Video

The Contemporary Possibilities of Transmedia Storytelling

About the Harry Potter saga and the ability of telling a story through different mediums

Introduction

Technology has been changing over the past few years. All sorts of innovations have given people the possibility of ‘consuming’ all sorts of media, whenever they want to and where they want to. [1] Also people’s ‘new’ ability of participating and anticipating on new developments (such as Fanfiction) has helped a range of mediums to evolve outside their usual lines (filmic, textual, digital, game-related etc.). [2] This ‘participatory engagement’ has made it likely for people to explore new forms of media, which means that people are becoming accustomed to forms of media that were previously considered as low culture (such as television, games and internet). [3]

This all combined has created a shifting in the industry (which is also due to technological developments). [4] In this blog I’d like to pose the notion of ‘transmedia storytelling’ (a process that has been made possible because of the abovementioned). I’ll pose Henry Jenkins’ definition of ‘transmedia storytelling’ and, in relation to this, I’ll come up with an example of this ‘new media possibility’: the Harry Potter saga.

Jenkins’ Transmedia Storytelling 101

In his 2007 blogpost Transmedia Storytelling 101 Henry Jenkins discusses the notion of transmedia storytelling in a ten-step hand-out. [5] Jenkins describes transmedia storytelling as “a process that represents where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it [sic] own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”

He here implies that different mediums make the story complete – and more detailed. In relation to this statement I’d like to pose an example, which I think can be seen as a form of transmedia storytelling: the Harry Potter saga.

Harry Potter saga: transmedia storytelling to the fullest

The Harry Potter book-series were published between 1997 and 2007. From 2001 on films were released almost every one or two years. Games for different consoles (such as Playstation and Nintendo DS) were brought out at the same time. Later on a huge merchandise-market arose (ranging from ‘wizardrobes’ and ‘wands’ to ‘bookmarks’ and ‘action-figures’). [6] Lego came up with a ‘Harry Potter series’. [7] The Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios in London became a museum, complete with studio-tour. And, at last, an enormous themepark ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ was opened in Orlando, Florida. [8]

These publications, merchandise-materials, visiting-places et cetera, all add something to the original story about a young orphan boy that turns out to be a wizard with a mortal enemy. Whether it’s about places, information (such as ‘spells’, or ‘ books’ that are read in the world of Harry Potter) or objects; all the mediums add something to the original storyline, so that fans can create their own story within the world of Harry Potter. [9]

There is one medium in particular that struck me whilst looking for transmedia storytelling examples: Pottermore. Pottermore is a website where Potter (or even non-Potter) fans can “explore the Harry Potter stories in a whole new way and discover exclusive new writing from J.K. Rowling”. [10] The Pottermore website tells the Harry Potter story in an interactive way so that the user really becomes a part of the wizarding world. By sorting its users into a Hogwarts-house (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw) they become part of the world they’re desperately longing to be part of. This site also provides information to that users that really want to get to the bottom of it, or even want to create their own story in the wizarding world.

Conclusion

To conclude this mini-essay I think the Harry Potter saga is an interesting example of transmedia storytelling. Not only are there countless mediums involved in the recreation of a new – more complete and detailed – wizarding world, there are also mediums that really play with the diversity of mediums. Such as Pottermore – a website that tells the textual story of Harry Potter, whilst showing drawings, playing music, and giving information through little videos. By intertwining all these different mediums the user actually becomes a part of the wizarding world – and by experiencing this product the user himself can fill in the gaps, that J.K. Rowling has left open to discover. [11]

Made by Jul (Tess).

PS. Your Hogwarts acceptance letter is late.

Sources

Lecture ‘Digital Art and Culture: New Media, New Stories?’, Martijn Stevens and Lianne Toussaint. (April 18th, 2013) Nijmegen: Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (Cultural Studies).

