1. Tangible Storytelling
+ Play + Learning
…blending the digital and physical worlds to
expand children’s transmedia experiences
Creative Director + Research Fellow
USC Annenberg Innovation Lab
2. I. Beginning with Transmedia Storytelling
I. The Flotsam Experiment
– expanding to Transmedia Play + Learning
III. Bridging the Physical and Digital Spaces
– Adding “tangibility” to Transmedia Play + Learning
IV. The Winklebeans Experiment
– Tangible Storytelling + Play + Learning
V. What’s Next…
16. Characteristics of Transmedia Play
1. Foster co-learning among children, peers,
parents, and other adults through joint media
2. Promote new approaches to reading across
3. Support constructivist learning goals.
17. Joint Media Engagement
involves mutual engagement—
meaning something in the
experience appeals to the diverse
1. Joint Media
2. New Approaches
21. New Approaches to Reading
learn to read both written and
multimedia texts broadly (across
multiple media) and deeply (digging
into details of the narrative).
1. Joint Media
24. Game Rules
1. Your piece of Flotsam must
cross the equator 3x to win the
2. You can use your Dare card (one
in the middle) if you get stuck in
3. If your opponent doesn’t accept
the Dare, then you have to do it
in order to get unstuck from the
“Eddy” …so choose Dares that
you’re willing to do too!
25. 1. Joint Media
2. New Approaches
emphasizes the active role of the
learner in creating knowledge by
working to make connections among
information in a specific context.
28. III. Bridging the Physical and Digital Spaces
– Exploring “tangibility” in Transmedia Play + Learning
Sesame Street isa prime example of transmedia storytelling. From the very start, Sesame Street encouraged its young fans to follow it across media platforms—from television to records, books, stuffed toys, public performances, feature films, and much more
The Monster at the End of the Book builds off what we know of Grover on television but it creates a new kind of experience that takes advantage of the distinctive affordances of the printed book, which is designed to be read aloud in the child’s bedroom or playroom.
The feature film Follow that Bird (1985) expands upon the time we get to spend with Big Bird while watching the television series in order to flesh out his backstory, situate him within a quest narrative, and suggest how much he means to the larger Sesame Street community.
Each of these texts contributes something to our knowledge of this fictional realm, and each takes advantage of those things their respective medium does best. By combining media with different affordances, we create a more layered entertainment experience.
Neither example builds on extensive narrative information that must be remembered across different texts—that would not necessarily be appropriate for younger viewers—but it does reward fans who apply what they learned in one context to each new appearance of the characters. Transmedia is a storyworld and characters evolve through various storylines
A good transmedia narrative, like Sesame Street, uses these various cross-platform extensions to expand the world, to extend the timeline, to deepen our familiarity with the characters (such as we see here with Grover across multiple media, and to increase our engagement.
We wanted to take these key characteristics of transmedia storytelling and expand them to play and learning.
So Flotsam was chosen because of its format—wordless picture book—and its content is rich with real-life and fantastic story prompts.
Book begins with a boy at the beach. He finds a camera that washes up on shore. Has the film developed and follows the stories that the pictures reveal.
Images in the book help to expand the world in a deeply engaging, and immersive way with multiple number of learning opportunities. Take for example this one of the starfish islands and the whales swimming below. Readers are left to their imaginations to question scale, big and small can be questioned and thought about by the reader.
“Extend the timeline” is also prominent with recursive photos of historical children from around the world that appear page after page after page …all the way back to the “original boy”. This leaves room for the reader to fill in the gaps for creatively reworking the images as a way of encourage curiosity and exploration of the children represented around the world
– Where do they come from?
-- Who are they?
-- How did they stumble upon this magical camera?
-- How would you as the reader play into this if you were to stumble upon the camera like these children?
And every turn of the page reveals new characters, like this family of Octupus who have just moved into their new home. This image and many others in Flotsam offer readers the opportunity to imagine aspects of these characters that are just below the surface and encourages young people to make these stories their own through their active imaginations. A child can see this image and relate it to their own family and meaningfully pretend what it would be like to be the adult role of the parent reading the children the bedtime story. What bedtime story would I share to my children?
