, meaning that to fully understand the story you must buy everything.
This issue cannot be simply attributed to series in which began as video games; however, it is the area in which it is most prominent from experience. It has become somewhat of an anomaly for video game companies to simply state that “No the video game is not enough, we need more”. Whether this is at the discretion of the creators or publishers is irrelevant. The need to go beyond the story of a game makes alot of sense, but in order to do so you must have a complete story within the game itself (excluding the obvious sequel/prequel in the industry today as that is another direct game). Telling one half of a story and than the other half on another media platform is not impactful or a way to lure in fans- it is lazy, pure and simple. Creators can, and have, for over twenty years been able to tell a full story within the realm of a game for years now. Sometimes a story world may be so rich that there is alot of room for expansion. Bioware’s Mass Effect is a prime example of that. However, the team at Bioware were never the less able to tell a complete story within their trilogy of games; the novels and comics building upon material that was of only minor relevance to the story of the protagonist, Commander Shepard.
This is a great model of transmedia storytelling, in which successfully tells distinct stories in which relate to the complete story told within the game world. In order for games, or any form of media, to branch into other areas, they must make sure they have the proper foundation laid. While random combinations can work, look at the magic of chocolate and peanut butter together, when telling a story it is much better to have told a complete one, rather than stop mid way through, take a break, and then instead choose to tell that story through a film.
In a society in which we demand media on multiple platforms and to have constant forms of entertainment at our fingertips, there is nothing more powerful than transmedia storytelling. However, with this temptation lies the issue of forgetting to tell a full story in itself. In order for the video game industry to move forward using transmedia storytelling they must come to realise this, or else be left with an unhappy ending when fans decide to shelve their product.
 
*So what do you guys thinks, is transmedia storytelling a poweful tool? Why or why not? Sound off in the comments below.

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