Jan 022012

Originally published (& cross translated?) Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 5 of 5

Image by Gary Hayes

“Anyone up to battle aliens at the local museum tonight?”

It might sound like a farfetched idea at the moment, but this question may soon be another option rather than the old invitation to go see the latest 3D blockbuster at the Cineplex. The previous four posts talked about major experiential paradigm shifts, where more and more people desire to be ‘inside their entertainment’ —literally. The need to watch a show or read a good book in isolation will never go away, but right now, a new form of immersive entertainment is taking hold that sees users hyper active online and more and more participatory outside of their homes in unique, social story locative experiences. These shifts leads us to confront some basic questions, like, “What is an experience?” and “Are some experiences more engaging than others?” as well as some not-so-basic ones, the all-important, “Who will create all these new experiences?”

Designing any new media format is challenging, especially when the goal is to create highly engaging pervasive entertainment, that is more compelling than what already exists. Since the grammar has not yet been invented, for many, it presents a quantum creative leap. Right now, there is still conflicting opinion about what to call these new types of distributed stories—and let’s not mention the transmedia wars!

One of the greatest challenges for professional storytellers, who are accustomed to traditional linear plots, is to transition into a new platform. Rather than writing straight lines to be delivered from a stationary stage or studio, they are now being pushed to create content for a shifting stage or multiple shifting stages at once— often in different cities or time zones. Given the growing appetite for this type of connected, collaborative, dynamic content, the well-established line between audience and producer is becoming increasingly blurred. Right now it remains to be seen if conventional storytellers will adapt to these new demands, or if they will be outpaced by users themselves. User who are as voracious (and in some cases as adept) in creating content as they are in their insatiable consumption of it.

I was trawling the web the other week looking for a good description of levels of experience and how to design for them. What I discovered, however, is that, much like the missing lexicon, there isn’t a lot of science to this yet either. To fill the gap for now, I created a diagram to explore increasing levels of experience or engagement: It begins at the first level of physicality as the least complex and builds its way up through mental engagement, then social inclusion, and finally the emotional and spiritual levels. These last two being the hardest ones to deliver. Narrative games, like L.A. Noire and the earlier Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophesy, are brave examples of games trying to develop emotional, interactive responses (albeit skipping most of the real social & physical elements).

For audiences in the developed world, 3D and 4/5D cinema is gradually moving into the home and has the potential to make box office visits unnecessary – not worth the added effort. Audiences are starting to expect more value and more payoff for their play time (and trouble): For many, a trip out of the house to be entertained is a transmedia experience in itself. This forces new entertainment providers to seriously take these “audience journeys” into consideration. Likewise, since marketers have begun to tell more interesting stories across places and platforms, traditional writers need to get up to speed on these changes as well. Take for example, a recent holographic product display for Lego. These types of interactive promotional events work to increase the expectations across the board for what is possible in terms of entertainment.

However, film is also slowly catching up. The internationally renowned artists’ group, Blast Theory created a locative cinema project called A Machine to See With, which is a good early evolutionary example. Less about sensory immersion and more about a healthy combination of imagination and locative storytelling, the project allowed viewers to “live” inside a cinematic story unfolding on the streets of Brighton, England. According to the San Jose Biennale last year, the experience mixed documentary material, stolen thriller clichés, and the films of Jean-Luc Godard to let participants walk through the city and receive phone calls, stepping into bit parts or leading roles.

These steps are evidence that now would be a good time for these types of indie projects to start receiving the big-budget attention that clunkers like Phone Booth did. Entertainment is truly moving toward a variation of the infamous Star Trek Holodeck, a complete surround experience that fools our brains into thinking “this is really happening” or “we are really there.” Experiences can either be delivered through layered digital storyworlds, or peppered your everyday life through fragments and bits so that your real world starts to become the storyworld.

Parallel to this transmedia trend, there are complete virtual screen environments of game driven and socially focused spaces known as MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games). These alternate “worlds” are host millions of peoples ‘minds’, melded into the characters they are playing. Many approach a game with the same gravity as a method actor taking on a new role, wholly losing themselves in an alternate reality. The way people interact with these virtual selves is also rapidly changing – making new interface technologies like the Xbox Kinect and iPad/tablets some of the fastest-selling items in history.

These new forms of entertainment will require creators to become writers of place and time, creating relevant and game-like personal experiences. Let’s imagine a simple future? You are at home watching a story experience teaser on your surround 3D head mounted display. You decide to rent it with some friends and project it on your wall-size, AR home cinema screen. It sets up the challenges; you all become the heroes. You all don in-earphones and sporty AR glasses, which have tiny cameras connected to a 6G network that point out and down, tracking the external world, as well as body movements and speech.

