Platform Atheism

When I was a kid, I saved up a lot of money to buy a crappy Samsung handheld camcorder with which to shoot my high school movies. The battery barely ever worked. The onboard mic sounded like it was caught in a rainstorm. The video screen gave everything a greenish tint. The final product always came out looking like some Indonesian Soap Opera due to the frame rate.

boom_mike…as well as my storytelling sensibilities at the time.

My new Samsung Galaxy S6 can do the following things:

  • Play video games (just downloaded Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
  • Shoot movies and films
  • Play/download music
  • Control a GoPro
  • Record sound
  • Edit together visual and audio media
  • Save things automatically to the cloud.
  • Display directly to my television or computer
  • Schedule my air conditioning cycle

external_heat_pumpYou can tell where my priorities lie.

In short, it’s a one-stop-shop for all things entertainment and/or comfort related. A smartphone allows anybody with an internet connection to create content that can reach billions of people. That this has happened alongside the rise of the YouTube celebrity is not a coincidence: people are seeing themselves in the PewDiePie’s of the world because the set-ups are almost exactly the same. Quality means less than the expression of ideas.

Some people would say that this is platform agnostic-ism taken to the consumer extreme. That is, it ignores the platforms for which elements of media and temperature control were created. Software integration is so widespread, now, that anything from a Keurig to a music editing suite can talk to one another. Developers have designed code that runs equally well across multiple distribution channels so that the consumer can access it regardless of their preferred device.

This is just the beginning, though, because of that last issue of preference. Some human beings will always prefer their films on the big screen. Some will always want to game with a keyboard and mouse. Some will always want their books made from pulped wood. These are not just people who grew up with that method of media delivery: Urban Outfitters is the number 1 venue for vinyl in the world, and I doubt their target demographic is aging music lovers.

Of course, most people aren’t lovers of all media. We are alternately film buffs, hip-hop heads, cookbook collectors, and air conditioner . Most of the time, however, we want to be entertained, and if we are not an aficionado of a particular artform, we’re okay with basic service, so long as it has decent quality.

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Hulu HD? Not sure I need that for The Bachelor.

This also has an effect on our buying habits. Why spend $21.99 on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo of Monsters University unless we’re desperate to complete our John Goodman voice-over collection? We all know consumers are switching over from physical goods ownership to subscription-based models. This is a solid play for the average audience member and for producers of content: the former pays less for more content, while the second gets a steady stream of income.

Meanwhile, producers of traditional media are getting back to the roots and language of what made their platform unique in the first place… even if the old platforms are having to adjust. Radio channels are struggling, but radio dramas are hotter now than they’ve been since the 50s. Movie theaters are having to justify $20 ticket prices with spectacle… or they’re going the customer-first route by providing higher quality food and beverages in order to make the evening a “night out.” Comic books are reaching out to audiences that have traditionally been underserved, while the split between Indie Games and AAA-titles grows ever larger by the day.

Some people bemoan this split. Somehow, they argue, we’re losing out on the magic of a certain kind of mass experience while shackling ourselves to contracts that sell our information to third-parties via EULA’s. There’s definitely an element to consumerism and corporatism there that is too deep for this particular essay to handle, but I think if we put aside the “ownership v. leasing” argument for the moment, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For less than $30 a month, people can get a Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime membership: all the couch potato fertilizer you could ever want. This model is forcing producers to compete, to produce better ideas. Some of us want spectacle, but most of us want fun, regardless of how we get it.

Our phones are leading the way, but soon, even that delineation is going to fade. What makes a phone a phone except it’s ability to call? My computer does that. When I can fling from my iPhone to my Mac to my Apple TV to my tablet, the distinction is largely academic.

Modern consumers want experiential entertainment rather than ownership. This generation is loaded with debt; we’re shifting our priorities to accommodate this. We are buying fewer cars, houses, and extraneous “stuff.” We’re buying more trips, time shares, and entertainment packages. We want something that speaks to our ideas, and when we find something we love, we’re willing to go the extra mile to hold it in our hands. Otherwise, a screen–any screen–will do.

We don’t believe in platforms because, ultimately, they don’t affect us unless we choose to allow them that access. We have agency in our choice of media. We control how we want to participate. So, for the most part, we are platform atheists.

acfujitsu

Except when it comes to climate control. That platform is immutable.

Leave the Door Open

Did you watch that? Not only does it (thankfully) conclude my three-part sojourn into the realm of horror, but it showcases how seeds turn into oaks… or rather, alien skulls into crossover franchises. That forty-second clip created a host of novels, comic books, films. I’m not going to pass judgment on the quality of all of those. But hey: for less than a minute worth of cinema, that’s a lot of quality spin-off content.

I’m not saying we should all ape Predator 2 (though, truthfully, it’s not half-bad for a sequel) but here are lessons to be learned from that one segment. What started as an easter egg in that film turned two franchises into one. Does your work have such open nodes to extend your content? I’m not talking about cliffhangers or branching storypoints. I’m talking about those throwaway, cast-off, blink-and-you’ll miss it points that expand the universe in ways you couldn’t possibly perceive. Well, that is, you can’t perceive them, but fans? If you leave room for their questions–if you open the door to their imaginations–they’ll clamor for more.

