The Breakdown: The next installation in our series of SXSW 2011 Q&As is a conversation with Andrea Phillips (@andrhia), a transmedia writer and game designer who writes on the intersection of games, storytelling, gender and culture on her blog Deus ex Machinatio. Here, Andrea speaks with us about her upcoming talk “Hoax or Transmedia? The Ethics of Pervasive Fiction,” which will focus on the role of ethics and responsibility in interactive narrative design.
S/G: In a nutshell, what exactly is transmedia?
Andrea: Transmedia is the art of telling a single story through multiple media at the same time. Often those media are the communications channels people have embedded in their everyday lives: Twitter, Facebook, email, phone. Lots of transmedia narratives give the audience members the role of a friend or colleague of the characters in the story, so they feel like they’re a crucial component of what’s going on. It’s great stuff.
S/G: What was the inspiration for your talk?
Andrea: The general subject [has] been on my mind for several years now. As more people move into the transmedia space, they put a lot of content out there without considering what people will think who don’t know it’s fiction. Plastering flyers for a fictional missing girl around a college campus, for example. People get alarmed.
The tipping point for me, though, came when I was working on the marketing campaign for the film 2012, which was condemned by NASA. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what we could have done differently—if anything—and still told an engaging story.
S/G: Can you tell us about one of your favorite examples of transmedia storytelling? Why was it successful?
Andrea: My personal favorite is Perplex City, which was one of my projects—but that probably doesn’t count, does it? My absolute favorite that I didn’t work on was the indie game Must Love Robots. It was about a robot in New York and his quest to find true love, culminating in the hero chasing the girl through the streets of New York in real time. The audience had to help him work out where the girl was so he could find her before she left town forever.
My other favorite would be the one that got me into this world—the A.I. game, also called The Beast. It was an extension of the world in the Spielberg film A.I., and it gave you this really intense background that made the film a richer experience than it would have been otherwise. Playing that game was a mind-blowing experience.
S/G: How has the professional practice of transmedia storytelling evolved over the last several years? Where do you see it heading?
Andrea: Well, when I first got into the field, social media had barely been invented. It’s mind-blowing, but when we started Perplex City—and this was only in 2005, not decades ago—there was no Twitter, and you needed a .edu email address to get into Facebook. But social media has proven to be a natural extension of transmedia narrative. They were made for each other.
And for a long time transmedia was considered not much more than a marketing gimmick, but we’re increasingly coming into our own as a form of entertainment in our own right. Over the next few years, we’re going to see a lot of new studios start up and a lot of net-native original [intellectual property]. The day is coming, and not that far off, where most entertainment will have an extended transmedia element.
S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
Andrea: I’m really looking forward to the amazing meeting of minds that happens at SXSW—the discussions that happen at lunches and dinners when we’re talking shop. There are so many clever, warm people in the transmedia community that I only ever get to see on Twitter and the odd conference. I wish I could take them all home with me.
Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.