Worldbuilding: Using Transmedia Storyworlds to Shape the Future

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At the core of any transmedia narrative is the “storyworld”. This presentation lays out the key elements for transmedia worldbuilding.

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  • Worldbulding involves three key design tasks:
    Narrative design
    Audience engagement design
    User interaction design

  • The narrative design phase focuses on the design of the story elements of the transmedia narrative.
  • Narrative Design – Select genre
    Will define the similar settings, content and subject matter, themes, plots, central narrative events, styles, structures, recurring icons, situations, and characters (Dirks, 2011) for all stories within that storyworld.
    It will also define the expectations of your audience and will have a significant role in defining who your audience will be.
  • Narrative Design – Identify premise
    1 sentence “hook” that is a teaser about the storyworld
    Make it audience-centric
    “How will you survive in a world that has become more dangerous?”
  • Narrative Design – Identify controlling idea
    1 sentence describing how and why things have changed from one state of existence at the beginning to another at the end
    “Our world is destroyed because we failed to heed warnings of the danger.”
  • Narrative Design – Identify designing principle
    1 sentence that expresses the idea around which the storyworld is synthesized
    It provides the overall logic and strategy for the stories within the storyworld
    “Force individual audience members to confront the consequences of failing to act.”
  • Narrative Design – Identify central conflict
    1 sentence that focuses on “Who fights whom over what?”
    “Those seeking to halt climate change are in a struggle with those who seek short-term gain while our futures hang in the balance.”

    These 4 – premise, controlling idea, designing principle, and central conflict – are the foundation for the “grand story” of this storyworld
    They keep the storyworld together and make individual stories recognizable as part of the same storyworld
    Each story in the storyworld must have its own premise, controlling idea, designing principle, and central conflict, but they all are connected to their corresponding storyworld level element
  • Narrative Design – Set storyworld timeframes
    Every storyworld has a temporal component
    Pick a convenient starting and ending date
    Make it very broad to encourage expansion of the storyworld
    You can adjust it later
  • Narrative Design – Create events
    Events are a change in the state of an entity such as a setting or character.
    How characters react to events is an important part of a story
    External events (outside of a character in the story) may be the result of an
    Uninitiated change (out of the control of a character in the story).
    A war story, for example, may have the war as an uninitiated change if the main characters are ordinary soldiers on the frontlines.
    Initiated change is the result of the actions of a character in the story.
    If the actions of a leader that take a nation into war are part of the narrative, the war would be an example of an initiated change.
    Internal events (inside the character – usually psychological affecting beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors)
  • Narrative Design – Create characters
    You can begin to drop characters into your storyworld
    I won’t go into a full description of what is needed to develop a character
    At this stage, just the basics are needed
    Start by putting dates for birth and death on the timeline
    You would be surprised how many authors don’t look at the totality of the lifespan of a character
    Rather, they think about the character at a specific point in time in the story
    Put in some of the major events in the character’s life
  • Narrative Design – Create significant objects
    Significant objects are some type of object that have a specific meaning in the storyworld
    The ring in Lord of the Rings
    The submarine in Hunt for Red October
    The cash/jewels/treasure in various caper and adventure stories
    There are two types of significant objects:
    Plot-Significant: A plot-significant object has a substantial impact on the story’s plot; without it the story would change significantly.
    Character-Significant: A character-significant object has some sort of significance to a particular character but does not have a significant impact on the story’s plot.
     
