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From Storytelling to Story-playing
Intertextuality and Contexts of Production in Game Adaptation

This paper proposal is based on a study of game production in the context of cross-media strategies, and follows the adaptation journey of the Muddle Earth IP from a children’s book, into a BBC TV series, and finally into a game.

The research looks at the text and its production, drawing on empirical data from game-playing, interviews with producers and the analysis of design and production documents.

Game adaptations of narratives from other media are based not just hypertextually on their source texts, but also intertextually on other games and games conventions. Besides textual influences, game adaptations are also strongly shaped by ‘extratextual’ conditions of production (budgets, technology, editorial guidelines), all of which influence the ways in which game adaptations translate existing narratives.

The paper explores how storytelling devices in games both remediate older forms of media, but also create new ways of telling (or playing) stories. In this process, different source narrative elements are reused, enhanced or discarded – and mixed with ludic elements – through decisions shaped by commercial, editorial and other criteria, which ultimately define the final game text.

Steering away from outdated notions of ‘fidelity’ in adaptation studies, the paper proposes the concept of ‘brand consistency’ as an essential requirement of cross-media strategies, to achieve seamless audience experiences and maximize IP audiences across media.

The theoretical framework is derived from game studies, adaptation studies, intertextuality theory, narrative theory, and political economy.

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  2. 2. Hi  everyone,  hope  you’re  enjoying  the  conference   I’ll  start  by  quickly  give  you  some  context  to  my  presenta=on   I  work  as  a  Games  &  Transmedia  Strategist  for  Dubit,  a  digital  entertainment   studio  and  research  agency   My  role  creates  a  bridge  between  the  RESEARCH  and  GAME  DEVELOPMENT   teams   One  day  I’m  doing  games  tes=ng,  next  day  I’ll  be  working  on  game  design  or   involving  audiences  in  media  co-­‐crea=on  approaches   Oh  yeah,  and  I  get  to  play  a  few  games…   2
  3. 3. Last  year  I  wrote  a  MASTERS  thesis  based  on  a  game  produced  for  the  BBC   This  game  was  MUDDLE  EARTH  –  a  casual  quest-­‐based  virtual  world  aimed  at   children  –  developed  by  Dubit,  for  whom  I  work   This  presenta=on  is  based  on  the  study  of  this  game   3
  4. 4. This  was  essen=ally  a  study  of  game  produc=on,  and  followed  the  adapta=on   journey  of  the  Muddle  Earth  IP  from  a  children’s  book,  into  a  BBC  TV  series,   and  finally  into  a  game.  As  both  game  development  professional  and  academic   researcher  I  wanted  to  explore  how  games  research  could  contribute  to  game   produc=on  and  to  the  design  of  beVer  games.     The  main  objec=ves  of  this  study  were  to  understand  the  processes  of   adapta=on  from  other  media  into  games,  in  the  context  of  cross-­‐media   strategies;  and  par=cularly  explore  what  happens  to  narra=ve  in  its  journey   from  paper  to  screens  to  games.  How  it’s  con=nued,  how  it  is  transformed,   how  it  is  integrated  into  ludic  structures  by  inspiring  game  mechanics…   4
  5. 5. •  Johnson’s  circuit  of  culture  proposes  four  main  interac=ng  areas  for  media   studies  –  the  best  way  to  understand  a  text  is  to  cover  all  areas   •  Most  Game  Studies  have  typically  focused  on  textual analysis and player studies •  But  produc=on  has  oZen  been  overlooked  –  frequently  due  to  a  lack  of   coopera=on  between  game  producers  and  game  academics   5
  6. 6. I  was  really  happy  when  I  read  the  CfP  for  this  conference,  whose  objec=ves   were  to:   •  trace  connec=ons  between  the  narra=ves  of  contemporary  screen  media   and  their  contexts  of  produc=on   •  explore  ways  in  which  stories  and  their  on-­‐screen  telling  are  informed  by   contemporary  industrial  and  technological  condi=ons   6
  7. 7. The  body  of  academic  research  on  adapta=on  of  texts  from  other  media  into   games  and  vice-­‐versa  is  s=ll  modest.   Empirical  studies  of  games  as  adapta=ons,  where  researchers  interview   producers  and  have  access  to  design  and  produc=on  documents  are  even   rarer.   But  in  order  to  study  media  texts  it  is  essen=al  to  understand  their  contexts  of   produc=on.   7
