The great lie of contemporary trans, multi, cross and interactive media is that it supplants, diminishes or replaces established media forms. This falsehood has given rise to entirely ridiculous (yet all to commonly used) terms such as ‘legacy media’ and ‘heritage media’ to describe those forms that pre-date the digital newness. The truth is that history defies any argument of supplanting, diminishing or replacing older media forms with newer ones.
No media technology has ever been so radical in its impact as the arrival of Radio to a world that knew only the written word and the theatrical stage. And yet despite the rapid growth and proliferation of radio neither the written word, nor the theatre were ever supplanted or replaced. Along came the cinema and the moving image, and though the world went nuts for cinematic stories on the silver screen the radio did not disappear nor cease to be relevant and people continued to read books and went to the theatre. And so then Television, computer games, the internet, and still their predecessors remained in tact. Altered, shifted, modified possibly, responsive to their new position in the stew, but none the less vibrant and relevant.
What this tells us is very simple, very important and very powerful - new media do NOT replace old media. Rather the palette of media possibilities continues to grow and expand with each new form adding the spectrum of possibilities. In this light ‘Transmedia’ is simply the study of how a narrative can exist across and exploit this smorgasbord of platforms rather than only within just one form.
See, its really not that complex. And from this simple observation we can recognise a few other home-truths that seem to go astray when the new-media guru-speak takes over the conversation. Most notably that character, drama, tension, action, catharsis, conflict and genre - all those things that have long been the guts of narrative writing, publishing, theatre and film - still count. Such things can be and are as much a crucial part of transmedia and interactive entertainment as they are for books, plays and movies.
I raise this topic in light of the London Literary Conference: Writing in a digital age where I’ll be speaking this coming Friday (8th June) as part of a panel entitled ‘Not just a pretty page: How multimedia brings book to life.’ Now, I confess I have some concerns over the title of the session; firstly that the term ‘multimedia’ is so 1999 and more importantly that it implies books are somehow lacking life or need to be ‘brought to life’. Quibbles over titles aside, I am indeed very excited to be part of this panel that aims to examine some perspectives and principles of how writers, whose traditional domain may have been novels, plays and short stories, can bring their skills and knowledge to the brave new world of transmedia, immersive and interactive digital fiction.
It promises to be a great event bringing together writers, publishers, editors and new media practitioners. The stated aim of the conferences is to:
“make sense of all the possibilities facing writers today. Making and selling ebooks. Self-publishing v traditional? Emerging international markets. How technology changes literary forms. Social media, and other promotional tools”