What we found in looking at the Flotsam book is that at the surface, this was a beautiful wordless picture book, but throughout the printed pages were opportunities for a transmedia story – one that was ripe for experimentation and offered a world where children could not only explore fantastical worlds but their own backyards.
Not being limited to the page …beg for the reader to step outside and explore for themselves.
We know transmedia storytelling is already richly connected to children’s media. We wanted to go one step further with this research. Not only, did we want to extend this wordless picture book into a transmedia story that is a deeply engaging, immersive experience with multiple number of learning opportunities, but we also wanted to explore the new new logic of transmedia play.
Transmedia play has three key characteristics that are highly supportive of learning.
Carry this through Flotsam …in between each section for the 3 characteristics
Encourage Joint Media Engagement. First, Transmedia Play fosters co-learning among children, peers, parents, and other adults through joint media engagement. Joint media engagement involves mutual engagement—meaning something in the experience appeals to the diverse partners involved. One such characteristic of joint media engagement is dialogic inquiry— “collaborating with others to make meaning of situations” (p. 43) – Different points of view and participation, appropriate to their comprehension level and that maximize their enjoyment of the story with all parties involved.
Traditionally how wordless picture books are read
But often there are stories that are right behind the edges that with minor prompting could open the door to a child’s imagination and creativity.
Explain Story Prompts (2 kinds) -- Plot prompts vs story starters
And another characteristics of joint media engagement is co-creation —making media, physical artifacts, or shared understandings. With Flotsam transmedia play experiment, Children have the ability to add themselves to the story or use the built in Camera interface to add their own contributions, which can then be remixed with the original story in the creation station, allowing a child to co-author and personalize their reading experience.
NEED SCREEN SHOT OF SOMEONE’S FACE SUPERIMPOSED INTO THIS – WHAT IS THE OUTPUT OF THE CREATION STATION? CLOSE THE CONCEPTUAL LOOP
Most importantly what we learned from parents regarding their reading experiences with their children was the importance of changing moving away fro interactive books as apps to dbooks … It is important to think about technical constraints and creating a really meaningful experience rather than “kitchen sink” of digital media.
(Multiple options can be turned on at once.) This lets users focus on one or more features of the book at once—and, for teachers, allows them to use the book in an ELA class or for the science and social studies content.
Carry this through Flotsam …in between each section for the 3 characteristics
Another characteristic of transmedia play is to support new approaches to reading across media, helping children develop broad literacy skills necessary to navigate a media-saturated society.
Flotsam blends science fact and science fiction as a way to provoke curiosity. The team enhanced this element by layering an integrated science curriculum connected to the sea life and geography depicted in the book’s illustrations over the narrative through the Interactive map features.
This transmedia play characteristic, new approaches to reading across media, was further enabled through collectable explorer cards that were both digital and…
physical for use in an actual trading card game that had the children use math to play a game that metaphorically represented the oceans and had them physically up and moving as part of the game play.
Carry this through Flotsam …in between each section for the 3 characteristics
Third, Transmedia play involves exploration, experimentation, and remix, all activities that are firmly aligned with a constructivist approach to learning. To further shift away from cause and effect and often the limited scope of a child’s digital reading experience, we extended the play pattern within the Flotsam experiment to design ways to encourage a child to co-author and co-design in the reading experience beyond just co-creation.
One way we did this was to take the explorer kit in the printed book and expand it into a tool box for scientific inquiry in the reading experience. This tool box could be made digital and / or a physical one to accompany the digital experience and encouraged learners to explore their own worlds, construct understanding and draw complex connections between information, leading to learning that is deeply meaningful.
And the constructivist theory was further highlighted in the importance of experience and active participation in learning activities through our participatory design method we used in developing the Flotsam Transmedia Play experience. We saw first hand if our theories would work by collaborating with a 2nd grade class for a full year during the development of this experiment. We learned a great deal about participatory models of reading and how to improve the design and making of books as apps for children. But even in our efforts of truly blending the digital with physical play …we were limited.
