Transmedia storytelling—Be Unsocial interview
Five questions about research, entertainment and human experience.
What does transmedia mean? How does it differ from crossmedia? How does a content strategy change when creating a narrative that moves across multiple media? And what role does our emotional experience play in all this? We asked an expert.
Enrico Granzotto is a researcher and creative consultant specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling. Founder of Humenhoid, he studies the narrative modalities and communicative potential between literature, cinema, television, and video games. As a creative director operating in Venice, Enrico also offers integrated communication services for art by collaborating with international institutions and artists.
It was a real pleasure to talk to him, that’s what he told us about his research and his job. Enjoy the reading!
1) Transmedia is one of those words that often appear in digital strategies, even out of turn. Once and for all, what is it about? What is the substantial difference with crossmedia?
There are many definitions, formulated in different periods to describe similar phenomena and constantly evolving communication mechanisms.
Considering a macroscopic difference, the crossmedia system adapts and declines a single story in different media usually directing the user experience in a linear communication system, keeping the original contents practically unchanged.
In the transmedia system a story is instead fragmented into further interdependent content through different media channels, generating a non-linear browsing experience, with multiple points of entry. Publishing products, cinema, TV series, video games, documentaries, sound materials: it is the narration with a transmedia system that involves the viewer in a total immersion, expanding the understanding of the fictional world of reference through a complementary “additive comprehension” (H. Jenkins ), obtained by exploring all the multi-platform narrative branches both in the analog and digital fields. In one sentence: the crossmedia adapts and repeats, the transmedia expands and diversifies.
It is a very specific method, which requires particular design frameworks, and a specific digital strategy considering the contents, the communication function and the type of audience involved. In Italy it is a rare condition, but on the rise, with very surprising case studies. I invite you to read the fundamental historical research of Henry Jenkins, Frank Rose, Jeff Gomez, Andrea Phillips and Christy Dena; among the first researchers to observe this technological and cultural phenomenon.
2) How did you approach this discipline? What are the transmedia projects that first fascinated you?
As a reader-spectator-gamer I have always been attracted to “dense” stories, capable of hosting multiple narratives and expanding content by connecting characters, events, and places in a dynamic ecosystem.
I have always been fascinated by the possibility of knowing historical, anthropological, philosophical, geographical and technological aspects interdependent with the main narrative, continuing to explore the fictional world in different communication methods predisposed to expansions and serial developments.
A fundamental moment of my professional awareness of the entertainment industry was the degree in Visual Arts (2015), where with the thesis dedicated to the Prometheus transmedia campaign (R. Scott, 2012) I examined the entire process of managing the narrative information and its promotional strategy, designed to connect to the universe of Alien (R. Scott, 1979) and Blade Runner (R. Scott, 1982), also documenting the recent technological evolution, the related cultural changes, and the rise of a new generation of immersive intellectual properties.
I then decided to focus on transmedia research as a career prospect, starting to write articles and creative analyses to deepen theoretical aspects and professional skills.
3) And what about the most recent transmedia cases that stood out for the right balance between creative research and narrative marketing?
With the evolution of the market and the emergence of a particularly active, demanding and competent audience, the quality level of the immersive configurations is continuously growing. Many intellectual properties are now specially conceived (or reconceived, readjusted and restarted) to be declined in transmedia assets including editorial products in the information architecture (see the special case of “S.” by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst), films, TV series , video games, documentaries, comics, board games, sound experiences, musical performances, exhibitions and amusement parks.
The historical cases of Star Wars (1977), The Matrix (1999), The Lord of The Rings (2001), The Dark Knight (2008), Avatar (2009), and the recent Hunger Games (2012), Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014), Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015), The Martian (2015), Mad Max (2015) and Tom Clancy’s: The Division (2016) represent relevant testimonials for studying the evolution of narrative marketing and to evaluate how the diversification of narrative contents between analog and digital domain has helped to evolve the strategies of the sector towards interdisciplinary configurations, reducing the perceptual space between reality and fiction and transforming the promotion of a product into an additional entertainment experience and a narrative expansion with high commercial potential.