Jenkins, Henry. (2007) ‘Transmedia Storytelling 101’. http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html  (May 25th, 2013).

http://search2.lego.com/?q=harry+potter&lang=2057&cc=NL (May 25th, 2013).

http://www.noblecollection.com/index.cfm?fa=products.catagory&catid=21 (May 25th, 2013).

http://www.pottermore.com/ (May 25th, 2013).

https://www.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/ (May 25th, 2013).


[1] Lecture ‘Digital Art and Culture: New Media, New Stories?’, Martijn Stevens and Lianne Toussaint. (April 18th, 2013) Nijmegen: Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (Cultural Studies).

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] Ibidem.

[5] Jenkins, Henry. (2007) ‘Transmedia Storytelling 101’. http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html  (May 25th, 2013).

[9] Jenkins, Henry. (2007) ‘Transmedia Storytelling 101’. http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html  (May 25th, 2013): “A transmedia text does not simply disperse information: it provides a set of roles and goals which readers can assume as they enact aspects of the story through their everyday life. We might see this performative dimension at play with the release of action figures which encourage children to construct their own stories about the fictional characters or costumes and role playing games which invite us to immerse ourselves in the world of the fiction.”

[10] http://www.pottermore.com/ (May 25th, 2013).

[11]  Jenkins, Henry. (2007) ‘Transmedia Storytelling 101’. http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html  (May 25th, 2013): “The encyclopedic ambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might bes een as gaps or excesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plots which can not be fully told or extra details which hint at more than can be revealed. Readers, thus have strond incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements, working them over through their speculations, until they take on a life of their own.”

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3 thoughts on “The Contemporary Possibilities of Transmedia Storytelling

  1. Dear Jul,

    I really think you couldn’t have illustrated the concept of transmedia storytelling better than with your example of Harry Potter and Pottermore. Now, I am going to shut up regarding the formal aspects of your blog, because in my last two comments I talked about them enough. This blog, though, is written in a much less woolly fashion than your first. Good job!

    In the introduction you write that ‘all sorts of innovations have given people the possibility of ‘consuming’ all sorts of media, whenever they want to and where they want to.’ If people don’t have to wait anymore, if the entire digital realm is within the palm of your hand, and you can access it whenever, wherever, I wonder what the net result of such convenience is going to be. Aren’t we going to be saturated at one point? And what is going to be the consequence of this saturation? More technological progression on other domains, perhaps. I’m going a little bit astray here, let’s go back to the main subject of your blog.

    You use the words ‘low culture’ in your introduction (not in a judgmental way, whatsoever). It made me wonder if fan fiction is per definition a form of low culture. Or maybe, the very existence of fan fiction pulls the work that sprouted the fan fiction into the low culture zone, wherever the blurry edges of that zone may lie. Maybe fan fiction is typical for lowbrow art. Maybe not, some research regarding this topic might be interesting.

    In the second paragraph you write: ‘He here implies that different mediums make the story complete – and more detailed.’ We can also look at it from the opposite direction. The more mediums, the more extensive that particular universe becomes, and with that perhaps more fragmented, not so much a whole. Maybe the story becomes so big, we cannot see the wood for the trees.

    I was particularly struck by your final sentence. You write: ‘By intertwining all these different mediums the user actually becomes a part of the wizarding world – and by experiencing this product the user himself can fill in the gaps, that J.K. Rowling has left open to discover.’ I find that interesting, because maybe it is the mystery that drives people to things such as Pottermore, or making fan fiction, but aren’t they at the same time destroying the mystery by filling in those gaps? What if all gaps are filled and there is no mystery anymore? I wonder where the limit of fan fiction lies and how far a story like Harry Potter can expand.

    Your blog raised a lot of interesting questions.

    Jut.