Our best results was with the AR trading cards that when for example, the whale and squid trading card were brought together under the camera …one could see on the table how realistically they would have engaged in the depths of the ocean …or as one child in the focus group shared …”Look its Moby Dick fighting the Kracken!”
Often the two experiences were separate and we really wanted to more seamlessly blend the physical and digital spaces which brings us to the question – How can we explore “tangibility in Transmedia Play?
So let’s start with the definition for Tangible…
Disney Infinity is an example of a tangible game and is very good at pulling together the House of Mouse’s ever-growing library of characters into a sprawling, shared world. Not only that, but sales of over half a billion dollars in the core game and figurine sales have shown that kids want tangible play experiences
However, the notion of tangibility in the play experience is limited as they’re figurines rather than toys. Once you put the character on the portal to bring him into the game, little is done with the toy until you need to switch it out with another to further win the game. Furthermore, in observation of kids playing Infiniti, little interaction before or after happened, even with prompting to bring the Infiniti characters into playtime with other action figures.
So to move us to tangible play with our toys, we need consider affordances of tangibility that will change the story
Manipulability is where objects can be directly moved, changed or otherwise altered using one’s hands or other methods of physical interaction.
Osmo is a good example of manipulability. Two google engineers have recently created this mirror device that goes onto the webcam of an ipad. This mirror projects the play space in front of the iPad allowing People to play with Real Objects and foster creative thinking.
Lego Fusion is another camera driven manipulation. Here a child can manipulate lego pieces into a design and then integrate it into the story world through Augmented Reality.
But to really consider tangibility in Transmedia Play, we were Interested in how the artifact can drive the story. TOK is an experiment in a lab in portugal. TOK connects the tangible manipulation to story. The manipulation of tiles results in manipulation of story on the computer. We’re etting closer, but not there yet. Even in this example the artifacts are abstracted from the story.
Another affordance of Tangibility is physical connectivity - Objects or the child’s physical body can directly connect to, or otherwise interact with, the story, other objects or location.
A lot of people are thinking about near field communication, just being near something triggers a result, like you did with magic bands at Disney World. Wearables connect you to the physical space of a story but we’d like to think about physical connectivity as literally having the user touch and manipulate the object.
How do we connect the body space to the story world …wearable devices are exploding and it opens story possibilities to extend to our physical location, you are actively called upon to connect your being to make changes in the story, movement forward in the story. Disney Magic Bands (imagine how you can use this to shape and add story beyond the marketing opportunities with the magic band) …you know where the kid is in Disney World, and a character or a video pops up to further extend the story as the wait in line for the ride.
** Temporal …standing in line, know they have time to tell the story.
For example -- Playworld Systems new release of the Neos Playground is actually physically interacting with the space around you and touching the object ….combines the speed and fun of electronic games with the explosive movement of aerobic exercise to create the most exciting playground ever to hit your play space.
…could or could not be haptic (sense or feel)
What we think is really nailing it is ….Moff. This is a wearable smart toy that changes everything you hold into a toy leaving it open for the kids imagination to run wild and turn your entire hom into a new story playground. Kids can use their physical body and every day objects to be the wizard with his wand or the guitarist in the band.
Moff blends with our third affordance of tangibility as well. We define Performativity as Objects can literally become storytellers by using visual, auditory, or kinetic methods for the object to communicate with the play partner.
Remember the 1980’s toy Teddy Ruxpin -- The bear would move his mouth and eyes while "reading" stories which were played on an audio tape cassette deck built into his back. This is an early version of performativity. Whereas Teddy tells you the story,
Twinkles, Allows you to personalize and customize content to incorporate it into imaginative play
This toys is a Smart, Socially-enabled toy that connect with the phone network and invites families to stay connected by relaying sound, light and motion signals
However, the toy is an intermediary and not a storyteller.