    The properties of a significant object are:
    Physical Characteristics: The physical characteristics of the significant object describe its size, weight, appearance, and other physical aspects.
    Value: The significant object has value to the characters in the story. This value may be:
    Intrinsic – it is worth money (e.g. a treasure, money, etc.)
    Source of power – it gives the person who possesses it magical, political, or some other form of power
    Symbolic – it has spiritual, emotional, sentimental, or similar symbolic value
  • A setting is the stage on which a narrative occurs
    Goes far beyond the physical characteristics of a place in which events happen.
  • Topos – the physical characteristics of the world
    Physical laws that exist in the storyworld (i.e. faster-than-light travel or magic)
    Geography
    Climate, weather, and seasons (i.e. the seasons are a key element in Game of Thrones)
    Flora
    Fauna
    Built infrastructure (i.e. roads, buildings, etc.)
  • Demos – the people (or other sentient beings), their society, culture, and technology
    Ethnic, Racial and Species Groups
    Food
    Clothing
    Languages
    Social Structures
    Family Structure
    Religious Institutions
    Social Hierarchy, Stratification & Differentiation
    Political Systems & Institutions
    Economic Systems & Institutions
    Law Enforcement
    Military
    Media & Entertainment
    Other
    Culture
    Beliefs
    Values
    Norms (Laws)
    Norms (Folkways)
    Norms (Mores)
    Norms (Sanctions)
    Symbols & Myths
    Technologies
  • Chronos – the “official” and unofficial history of the storyworld
    All events
    Mythology (how the past, present, and future is viewed)
  • As you lay out these various elements on the timeline, the framework for your storyworld begins to emerge.
    You are able to quickly see the different characters, settings, significant objects, and events both individually and in relation to each other.
    While there may be a history (generally a backstory of some sort of the characters) the changes in the storyworld and its various elements over time and the underlying causes of those changes are usually not well elaborated on.

  • This overview of the pieces and the whole are important
    Storyworlds are static, frozen in one particular state.
    Missing from most storyworlds that I’ve studied is an explicit recognition of their dynamic nature.
    While there may be a history (generally a backstory of some sort of the characters) the changes in the storyworld and its various elements over time and the underlying causes of those changes are usually not well elaborated on.
  • From a futures studies perspective in particular, it is important to have the stories individually and the storyworld as a whole provide the audience with an understanding of the path of change and the reasons for that path.

    If the story/stories are looking forward, the audience needs to know “How do we get there from here?” while if they are looking backward from a particular point in the future the audience needs to know “How did we get here from there?”
  • Stories emerge from the storyworld
  • Your decisions on user agency will have a huge impact on what your storyworld needs to include.
  • User Agency
    The amount of user control over the narrative is determined by the degree of user agency.
    The greater the ability of users to set goals, plan their attainment, and be rewarded with changes in the narrative environment, the greater the degree of user agency.

    User Control of Characters
    While it may be tempting to design a transmedia narrative so that users can play the role of a major character, research has shown that the audience response to that approach is generally negative. A study of the British television series Spooks and its associated transmedia gaming elements found that fans of the series did not want to step into the roles of the fictional characters seen on television (Evans, 2008). Dena also notes that allowing game players take the roles of a limited number of major characters in a narrative is impractical if a multi-player role-playing game is part of the storyworld (Dena, 2009, pp. 208-209). A better strategy is to create classes of characters that allow potential transmedia game players to role-play a member of a certain class of players (Dena, 2009, pp. 208-209). For example, players might take on the role of a hobbit or dwarf from Lord of the Rings or a “field agent” in a game based on the Spooks program.

    User Role in Narrative
    Determining whether the user’s role is internal (projected into the narrative through an avatar or first person perspective) or external (situated outside the narrative) will have a significant impact on the nature of the transmedia project. If an internal user role is selected, the user is projected into the narrative either in a first person perspective or through an avatar. If the external mode, the user is situated outside the narrative as an observer able to see everything that happens within the narrative – in effect, like a god looking in from above. The user role, when linked to the degree of user agency, determines the fundamental structure of the transmedia project.
  • The user interaction design phase focuses on how users physically interact with the interface and navigate through the transmedia narrative.

    User interaction is a set of decisions and actions taken by the user to navigate the transmedia narrative and consists of a cyclical process that occurs each time a user needs to make a decision while navigating through a transmedia narrative.

    The single biggest interaction design challenge for transmedia storytelling is the use of multiple forms of media.
    Each has its own interface, conventions, and types of interactions.
    As much as possible, consistency across media is essential
    The “friction” of moving from one form of media to another is a significant design issue
    Examples
  • Mobile devices are an excellent platform for transmedia stories.
    Graphics, text, video, music, and other types of content can run on them.
    Tablets in particular are large enough that you can put a lot of content on the screen but small enough to carry around.

