Network Narratives

This week (well in the last 7 days) I’ve devoured two great books. I’ll just talk about the first one today… (got to take this blog thing slow, right!?) The Art of Immersion by Frank Rose.

This was a romp through the world of immersive storytelling across film, gaming and marketing. Rose uses his considerable experience and access to take us through a number of different industries who are building immersive stories across multiple media.

A lot of the stories were familiar to me (Why So Serious, The Lost Experience, The Matrix, etc.) but it was packed with new stuff I’d not heard of. For example, the whole integration of Subway into the story-world of Chuck (NBC television programme from a few years back), the way the US version of The Office incorporated web-based gaming, and earlier attempts (pre-broadband) to create online side-plots with Homicide.

It’s an absorbing read and makes a nice deeper dive to some of my other reading in the area of transmedia storytelling. It’s an area I’ve always found fascinating – taking a story and delivering it across a number of platforms. It’s something I’m keen to replicate in some of the work I do with organisations – just need to find the right (brave) client! I’m particularly fascinated by the idea of fully interactive storytelling where the story is developed through a collaborative process by the ‘writer(s)’ and the ‘audience’. I’m using parentheses because, to be honest, these roles don’t really exist in the same way that we understood them before.

At university, one of the discoveries that blew my mind in my first year was the idea that authorship might not lie always with the author. Over the last 20+ years of reading, study and practice it’s clear that the reader (viewer, listener, etc) is far from a passive consumer and is an active collaborative author in any work they experience. Those crazy brains of ours are storytellers, and so there are as many readings as there are readers. It’s like I say in my seminars/talks/workshops: you can control your relationship with your story, you can control your relationship with your audience, but you cannot control your audience’s relationship with your story.

Roses’s book delves into the reasons why and examples of how the world of stories, games and experience are intersecting. Now three years old, it already feels like things have moved on. The way we consume our media has been turned on its head, everyone experiences a story with multiple devices (we watch tv while texting or surfing and chatting on our laptops/tablets)… We’re in the immersive world – #immersion? That said the writing is insightful, the tone accessible, and the pace… well, pacy!

The stuff that really excites me in the book is the ‘Actual Role Playing’ side of the immersive world. The idea of becoming a part of a story like Why So Serious – running around a city looking for a cake that contains an instruction that leads to a new piece of a story unfurling – awesome! As more of our experience moves online, the way that actual reality can augment the virtual experience fascinates me, and gives me hope. Hope that something I scratched the surface of as a writer in my late teens and early twenties, is finally become the mainstream.

The possibilities are endless and the narrative network can take us anywhere…