WyrdCom is a convention created three years ago to give Live-Action Role Players (LARPers) a deep dive into their passion: live game-playing, and play they did, with more than a dozen different games under way during the four-day event held at the Orange County (CA) Hilton.
On top of the main event was layered an extensive slate of panels and workshops, as the organizers tried to cross-pollinate the fanatically devoted LARPers with a bit of pixie dust from the broader landscape of storytelling – film, television, digital content, and transmedia. In the digital age, shouldn't we merge live-action, theater-based experiences with mediated content?
I spoke on two panels organized by transmedia producer Lauren Scime from Witchfactory Productions-- “Transmedia Storytelling 101” and “From Live to the Web and Back Again.” The latter is the subject of a second post exploring transmedia storytelling.
But first, a few thoughts about passion and story forms.
I’m not a LARPer, and truth be told, I’m not entirely sold on “transmedia,” and I don’t just mean the nomenclature. As I’ve written elsewhere, media ain’t no good if it don’t make me cry, and so far, games and websites, and Twitter and Facebook, well, they’re great but they don’t make me cry like the kind of stories I love.
These thoughts were bouncing in my head as I tried to prepare for the “Transmedia Storytelling 101” panel, to the point where I was getting a little crazy, not so much because I couldn’t handle the topic. More because of the caliber of the other panelists: moderator Scott Walker is a real expert on “co-creation” between producer and audience, a unique quality of transmedia; Starlight Runner’s Jeff Gomez has become something of a superstar in the field; Jesse Albert, whom I just met has been there/done that as both an agent and producer in many different mainstream and emerging media; and Esther Lim has produced games and interactive projects for nearly 15 years.
What about me? Notwithstanding my history of incubating dozens of multi-platform projects at AFI, that all seemed way too heady. I kept thinking of Jeff Gomez’s talk at last year’s “Story World” conference in which he claimed that his passion for role-playing games saved him from adolescent oblivion -- the hero’s journey, not just as a construct for storytelling, but as a mantra for his own personal and professional development. Dungeons and Dragons saved his life, and gave him a career.
Not just with Jeff, but all of us I think: The media that rule one’s life today are the media that coincide with the onset of hormones. Let’s call it the Hormonal Theory of Media Obsession.
The experts agree, to wit: Back in the 90’s, AFI launched a primetime TV show to count down the top movies of all time, as ranked by a blue-ribbon panel of Hollywood experts (including me). It was a lot of fun, and lasted for 11 years.
That first year, however, AFI was criticized because the list included too many pictures from the 70’s and 80’s (and not enough from the 20’s and 30’s). Of course this was true, since most of the so-called experts were baby boomers whose passion for movies coincided with their coming of age, and, not coincidentally, the first rush of hormones.
For me, storytelling means novels, movies, plays and TV. Those story forms transported a lonely little Army brat with very few friends into worlds of terror and delight. Characters from other countries and times. Worlds I wanted to visit, or sometimes had visited. Experiences I could not possibly imagine. Feelings I was afraid to have.
My adolescent media obsessions formed my own habits, still with me up until this day: For example, in 1962 I saw four movies a week for a year in Austin Texas, not counting WEST SIDE STORY, which I saw 11 times. About the same time I read the entire oevre of Dickens, Dostoevsky, Eugene O’Neill, J.D. Salinger, and many other novelists. By 1964 I was reading every book as it appeared on the NY Times fiction bestseller list, whether I liked them all or not. I still have 3x5 cards with my annotations. (Fortunately, it was a good year, including Ship of Fools, The Tin Drum, and, of course, Salinger.)
I discovered mysteries in third grade. I’m still a noir detective fan. If I find a hero and an author I love, I make sure I read the entire series and stay current as the books come out. I am, therefore, Amazon’s model customer. I am also addicted to audio books listening in the car. If you care, you can dive into my book obsessions at Goodread.
A little later, I took the PATH train into Manhattan every week from New Jersey, to Saturday matinees on Broadway (less than $5 for a balcony seat). And movies.
Today I try to see every movie that might be nominated for the Oscar. I love the deep dive that DVDs and Netflix enable. Last year I watched THE KILLING on AMC at the same time as all ten of the original Danish episodes of “Forbrydelsen.” Season Two arrived from my secret source just last week. I’m in heaven.
As you can no doubt tell, I’m not a digital native. But I am an early adopter, just not a native. Hence, my touchstone is not the SMS or IM message, the Facebook or Tumbler post, and definitely not a game of any sort, console, casual, or otherwise.
But for today’s kids, THESE are their media. Of course they want multi-platform stories. Their world is defined by simultaneous digital content consumption. Even the “old” media which I adore are consumed within the context of the digital frame.These media permit not just sharing, interactivity, but production and control.
To reach these audiences, and to please these audiences, artists must get inside their heads, and their hormones, and let the audience co-create.