Does “transmedia” and “multimodal” mean the same thing? No, according to Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. There is often confusion about what the term transmedia means, and even controversy surrounding its definition within academic and entertainment circles. In his article, Transmedia 202: Further Reflections, Jenkins (2011) offers clarifications and reflections on what transmedia storytelling is.
Jenkins explains that transmedia storytelling describes one “logic” for understanding the shared connections and relationships across media. There are many of these logics: There is transmedia branding, transmedia performance, transmedia ritual, transmedia play, transmedia activism, and transmedia spectacle, and more.
Consider Walt Disney, for example, as a form of branding. Even before the dawn to the Digital Age the “Disney Brand” was in full motion. Micky Mouse is a visual icon, a mascot, and a fictional character spanning books and films (and his own amusement park!). Storylines follow adventures with a wide variety of characters, expanding and changing through many mediums. It isn’t the same story told over and over. It’s the Mickey Mouse storyworld disseminated over many media platforms.
Jenkins emphasizes this whole process is more than counting the number of media platforms a story is told on. He describes this as a world-building process with a continuum of possibilities, and for something to be truly transmedia it must contain all three of these levels
1. Seriality – The unfolding of a story over time through chunking (small bits) and dispersed in interconnected installments. Think about your favorite TV show – The Walking Dead, Grimm, Game of Thrones . . . they’re all episodes in serial form.
2. Radical Intertextuality – Characters and stories that move across texts within the same medium. Marvel is a good example of this. You can have separate stories about Thor or Captain America, then another book where many of the Marvel characters come together for The Avengers. Plots and character development unfolds across the many stories with a picture of the “completed universe” found after encountering all pieces of text.
3. Multimodality – A story that plays out across different media adopts different modalities and representations. Each medium interacts differently with the story. So what Green Lantern looks like differs from a comic book, a live action movie, a game, or an animated television series.
Professor Jenkins makes an important point that transmedia has historically always existed. It’s not new, whether it be with Walt Disney, Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings or other franchises. Despite popular belief, transmedia didn’t come into being with network computing, the logical presentation has only expanded. Now with digital media, we simply have a new “container” for the storyline to pour into.
I found this article insightful. As Jenkins asserts, “There is no transmedia formula. Transmedia refers to a set of choices made about the best approach to tell a particular story to a particular audience in a particular context depending on the particular resources available to particular producers.”
He challenges me to think of “story” in a new way, and to delve into the many layers of narrative presentation and understand what that is. And with emergence of new media, new terms and definitions are evolving, having relevant impact on classroom literacies in application and interpretation.
It’s a nice discussion to be involved in.
Jenkins, H. (2011). Transmedia 202: further reflections. Confessions of an Aca-Fan, 1.