  • User Participation looks at how the user will interact with the narrative
    Social Participation: The level of social participation can range from individual to shared activities.
    Temporal Participation: A narrative’s temporal participation can range from time-agnostic (the user can participate at any time) to time-dependent (the user must participate at a specific time).
    Spatial Participation: A narrative’s spatial participation can range from location-agnostic (it doesn’t matter where the user is while participating) to location-dependent (a specific location is important to understanding the meaning of the narrative).
    Sensory Participation: A narrative’s use of the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – is the basis of sensory participation.
  • Determine Media Platforms

    Talk about exposure limitations, etc.
  • Determine Storyworld Entry Points
    Interaction design must ensure that the first call-to-action a user encounters provides the appropriate amount of information to enable an effective interaction with the transmedia narrative.
    The entry point call-to-action should quickly communicate the conventions for interacting with the narrative as a whole and then move the user into the narrative.
    For web-based entry points, the page that the primary URL points to -- typically the home page – is critical to establishing both the user conventions for both the narrative and interaction aspects of the transmedia narrative.
    The amount of information needed at the beginning of a journey varies among individuals. Some – improvisational wayfinders – need only a little information while others who will do a lot of up-front planning will need a lot of information (Passini, 2000, pp. 90 - 91).
    Just adding information is not sufficient, however. That information needs to be appropriate and sufficient to provide informational wayfinders the cues they need while providing other users more information. It also needs to be focused on getting the user into the transmedia narrative and should not direct them away from it.
  • Determine Inter-Story Transfer Points


  • Call-to-Action: Triggers the user’s awareness and motivation to engage in an interaction and facilitates the user’s cross media interaction.
    A call-to-action should consist of these four elements:
    Attractor: The attractor gains the attention of users and draws them into areas of interest in the transmedia narrative. Sensory affordances are particularly important in the design of the attractor.
    Motivator: The motivator helps stimulate the user develop a goal and make a task decision. Cognitive affordances are particularly important in the design of the motivator.
    Connector: The connector provides the user with the mental and physical links needed to attain the goal and accomplish the task decision. Cognitive and physical affordances are particularly important in the design of the connector.
    Retainer: The retainer delivers the “reward” to the user. This should be a memorable moments. Functional affordances are particularly important in the design of the retainer.
  • So how do we apply all of this to communicating about the future?
    We identify the issue…
    We figure out our storyworld
    Then we start creating our stories.
    For example, a young woman returns to her home in the Sand Hills
  • About a 1000 years ago the Sand Hills were a desert with massive moving sand dunes.
    They cover 22,000 square miles (57,000 square kilometers)
    About 2/3 the size of Austria
    About ¼ the size of the United Kingdom
    About 1/10 the size of France
  • Mixing fact and fiction to create a hybrid transmedia narrative.
  • Worldbuilding: Using Transmedia Storyworlds to Shape the Future

