Fragments Interlude: Bridging the Experience Gap in Transmedia

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming…

manwithmoviecameraAn installment on the Marvel Cinematic Universe was supposed to be in front of your eyes this month, but a few things prevented that. First, the Marvel Cinematic post ballooned into two parts, and second, I’ll be taking the summer away from ScriptMag because I’m getting married on June 27. So, instead of having the Marvel post come in two parts, separated by three months and wedded bliss, I’m giving you a quick done-in-one post on the experience gap.

The huh?

The experience gap is the chasm between comfort and fear that exists when new storytelling technology comes into prominence. A non-storytelling example: my mother was of a generation of teachers who wrote their grades in a grade book and feared having to transfer those grades to computer and learn an entirely new system for a job she had done exceedingly well for two plus decades. For teachers today, her method, let alone her fear, is nearly unheard of. We see it with the first movies, the jump from radio to television; print comics to digital comics; appointment television to binge watching; if you’re not comfortable with it, you’re not going to make an effort to get comfortable unless that effort is supported by a compelling reason, be it job security, necessity or maybe, just maybe, entertainment value.

That’s a big, BIG maybe. Your project may not be a compelling enough reason for an audience to make the leap, and you have to live with that. I said it in my book, and I’ll say it again: you cannot have a target audience who is used to one-way interaction with a medium and expect them to sign up for Twitter to interact with your characters. It will not happen. Period. If the communicative means of storytelling aren’t natural to your audience, your project won’t have two legs to stand on.

Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion, and I discussed this in a 2011 interview, a portion of which appeared in my book, Comics for Film, Games and Animation. Here’s what Frank had to say:

“There’s a sense in which people tend to get immersed in all kinds of entertainment, and this is really just another way of making entertainment more immersive. I do see it to some extent as a generational phenomenon, not that it’s only under 30-year-olds who are into it, but for people under 30, probably under 20, it’s an entirely natural way of communicating. People who grow up with all sorts of different screens around them and expect that you’ll be able move more or less seamlessly between one type of screen to another, and the technology hasn’t really kept pace with people’s expectations of it, which is actually often the case.

The idea of immersiveness — that’s something just about anybody can understand. The specifics of how do you combine a TV show with a web component and a comic book or whatever, I think those are — obviously they’re important to anyone who’s a producer — but to a consumer (that’s a word I hate), to people who are enjoying these stories one way or another, it really doesn’t matter. Any way that is possible for them to engage with it is something they’re going to want to do. “

Great transmedia storytelling makes you want to pull apart each of the pieces and find out the deep, dark secrets that live in the world of the story. But, and this is of the utmost import, you can’t expect everyone to do that. That’s why the crafting of a story that is both complete on its own and acts as a diving board for subsequent – or parallel – exploration, is essential. Say it with me: transmedia storytelling does NOT mean “to be continued” ; transmedia storytelling means “to dig deeper.” The best transmedia storytelling straddles the worlds of both single- and trans-, bridging the experience gap by entertaining those who are comfortable with only a single screen and providing explorational fodder for those comfortable switching between screens and devices and media.

And so, I leave you to your own devices for the next few months. Please, please, please: be cognizant of the experience gap; respect the experience gap; learn to work within the experience gap. And now, I’m off to leap over my own experience gap: married life.

Have a wonderful summer. See you in the Fall with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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