You undergo a physical and mental training exercise in your home to prepare for the outdoor challenges. You walk outside and start to explore your city. The open park becomes a fully rendered fantasy environment; urban streets and buildings are layered with story and critical game information. You have X-ray vision; you can see inside coffee shops and stores. Past and future scenes play out before your eyes. You talk to digitally rendered, artificially intelligent characters who respond to specific questions. You work as a team and add your own story challenges. An iBrain scan afterwards let you record your experience for others in 3D.

Welcome to your personal experiential entertainment Holodeck. Of course, you can turn it off at any time and read a good book or watch a film. But that’s so 2011.

Feb 282011

Mid 2010 draft catch-up post – What will it mean when we all use a handful or even just one device to consume ‘all’ our media? Will we also use it to share ‘all’ our content, pushing it to large, dumb screens around us? When we talk about transmedia we often mean, telling a complex story across many platforms used by many users, objects and screens, perhaps partly in a book, on a TV show, inside Facebook on the PC, in a console game or at the cinema  – but what will happen if all our personal media is consumed only on one screen? A world where TV is not about home screens, where Facebook is not about desk or laptop PCs and the most used games are not on chunky, dedicated consoles?

This is article is not a resurrection of the dreaded, old school (circa late 90s) convergence debate but something much more akin to the Trojan Horse saga. We are palpably moving into a space where a certain medium size screen, portable device, connected, personal & social is slowly permeating our world. As powerful and practical as all the other gadgets & screens we have gotten used to the 7-10″ tablet is has hit a sweet spot. Already the fastest selling device of all time, the iPad has caused a storm, the dam holding the waters back has leaks and other similar devices are starting to trickle out, but the dam is about to burst and we will be flooded in the next year as these tactile hybrids of smartphones and laptops seep into our daily lives – once again 🙂

Painting Original: The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael. Public Domain

But will we converge towards this swiss army media device? Does it fulfil all our video, game, communication, work & social needs?  More specifically, just as we are starting to master the ‘Art of transmedia Storytelling’ are we now looking at a mono device future? Will the art of transmedia storytelling turn into telling our stories across services and channels on a ‘single’ device rather than across multiple devices and platforms?


Almost half a decade ago I did a post called Media Journeys Part 2 that explored a simple evolution of media technology from cinema at the start of the last century through to the portable revolution of the mid noughties. That post implied a device that would be a screen, with a quality good enough to view films on, portable, tactile, connected, communicative and powerful enough to play networked & graphically rich games on. This post completes that train of thought and asks a key question – are online tablets the end point of a 100 years of platform evolution and more significantly can we actually expect to see a decline in the number of ‘discrete’ platforms available to transmedia producers?

The Evolution Timeframe

Firstly the timeframe. As explained in my earlier post the most useful timeframe for this ‘postulation’ is the last 110 years – from the dawn of mass media communication and non text based story-telling (film). There has been a compression of the evolution in the last twenty years, so the curved template below reflects that year-wise. The reason the chart is curved is to allow my five key trends to converge visually.

Convergence Media Tablets

Evolution of the Human Interface

Convergence Media Tablets

One thing I didn’t cover in the post from five years ago was the evolution of interface which reflects how the technology has become sufficiently powerful enough for us to need to do less ‘unnatural fiddling’ at the ‘control’ end and use our bodies more naturally – less of a slave to qwerty or cross, square, circle, triangle (PS reference!)…a continuum (each number corresponds with the icon sequence, left to right, on the chart)

  1. The remote or keyboard – Alongside the TV in the 1950s the button based infrared remote control was born and a decade plus later early QWERTY keyboards were used (using strange alien languages) to communicate with computers. The remote is still with us today but as we know a revolution is about to take place there.
  2. The mouse – The PC’s popularity spread quickly when the Mac was born in the early 1980s and the computer mouse became the norm for how we interact with complex lean forward screens vs rather clunky text entry using QWERTY keyboards.
  3. The controller – When game consoles entered the living room in the mid 80s more complex controllers were required
  4. Voice – although still not universal, voice controlled PCs became usable for dictation and basic control in the late 90s
  5. Touch – Touchscreens were suddenly on every device from 2005 onwards and today any portable device that is not touch feels very antiquated
  6. Body – at the end of 2010 XBox Kinect led the way for popular use of the whole body to interact with games, of course Sony and others had launched similar interfaces many years earlier, but the 3D sensing of kinect raised the bar significantly
  7. Mind – (future only) having played with controllers such as Emotiv we can certainly look to a time where using parts of our body will seem so old fashioned, but that is another evolution diagram

Items 4 to 7 are of course sensory, based on natural human movement & communication.

So we need a device that responds to my touch, I can wave it around so it gets a good sense of the GPS environment it is in, as well as controlling games or measuring my physicality and without a mouse or remote in sight.

Evolution of Film and TV Viewing Screens

Continue reading »