‘Romantic comedies like Universal Studios’ ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’ are staples of conventional cinema.
So why are there no participatory rom-coms?’
This is one of the questions that sit at the core of my research and has been raised at Jawbone.tv in their feature discussing participatory storytelling culture. ‘Participatory Storytelling – A Thousand Authors in Search of a Character’ focuses on a panel from Power To The Pixel 2009 with Martin Elricsson of The company P, Steve Peters of No Mimes Media and David Varela, Producer at nDreams.
David is a game producer and writer who has been involved in a series of projects, often finding them overlapping – cross media, radio, film & TV, theatre and print – and producer of Xi, the world’s first console-based Alternate Reality Game, created in the UK by nDreams.
David has worked on projects with Sony, Channel 4, Six to Start and BBC and states on his blog, “some stories work best when they come at the audience from different angles. By using multiple media, you can surprise people and give characters an added dimension. The audience can read characters’ thoughts, find out more about their past, discover secrets and even talk to them and shape the story. In short, the audience becomes more involved.”
At Power to the Pixel the question was raised about transmedia romantic comedies and David stated, “if you have a conspiracy thriller, there’s lots of room for speculation, but if it’s boy meets girl, there are only two outcomes: not there’s so much to talk about.” To which I remember a female audience member taking the mic and responding, “only a man would say that!”
Jawbone.tv believes that “for David Varela, the nature of the story is something inherent in the medium itself” and, whilst it caused some humour at PttP it made me question HOW romantic comedy might work transmedially.
I think what surprised me so much about David’s random ‘wild card’ comment was that it seemed an assumption that rom-coms are 2D stories – with a simple linear storyline of boy meets girl and they:
i) like each other, or
My previous novels have been marketed under the chicklit/rom com genre but touch on darker and real-life issues such as domestic violence/abuse partners in Class Act, polygamy in Look Before You Leap and alcoholism in Three of a Kind. To add to David’s comment, many women and men might suggest that the ‘dilemma’ of rom com/relationship stories begin ONLY when option i) ‘they like each other’ begins! The options for transmedia are huge in rom coms – and far from being 2D, I believe that the popularity of this genre is that their popularity is driven by the real life commentary, the emotional flow and connection. A key factor that I continually remind myself when writing is to make the reader want to move in, unpack their bags and be there – which, possibly, is the essence and beauty of a transmedia experience.
So I asked David to shed some further light on ‘that’ comment, which, he says, has plagued him ever since PttP. He stated,
“The limiting factors for transmedia in terms of genre are the profile of the audience and the ‘naturalness’ of the technology. Sci-fi and tech stories dominated in the first few years because using the Internet, GPS devices, QR codes etc. seemed natural only in a sci-fi world. But that is slowly changing. Email is an everyday part of many people’s lives, more and more people carry smartphones… These technologies are becoming a natural channel of communication for everyone, not just the hardcore early adopters. We’re all leading increasingly transmedia lives, which means transmedia stories are becoming increasingly realistic, not the stuff of fantasy. Many more people would sign up for a fictional Twitter feed now than they did in 2008, for example.
On Perplex City, we managed to get a 50/50 gender split in our players, which was pretty amazing for what might be considered a niche puzzle-based game. Very broadly – and here I’m veering into stereotypes, so there are always significant minorities that this won’t apply to – women were more interested in story while men were more interested in the games and puzzles.
A reluctance to participate isn’t just a gender issue. Of everyone playing any transmedia story I’ve been involved with, maybe 5% have become active participants rather than passive spectators. That makes it a numbers game. If you’re going to have a decent community of active participants, you need a big overall audience.”
Which is an insight that highlights David as the savvy transmedia storyteller that he is and offers far more weight to the suggestion that transmedia isn’t genre or platform-specific, on the condition that the strategy and devices are relevant to audience and story. On considering David’s findings that, generally, women seemed more interested in story whilst the men focussed more on the games and puzzles doesn’t mean that women don’t like quizzes or puzzles. On watching (OK – spying) on women shoppers in various GAME stores in London it is evident that the puzzle games are popular with women. Brooklyn-based digital agency Big Spaceship have used this simple ‘magazine-style quiz’ recently as they devised and produced ‘The Morgans Relationship Analyzer’ – a Facebook app designed to test the strength of your relationships to promote the movie for Sony Pictures.
As David Varela reiterated in our interview “There’s no reason why a good transmedia romcom shouldn’t attract a large audience – it’s one of the most popular genres in cinema and literature. I think the ubiquity of transmedia technology is reaching a point where it can be said to reach a similar audience to books and films (similar in profile if not quite in size).”
In researching the scope for romantic comedy and chick lit as transmedia experiences highlights that the genre isn’t the 2-Dimensional (boy meets girl… they hit it off…. or they don’t) genre that has sometimes been suggested in the past. Furthermore it is the 3-Dimensional genre that stands side-by-side with other best-selling genres.
The exciting fact is that storytelling and the entertainment industry is on the cusp of something new and exciting and it isn’t only about 3D special effects as in ‘Avatar’. Transmedia storytelling is about immersion, participation & experiences in an authored environment – with or without the 3D goggles.