  8. 8. The  research  looks  at  the  text  and  its  production,  drawing   on:   •  empirical  data  from  game-­‐playing   •  interviews  with  producers   •  the  analysis  of  design  and  production  documents  and   conversations  –  had  access  to  the  project  hub   8
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  10. 10. The  usefulness  of  narra-ve  theory   •  In  a  recent  ar=cle  in  Gamasutra,  a  game  cri=c  defended  that  only  20%  of  games   should  tell  stories  –  I  don’t  want  to  get  into  the  ludology  vs.  narratology  debate,   but  even  though  computer  games  are  indeed  games,  many  of  them  do  try  to  tell   stories  too  –  especially  when  they  are  adapta=ons  of  exis=ng  stories  or  part  of   wider  transmedia  IPs  where  narra=ve  is  important   •  Krzynskwa:  narra=ve  theory  useful  –  in  this  case  to  understand  how  transla=on   into  a  different  medium  transforms  the  narra=ve       10
  11. 11. The  process  of  adapta=on  is  analysed  with  a  special  focus  on  the  ways  in  which   the  hypotext  narra=ve  underwent  modifica=ons  at  the  levels  of  character   traits  and  func=ons,  plot  structure  and  effects  (humour).     11
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  21. 21. The  TV  series   •  Previous  adapta=on  –  Jackanory  -­‐  virtually  a  transcrip=on  onto  TV  –   human  narrator  telling  the  story  with  CGI  characters  –  high  fidelity  to   the  book   •  This  version  of  Muddle  Earth  was  not  described  as  an  adapta=on,  but   instead  as  a  cartoon  ‘based  on’  the  book   •  The  objec=ve  here  is  to  describe  the  main  transforma=ons  and   factors  behind  these   21
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  32. 32. About  Games   •  A  computer  game  is  a  game,  so  it’s  obvious  that  there  is  a  ludic   dimension  in  the  ME  game  –  goals,  resources,  skill,  scores,  and  so  on   •  And  because  it  is  an  online  mul--­‐player  game  where  you  can  see  and   contact  other  people,  is  clearly  a  social  dimension  to  playing  –  of  the   player  opts  to  be  ‘social’   •  Narra-ve  is  an  important  link  with  original  IP  –  narra=ves  acquire   heightened  importance  in  contemporary  transmedia  contexts  –  I’m   not  saying  narrar=ve  is  the  most  important  dimension  (aZer  all   games  are  games),  but  one  that  deserves  aVen=on   •  Narra=ve  in  games  –  especially  authored  narra=ve  -­‐  is  situated  at  the   intersec=on  of  mainly  the  ludic  and  representa=onal  dimensions  –   games  tell  stories  by  being  played  –  in  games  we  move  from  story-­‐ telling  to  a  mix  of  story-­‐telling  and  STORY-­‐PLAYING   •  LET’S  THEN  SEE  WHAT  HAPPENED  TO  THE  ME  NARRATIVE  IN  THE   GAME  –  HOW  IT  CONTINUED  AND  CHANGED  FROM  ITS  SOURCE   TEXTS     32
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  42. 42. •  Game  adaptations  of  narratives  from  other  media  are  based  not   just  hypertextually  on  their  source  texts   •  but  also  intertextually  on  other  games  and  games  conventions,   on  technological  resources  and  constraints   •  Besides  textual  inAluences,  game  adaptations  are  also    strongly   shaped  by  ‘extratextual’  conditions  of  production  (budgets,   technology,  editorial  guidelines,  established  industrial  practices   and  perceptions  /  conceptions  of  target  audiences.),  all  of  which   inAluence  the  ways  in  which  game  adaptations  translate  existing   narratives.   •  I’d  like  to  propose  the  term  EXTRATEXTUALITY  to  encompass   the  analysis  of  this  type  of  factors  –  the  non-­‐textual  inAluences  on   the  text   42
  43. 43. This  diagram  provides  grater  detail  on  the  series  of  intertextual  and  extratextual   factors  that  influenced  the  produc=on  of  the  ME  game     •  In  the  whole  process  Brand  consistency  was  essen=al  to  maximise  benefits  of   cross-­‐media  and  transmedia  IPs  –  seamless  consump=on,  meet  audience   expecta=ons:  readers,  TV  watchers  –  and  gamers!   •  Which  means  that  it  is  essen=al  to  keep  a  good  level  of  consistency  with  the   source  texts  and  their  narra=ve  in  a  transmedia  context  –  this  does  not  mean   pure  fidelity,  but  adop=ng  a  good  level  of  brand  consistency,  and  using  the   source  narra=ve  as  inspira=on  for  narra=ve  as  well  as  ludic  structures  in  the   game   •  How  do  we  define  ‘good  consistency’  is  another  ques=on  –  one  for  my  next   project  looking  at  how  we  can  involve  audiences  in  the  design  of  game   adapta=ons  and  as  part  of  wider  transmedia  stories   43
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