    1. 1. Worldbuilding Using Transmedia Storyworlds to Shape the Future By Peter von Stackelberg Presented at Data Ecologies 2014 Linz, Austria May 2014
    2. 2. We must tell stories about the future to shape the future
    3. 3. Emotion is a key element in human information processing
    4. 4. We respond to emotion
    5. 5. Data is not enough!
    6. 6. A SQUAT grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose- flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables. - Brave New World, Aldus Huxley
    7. 7. Data Experience Information WisdomKnowledge Universal Individual Global Local Personal Context Global Local Personal We need to move from data to wisdom
    8. 8. Transmedia storytelling is… …telling one or more related stories across two or more types of media
    9. 9. The use of transmedia storytelling is growing
    10. 10. Careful design is absolutely critical for effective transmedia stories
    11. 11. Worldbuilding is the process of creating a “universe” within which all your stories exist
    12. 12. J.R.R. Tolkien was a master worldbuilder
    13. 13. Story development often begins with characters and expands outward from there
    14. 14. Storyworld development begins with the world and multiple stories emerge from it
    15. 15. Worldbuilding involves three key design tasks: • Narrative design • Audience engagement design • User interaction design
    16. 16. Timelines are an effective tool for organizing storyworlds
    17. 17. Narrative Design
    18. 18. Narrative Design • Select genre
    19. 19. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise
    20. 20. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea
    21. 21. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea • Identify designing principle
    22. 22. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea • Identify designing principle • Identify central conflict
    23. 23. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea • Identify designing principle • Identify central conflict • Set storyworld timeframes
    24. 24. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea • Identify designing principle • Identify central conflict • Set storyworld timeframes • Create events
    25. 25. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea • Identify designing principle • Identify central conflict • Set storyworld timeframes • Create events • Create characters
    26. 26. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea • Identify designing principle • Identify central conflict • Set storyworld timeframes • Create events • Create characters • Create significant objects
    27. 27. Narrative Design • Select genre • Identify premise • Identify controlling idea • Identify designing principle • Identify central conflict • Set storyworld timeframes • Create events • Create characters • Create significant objects • Create settings
    28. 28. Settings in a storyworld are defined by: •Topos
    29. 29. Settings in a storyworld are defined by: •Topos •Demos
    30. 30. Settings in a storyworld are defined by: •Topos •Demos •Chronos
    31. 31. Layout the elements on the timeline for your storyworld
    32. 32. Many storyworlds are static and frozen in time… …when they should be alive and dynamic
    33. 33. “How do we get there from here?” “How did we get here from there?”
    34. 34. Stories emerge from the storyworld
    35. 35. Audience Engagement Design
    36. 36.  Story: A story emerges from the interrelationship of a storyworld’s existents, events, and settings. Audience Engagement Design • Identify desired audience action
    37. 37.  Story: A story emerges from the interrelationship of a storyworld’s existents, events, and settings. Audience Engagement Design • Identify desired audience action • Identify audience gratifications
    38. 38.  Story: A story emerges from the interrelationship of a storyworld’s existents, events, and settings. Audience Engagement Design • Identify desired audience action • Identify audience gratifications • Identify message(s)
    39. 39.  Story: A story emerges from the interrelationship of a storyworld’s existents, events, and settings. Audience Engagement Design • Identify desired audience action • Identify audience gratifications • Identify message(s) • Select message function/effect
    40. 40. Acquire Trigger Alter Reinforce Cognitive (What do you want them to know?) Affective (What do you want them to feel?) Physiological (What physical reaction do you want them to have?) Belief (What do you want them to believe?) Attitude (What attitude do you want them to display?) Behavior (How to you want them to behave?) Message Function/Effect Matrix
    41. 41.  Story: A story emerges from the interrelationship of a storyworld’s existents, events, and settings. Audience Engagement Design • Identify desired audience action • Identify audience gratifications • Create message(s) • Select message function/effect • Determine audience agency
    42. 42. User agency is the degree of control a user has over the storyworld
    43. 43. User Interaction Design
    44. 44. Mobile devices are well-suited for transmedia stories
    45. 45. User Interaction Design 1. Identify type(s) of participation
    46. 46. User Interaction Design 1. Identify type(s) of participation 2. Determine media platforms
    47. 47. User Interaction Design 1. Identify type(s) of participation 2. Determine media platforms 3. Determine storyworld entry points
    48. 48. User Interaction Design 1. Identify type(s) of participation 2. Determine media platforms 3. Determine storyworld entry points 4. Determine inter-story transfer points
    49. 49. User Interaction Design 1. Identify type(s) of participation 2. Determine media platforms 3. Determine storyworld entry points 4. Determine inter-story transfer points
    50. 50. User Interaction Design 1. Identify type(s) of participation 2. Determine media platforms 3. Determine storyworld entry points 4. Determine inter-story transfer points 5. Identify the calls-to-action
    51. 51. So where do we go with this?
    52. 52. Over his lifetime Miguel Santiago had watched the Gulf eat away his home. He was a BOI – born on the Island – as were his parents and grandparents. They were gone now…entombed in the family’s mausoleum which lay under the water that had taken everything from him.
    53. 53. Water filled his boots as Miguel walked through the empty streets. When he was a child the Gulf was 20 miles from downtown, a 30 minute car ride along I-45 South when traffic was good, an eternity when traffic was bad – as it usually was. Now the Gulf covered Louisiana Street and lapped at the foot of One Shell Plaza. Miguel walked in silence, determined to get as far as he could. He was determined to go home to Galveston.
    54. 54. The story is the most important element of transmedia storytelling

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