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The Problem with Horror

Clients come to me and Starlight Runner all the time with problems regarding their horror franchise. It used to connect with audiences, so why isn’t it doing so now? Why is the main character so popular but the series dragging? Why can’t we seem to re-invigorate the story world? It’s a constant refrain, one that provides no easy answer. At the base of things, transmedia has a problem depicting horror.

This isn’t for lack of effort or appreciation. Hell, I love horror. I just want to make that absolutely clear from the beginning. The Thing is one of my favorite films ever, as are 28 Days Later, The Exorcist, Evil Dead, and too many others to mention. Cthulhu-style insanity-terror creeps under my skin and refuses to let go. I’m even working on a horror project myself, so feel free to hold my feet to the fire when it comes out. Understand that my discussion below is not meant to be a criticism of the form. There’s nothing wrong with horror as a genre.

Unless you happen to be a premarital-sex-loving, pot-smoking teenager who works at a summer camp. 

Unless you happen to be a premarital-sex-loving, pot-smoking teenager who works at a summer camp.

What I’m going to talk about here is why horror doesn’t always translate in a transmedia sense, both from a franchise perspective and as a stand-alone story across multiple media platforms. Characters from horror? They thrive in popular culture long after their initial depiction. Creators of horror? They can be rock gods. But long-form series? Those are much rarer in the grand scheme of things, and those that exist tend to tone down their straight-up scares fairly quickly or go straight for camp.

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A Very Steele Look at Aliens and Isolation

When last we met (many, many moons ago), our talk about passive and active media led to quite a lot of attention. I got record-high viewership totals. My blog got bandied about on the interwebz like a rain-slicked football at a Pop Warner football game. For a split second, I even began to trend. It was heady to receive this attention, and it brought in a lot of work, hence my absence on ye ol’ blogosphere.

But enough about me. Well, no… keep it up with the laudations…

But enough about me. Well, no… keep it up with the laudations…

I did receive a few questions about it all, naturally. People were genuinely interested in talking about some of the more detailed aspects of my missive, which generally fell into the following categories.

  • Can you talk about the franchises you worked on in the past? Alas no.
  • Will you give me writing lessons? If you’re willing to pay.
  • Are you trying to imitate Abe Lincoln? You tell me.

AbeLincoln

So I decided to give you guys a peek into what I mean about the usage of storytelling between platforms. Let’s look at this from a franchise perspective so that the themes are congruent, the characters are similar, and it’s reasonably well known enough for a broad audience to understand.

I’ll save my Farscape fanfiction for another day.

I’ll save my Farscape fanfiction for another day.

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Passive Media, Active Media, and The Five Building Blocks of Every Good Story

A key feature in any transmedia roll-out is the ability to utilize each medium’s core strengths. A campaign tries not to reiterate the same story over and over again not just because it’s boring and not just because you want to reach new fans, but because, say, a story that’s best told in film doesn’t necessarily translate well to the video game environment, or vice versa.

Sounds simple, yet you’d be surprised by the amount of people who don’t understand this concept.

Sounds simple, yet you’d be surprised by the amount of people who don’t understand this concept.

This can be intimidating to the media fledgling. A producer has to oversee an entire array of platforms and content creators in order to establish a coherent and profitable story world. That requires connections, of course, but also an often intimidating amount of knowledge of production across a wide variety of distribution points. Does he or she really need to understand how every media works in order to create a great roll-out strategy?

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Be Users, Not Consumers

People always complain about the youngest generation, but I actually love the Pluralists. These are the kids who were born near or after 2001, the peeps who have never known a world without the internet, who have grown up post-9/11, who have the information of our entire history at their fingertips.

When they’re not posting image macros, that is.

When they’re not posting image macros, that is.

I mean, let’s just look at the Pluralists as a whole. They:

  • Are the most published generation in history
  • Follow the breadcrumbs laid out to them by companies and their peers
  • Reward authenticity and quality above all
  • Have grown up in a multimedia atmosphere
  • Understand how to utilize interactivity, intuitively
  • Celebrate an infinite amount of diversity

That’s a pretty accomplished list for me! There’s just one small issue…

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The Importance of Memetics

Memes are ideas, behaviors, styles, or usages that spreads from person to person within a culture. Some of you already know this. Some of you are thinking about Advice Animal macros. Others are new to the concept. Bear with me, all. It’s important, because memes are the core of every brand, and thus, at the core of every narrative.

What is a story but a shared idea about how the world works, after all? I have an experience that I share with a friend because it highlights an analogy I am trying to make. He retorts with a story of his own that is contrary or complementary. If one is better than the other, both change to reflect this. If not, or if the ideas are badly stated or too deeply entrenched to be affected, you have reached a sort of equilibrium state. Both co-exist, even if they are mutually exclusive. In both cases, the participants in the story have tried to express themselves in a way that crosses the gulf of humanity. It is hard enough being human without also having to be alone.

What happens when that isn’t enough, though? What if somebody is trying to change a culture?

Or sell a product?

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