4) How does storytelling generate and expand our emotional experience, our human dimension in the digital world? What are the main mechanisms?
As human beings, we imagine, seek and share stories to connect, tell about us, simulate alternative realities, find deep meanings and get excited. All stories are different from each other, but they are also the same on a primordial level: they unite us with abstract content through emotions, helping to generate our individual and collective identity.
In the entertainment sector there is a growing desire for immersion in all media areas: people want to be inside complex stories, feel involved, develop a sense of empathy and belonging, imitate languages, aesthetic dimensions and behaviours, interact directly with a narrative world and its characters: digital expands the methods of communication and interaction by amplifying the immersive potential of storytelling, returning a long-term, personalized and participatory entertainment experience, with intense cognitive, physical, and emotional involvement.
5) Which sectors are benefiting from the digital game mechanics?
There are numerous inter-sectoral experiments: from the film industry, to sports, from education, to fashion, to the armed forces. In 2017, I was part of a research group of the UIBI Foundation, set up by the Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca Foundation, dedicated to creating immersive learning experiences by combining narrative, pedagogy, historical-scientific content, and game design to improve educational processes and professional training. Our organization of the Digital Education Festival in 2018, together with important companies, institutions and international guests (Indire, Institute of Play, Google, Acer, Microsoft, Samsung), has demonstrated the great inter-sectoral interest and the surprising potential based on the enhancement specific individual skills through immersive and playful modalities, both in the educational field and for company training and recruitment processes.
Looking at sectors distinct from the entertainment industry, the recent cases applied to fashion and the luxury market (Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès, Kenzo, Fendi), demonstrate a tendency to integrate game mechanics into corporate promotional strategies, with the ability to condition the sales processes and stimulate an intergenerational affiliation of users.
Finally, in addition to an interesting return of analogue content in many promotional initiatives with meta-communication properties (especially as immersive publishing initiatives in paper form), the emergence of high-performance virtual (VR), augmented (AR) and mixed (XR) reality , will contribute to a radical phase of technological experimentation where storytelling, game mechanics and immersive communication will stimulate new areas of research and interaction by exploring the relationships between entertainment and skills, work and play, individual behaviour and participatory culture, imposing a continuous redefinition of management models of companies, executive processes, promotional strategies, and the related roles of professionals and users.
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Humenhoid is a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling, with focus on cinema, tv series, and video games.
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Humenhoid’s projects include:
The War Inside the US
An initiative to dialogue on the history of racism and civil rights in the United States
Our Planet Matters
An awareness-raising initiative for World Environment Day and World Oceans Day 2020
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Warlords of New York — Animated Short
Information elements and project structure
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Warlords of New York — Cinematic Trailer
Information elements and project structure
Tom Clancy’s: The Division 2 — Washington DC Aftermath
Collasso, guerra civile, sopravvivenza: il nuovo ordine mondiale dopo la pandemia.
Tom Clancy’s: The Division — Collapse
Capitalismo e complottismo tra reale rischio di pandemia e scenario videoludico.
Tom Clancy’s: The Division — Demo Analysis (E3 2013)
Narration, scenario and interaction modalities
Tom Clancy’s: The Division + VICE — Infected
Prevention, crisis, survival: an investigation on the actual risk of pandemics in Canada and the game’s infected world.
Watch Dogs 2 + VICE — User profiled
Big data, privacy, and state surveillance: an investigation on the actual scenario and the game’s dystopian world.
Revolution / Monarchy: April 20, 1792
The declaration of war against Austria and Prussia — An editorial immersive activity of historical research
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Brief analysis of the videogame world and narrative structure
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare + VICE — Superpower For Hire
Promotion and contamination between real military scenarios and the game’s futuristic world.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III — The ethical question
A promotional bioethics and sociopolitical questionnaire between scientific reality and the fictional world.
Transmedia Storytelling — Be Unsocial interview
Five questions about research, entertainment, and human experience.
The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
Narrative structure, information elements, fictional world and strategies of immersive development.
- Project Prometheus
A comprehensive case study on information management and narrative design in the Alien (R. Scott, 1979) and Prometheus (R. Scott, 2012) interconnected franchises; (120 pp, available upon request).