It’s the Story, Not the Device

Posted by on Jun 9, 2012 in article, media | No Comments
It’s the Story, Not the Device

Enclosed is an exerpt of a survey I conducted in class about transmedia games. I will be attending the 9th Annual Games for Change, hope to meet you there!


Transmedia narrative appropriate to a Henry Jenkins definition includes interplay, cooperation and deliberation within a narrative, the additional transference across multiple technological channels in unique ways, and the potential to influence the outcome beyond the original narration. The following three games InAnimate Alice, Urgent Evoke, and Reality Ends Here display a directed learning approach to media tactics formerly reserved for the entertainment industry.

(Example 7, Inanimate Alice)

An interactive novel called Inanimate Alice ( ) (See Example 7), describes the adventures of a young girl transitioning from living China to moving to the United States all the way into her development a computer game designer. The narrative is immersive enough to be flexible through multiple educational levels and includes games, puzzles and tools which emulate real world stages of making a game. As the interactive novel, it’s modules and enhancements have grown over the last couple years, so has the audience influenced it’s evolving outcome. “Already, while waiting for Episode 5 to appear, we have seen many student-created “next episodes” in anticipation of the arrival of the “official” version:” (Harper, 2010).  Laura Fleming, the creator, explains educational transmedia in particular should leverage new technologies to entice the learners into deeper participation and production within the narrative. She advocates, “Even just the notion of creating transmedia experiences for specific groups or demographics is something we need to consider carefully. Learners themselves should be immersed in the creative process to ensure that they are not mere consumers of the experience.” (Jenkins, 2012). By filling in the informational gaps between the different mediums they play with and producing alternative storylines, the learners develop that sweet spot in transmedia and within educational pedagogy where the experience has been delivered and guided but also engaged, synthesized and produced.

(Example 8, Urgent Evoke)

A second transmedia learning type begins to add a geography related scavenger hunt into it’s gaming mechanics. Urgent Evoke ( (See Example 8), uses a classical comic book narrative entry available on both low broadband and high speed internet version to young adult participants in Africa who are then urged to complete the “mission” of the narrative. This leads the players onto missions, which revolved around articulating and researching values, identity, and resources to solve the quests such as environmental protection or assistance to girls and women. Proof was posted by way of creative projects given feedback by chosen mentors of the design teams necessary to be given approval to participate on the next level. Eventually top participants became mentors themselves. This emerging Alternate Reality Game (ARG) tactic has created a genre– where that “Magic Circle” equally straddles the online virtuality and the physical worlds. “Players, a few hundred of whom are in Africa, earn points and power-ups by completing real-world tasks like volunteering, making business contacts or researching an issue, then submitting evidence of their work online.” (Sutter, 2010). The opening narrative for this game, the static digital format of the comic and hyperlinks emphasis research, reflection, and collaborative projects create a transmedia world without the affordances of complex digital layout, lowering the entry level of the digital native to include those with minimal internet access. Many participants of whom have already been introduced to the basic literacy of print based comics use this familiarity to cross into digital literacy on a multi-modal level. The Urgent Evoke game then brilliantly takes it a step further by creating community, research skills revolving around real life organizations and develop solutions or creative media expressions to problem solving goal with practical transferability to their social world.

Finally, Reality Ends Here (REH) provides a foray into the real world discovery games of a scavenger hunt and more. Reality Ends Here ( (See Example 9), produced by students at University of Souther California to integrate, socialize and encourage networking with creative production with it’s incoming freshman class created waves with it’s inception last year. Keeping with the trend to keep the digital complexity simple, the school handed out playing cards “portable enough to facilitate the face-to-face interactions “ (Anderson and Thomas, 2011).  Curious students following clues with no direct links to rewards were invited to play until the game eventually became viral.. It is a non-digitally centered ARG (Alternate Reality Game) based in the daily lives of the players real work but with it’s basic premise as of rules played out and specified on a set of alternating playing cards handed out to students upon request. As Simon has described, the core interaction here involves players trading, sharing, and combining collectible playing cards in order to generate creative prompts known as “Deals”. Responding to these prompts by submitting completed artifacts results in advancement on the game’s various leaderboards, unlocking special game content as rewards (Jenkins, 2012). The rewards centered around the concept of business contacts, lectures or internships valueble to the student media production population it targeted. A concept called “Levels of Engagement” developed where anyone involved could add to the game, but competition for more inclusive and complex artifacts earned the learners access to the greater awards.

(Example 9, Reality Ends Here)

A bulk of the game was not reliant on the generation of narrative by the designers but became a perpetual re-mixing and creation of the players themselves with facilitated guidance. This self generation of play, targeted a particular audience of motivated media students anxious to prove themselves. “The player experience in such games unfolds around a kind of scavenger hunt activity wherein game runners moderate and manage player communities as they plow through a sequence of puzzles, curated action prompts, and side-quests.” (Jenkins, 2012).  This mechanic promoted creative ambition, allegiances and competition. So, to counter the beginning of this essay, the narrative was not the opening engagement, the mechanics were what keeps the narrative in motion. Watson, the designer advised, ”Design your ARG experiences so that they function procedurally — that is, create an actual game that drives participation and play among your audience such that the play itself generates the experience,”  (Anderson and Thomas, 2011)

These games relied less on virtual reality than on traditional and easily accessible narratives as the novel, comics and card games, to create a dynamic alternate reality (ARG) which through research, peer collaborate and creative production the audience could alter and regenerate.



Anderson,  M. and Thomas, R. , (2011), USC Film Students Practice Through Games,  Alternate Reality Gaming Network. Retrieved from:

Harper, Ian (2010), Alice Born Digital: How Transmedia Storytelling Becomes a Billion Dollar Business, Publishing Perspective, Retrieved from:

Jenkins, Henry (2012), A Virtual Bullpen?: How the USC Cinema School Has Embraced ARGs To Shape The Experience of Entering Students (Part One), Confessions of a Acca-Fan, Retrieved from:

Sutter, John (2010), Online Game Seeks to Empower Africa, CNN Tech: Online Games. Retrieved From:


Leave a Reply