  2. Jut, I think you raise some interesting questions with regards to fanfiction and transmedia storytelling. First of all: thank you for your nice words! Then, you talked about a level of saturation. I don’t think this exists. Whether or not people want to be ‘in fashion’ (I own the latest Iphone 5, Galaxy S4 etc.), they will follow up at some point. Let’s take the example of my mother: she is a complete digiliterate and she constantly kept saying she didn’t want to have a ‘smartphone’. Later on, when her old cellphone broke down, she had to buy herself a new one. Conclusion: she now owns a ‘newer’ smartphone than me. I don’t think people think in matters of saturation, I think people think in terms of ‘supply and demand’ (in relation to price). But, ofcourse, it is possible that we differ on this subject.

    Then you responded on my link between fanfiction and lowculture. Perhaps this was my mistake, but it wasn’t my intention to equate fanfiction to lowculture. What I was trying to say with this, was: through the diversity of mediums people get used to dealing with mediums that are considered as low-culture (and with this I didn’t imply that fanfiction is lowbrow-art, I just said that most people consider fanfiction as lowbrow-art). Research concearning this suject is desired – though the length of my blog would, then again, endless.

    Your third point of critique is indeed correct. Maybe the explosion of different mediums will create a fragmented story; though what I implied, is that people have so much information that they can choose what to use in their re-telling of the story (perhaps they like a book that was once mentioned in the original series and they then tend to create a new quest based on the contents of this book).

    Your final point, at last. Concerning the sentence: ‘By intertwining all these different mediums the user actually becomes a part of the wizarding world – and by experiencing this product the user himself can fill in the gaps, that J.K. Rowling has left open to discover.’ You implied here that it is the mystery that drives people towards sites as Pottermore. I disagree on you with this – I have been a huge Harry Potter fan since I was nine years old and although I’ve already been outgrown the desire to become part of the wizarding world, that was exactly what it was probably all about. I didn’t actually read the Harry Potter book-series, because I just wanted to know what was about to happen next – I wanted to be part of that world equally desperate. I wanted to be Hermione Granger, reading all those awesome books. I wanted to be Dumbledore, being the genius he is. I wanted to live in The Burrow with the Weasleys. Et cetera. Of course the unfolding of the plot was important, but reading these books over and over again gave me the feeling of escaping. Or a feeling of being important. A feeling of having my own story. Whatever it really was that made me read the complete Harry Potter book-series twenty times – it wasn’t just mystery. It was way more than that and I guess that’s why fanfiction doesn’t have a bottom – it is people’s possibility of fitting in in a world of their own choice (in contrast to the ‘real’ world, where you have to fit in a dominant discourse in some way – even though you might not like it).

    I hope you understand the ins and outs of my blog a little better after this lecture, haha. Though thanks for your constructive criticism!

    Jul.

  3. Dear Hermione 😉

    I agree with you that saturation doesn’t exist. Maybe I should have been more clear. What I meant was that people become, at one point, saturated, maybe bored is a better word, and then they exchange the thing they are bored with, with another thing. They always want something new. When Smartphones are the norm for a couple of years and some totally new thing comes up, those Google glasses for instance, and those glasses become the norm, the point of saturation with Smartphones could be reached. That was what I meant.

    Now regarding the low culture. I was very well aware you didn’t want to equate fan fiction to low culture. Read that part again, I write that you mention low culture ‘not in a judgmental way, whatsoever’. I just posed some questions regarding low culture and fan fiction because they came to mind and I thought it to be interesting.

    Regarding the last point. What draws someone to a particular universe is very personal. For some people it is the mystery, in your case it is a longing to escape, the desire to be part of that particular world. For someone who likes the mystery, fan fiction could destroy, well maybe not destroy, that sounds a little too drastic, but it could take some of the mystery away. Of course, this is only a problem for people who are into the mystery thing.

    Thank you for your clarifications, but I would like to note that you don’t have to take every word I write literally. They are just ideas that come to mind while reading your blog. I am, so to say, ticking off some possibilities, some ways to look at things. I do not try to pose the one and only truth.

    Jut.

    PS. Why did you change the background theme? The former layout was much more readable.

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