The all new Furby Boom has a mind of its own and combines physical and digital ways to play! You can interact with your Furby Boom 1-on-1 to shape it’s personality. This toy has the level of performativity we’re going for but its not yet a storyteller. And it doesn’t allow for personalization.
This takes us to the Winklebeans experiment, a six week stint with this team here that we just completed in the lab. With this research, we focused on what can be done with physical objects (specifically tangible toys), and what unique participatory affordances these objects offer in storytelling, especially with regard to the key characteristics of transmedia play.
Winklebeans are hand crafted, American made, all natural wooden monsters with magnetic interchangeable pieces.
To get started, the card the comes with the toy provides simple instructions to put your Winklebean together and sync your tangible smart toy with the mobile app.
Take a 2nd shot of mobile app with Toag and pieces surrounding it
…to get started …use card, sync and begin the story with your WB
Let me show you a quick demo of how it works.
In the video, you can see that the Winklebean becomes the child’s play partner and encourage joint media engagement. To do this, we gutted the wooden WB and embedded sensors in each one of the magnets. We built in audio speaker with sd card and wifi that will connect to the WB’s home portal that transmits information between the toy, the sensors that allows for a multitude of responses and changes in the story and connects to the mobile app that is responsive to how the child interacts or doesn’t interact with the toy.
So in our project we’ve checked both of these boxes… Transmedia play has three key characteristics that are highly supportive of learning within a complex story world. And adding Tangibility bridges us closer to blending the physical and digital story, play and learning experiences.
But what’s next…. Examples of tangible products we’ve shown are of a specific brand or type of toy. Hyper-personalization and customization afforded through technology supports the rising DIY and maker space movement and could engage the audience further and potentially turn into another affordance of tangibility to further enhance the characteristics of transmedia play.
Remember the Creation Station in the Flotsam experiment… this is a way for the child to co-author and co-design along with the original story. A way to personalize the story and make it more relevant to their lives. Moving forward, we would like to dial up the level of creative participation with physical objects. One way to do that tangibly is with 3d printing.
And there is a rise of 3d printing. The DIY / Maker Movement is hot and allows for more people to customize their play experience not only in having a makerbot in your home (which is costly) but especially with consumer access growing through stores like Staples ….not only selling 3d printers but acting as service providers for people to go to staples and print off their imaginative creations.
One example is World of Warcraft partnering with Rockband for viewers to generate avatars from preset variables and then order a 3d printed model of your avatar… but though customization is present, it is constrained to the parts they offer to construct your avatar and personalization is limited.
A more free form and open concept of hyper personalization and customization is Childs Own…this take any free form drawing that a child has created and turn into a tangible play experience. A bespoke, made to order one off.. However this one here is $250 for a child’s toy and it has a limited audience due to the cost.
But how do we connect this DIY / 3d printing to storytelling… Here at the lab, we’ve done one experiment where the configuration of physical pieces triggers a story component of Sleepy Hollow using AR. It’s cool but it too doesn’t use tangibility to directly impact the story itself, rather it just links to additional digital assets and it doesn’t allow for audience participation and creativity.
So imagine how WB can really create a paradigm shift in play where the child has as much freedom to change the story as the original author. The child becomes the storyteller. Your creation moves beyond the digital space by connecting 3d printing to the magnetic elements of the WB tribe of characters. This allows a child to create their own WB through making their own 3d printed elements or mixing and matching from the 6 of the original tribe. This mix and match and co-creation allows the child to add additional tribe members to the story that can then be integrated back into the data driven story.
Need landscape image of WB
Add contact information …next steps …twitter, email, phone etc
WB Ta Da image!!
Now imagine how we bring these ideas into our experiments.
MAP IMAGE -- Passive / Active GPS allows the story to be placed in any location by pulling from the child’s place and offers hyper-personalization… based story unlock as well as AR opportunities (which have been done in the past and hence why we didn’t focus yet on that in our prototype)
Now talk about what’s next…
And how it ties into the big vision and the fundraise.
heres what we could do
other use spaces
Sharing for endless data driven story
Different types of connections:
Mix and Make