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T is for Transmedia: Learning through Transmedia Play

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In recent years, transmedia has come into the spotlight among those creating and using media and technology for children. We believe that transmedia has the potential to be a valuable tool for expanded learning that addresses some of the challenges facing children growing up in the digital age. Produced by the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, this paper provides a much-needed guidebook to transmedia in the lives of children age 5-11 and its applications to storytelling, play, and learning. Building off of a review of the existing popular and scholarly literature about transmedia and children, this report identifies key links between transmedia and learning, highlights key characteristics of transmedia play, and presents core principles for and extended case studies of meaningful transmedia play experiences. The authors hope that T is for Transmedia will incite conversation among diverse stakeholders including educators, entertainment industry executives, creative artists, academic scholars, policy makers, and others interested in the future of children's learning through transmedia.

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T is for Transmedia: Learning through Transmedia Play

  1. 1. Table of ContentsExecutive Summary 1Introduction 4Learning through Transmedia Play 10 Why transmedia and learning? 11 Origins of Transmedia: Key terms and logics 13 Transmedia logics 14 Transmedia for children 15Ready to Learn Transmedia Initiative 17Thinking Seriously about Transmedia Play 19 Transmedia play can promote new approaches to reading 19 Transmedia play can encourage learning through joint media engagement 21 Transmedia play can support constructivist learning goals 22Learning to Play with Information 23Building Transmedia Play Experiences 28Examples of Transmedia Play 34 Case 1: Caine’s Arcade 34 Case 2: Story Pirates 39 Case 3: Flotsam Transmedia Experience 43Future Directions for Research and Development 49References 51
  2. 2. Executive SummaryWithin the context of a media saturated, hyper-connected, no storyline, such as open-ended videogames. Our explora-and rapidly changing world, the concept of “transmedia” tion of transmedia play and its relationships to learning inhas come into the spotlight among those creating and using middle childhood is important and timely as more mediamedia and technology for and with children. Transmedia, producers consider ways to incorporate transmedia intoby itself, means “across media” and describes any combina- their creations and as educators increasingly look to newtion of relationships that might exist between the various media as a site for expanded and enhanced learning oppor-texts (analog or digital) that constitute a contemporary tunities.entertainment media experience. In recent years, the textsand practices associated with transmedia have developed Some transmedia experiences for children are designedthrough active conversations among fan communities, cre- with learning objectives in mind; for others, learning is notative artists, entertainment industry executives, academic an explicit goal. However, even without overt “educationalscholars, policy makers, and others interested in the future content,” transmedia offers numerous opportunities forof entertainment and storytelling. learning. The complex, interconnected, and dynamic narra- tives and vibrant story worlds characteristic of transmediaIn this report, we focus on transmedia in the lives of chil- provide fertile sites for children to explore, experiment, anddren aged aged 5 to 11 and its applications to storytelling, oftentimes contribute as story worlds unfold across media.play, and learning. As educators, researchers, and designers, The multi-modal, multi-sited nature of many transmediawe are interested in the ways in which transmedia can be productions challenge children to use varied textual, visual,a resource for learning through participation, experimenta- and media literacy skills to decode and remix media ele-tion, expression—and, in particular, through play. We will ments. In these ways, the active, ongoing, creative engage-discuss both transmedia storytelling and transmedia play, a ment with complex stories required of participants in arelated but distinct concept from transmedia storytelling in transmedia play experience stands in contrast to the rou-that it involves experimentation with and participation in a tine, decontextualized learning that, unfortunately, all tootransmedia experience, but also applies to media that has often characterizes children’s experiences in school. 1
  3. 3. Transmedia, done well, can contribute to an immersive, re- In order to take part in a transmedia playsponsive, learner-centered learning environment rich with experience, children must learn to read bothinformation and linked to children’s existing knowledge and written and multimedia texts broadly (acrossexperiences. It can build upon what children already know multiple media) and deeply (digging into detailsabout playing games, telling stories, and sharing media. of the narrative). This kind of reading has beenWhile transmedia does not have to privilege new media described as “transmedia navigation” or “thetechnologies, leveraging new media in creative and acces- ability to follow the flow of stories and informationsible ways in order to facilitate sharing and communication across multiple modalities” within the contextamong participants or to provide frequent and personalized of the new media literacies (Jenkins, Clinton,formative feedback can be valuable for enhancing the learn- Purushotma, Robinson, & Weigel, 2006, p. 4).ing environment. • Transmedia play can encourage learning through joint media engagement.Learning with TransmediaWe believe that transmedia has the potential to be a valu- The complex narratives, rich worlds, and multipleable tool for expanded learning that addresses some of the points of entry characteristic of transmediamost pressing challenges facing education today. Through experiences can provide opportunities forimmersive, interconnected, and dynamic narratives, trans- families to experience transmedia together.media engages multiple literacies, including textual, visual,and media literacies, as well as multiple intelligences. It • Transmedia play can support constructivistis highly engaging and allows for important social sharing learning goals.among collaborators. Transmedia play involves exploration,In reviewing numerous children’s media properties and the experimentation, and remix, all activities firmlyexisting popular and scholarly literature about transmedia aligned with a constructivist approach to learningand children, we have identified the following key links be- (e.g. Bruner, 1990; Piaget, 1985; Vygotsky, 1978)tween transmedia and learning: that emphasizes the active role of the learner in creating knowledge by working to make • Transmedia play can promote new approaches connections among information in a specific to reading. context. 2
  4. 4. Characteristics of Transmedia Play Building Transmedia Play ExperiencesWe highlight five characteristics of transmedia play that We present three core principles for building transmediamake it useful for learning: play experiences: • Resourceful: The ability to act with/react to 1. Play Partners: Relationships between producers diverse, challenging situations by thinking and audiences; conditions for people engaging in creatively about solutions that leverage any and transmedia play together all available tools and materials 2. Places to Play: Metaphorically, meaning places • Social: Conversing with others who may be co- within a transmedia “universe”; and physically, located or linked through media/technology, as in the environments within which children the case of social media or virtual worlds participate in transmedia play • Mobile: Use of mobile technologies, movement 3. Paradigm-shifting Play: Modifying pre-existing between platforms/media, and causing concepts and routines to maximize the lasting movement within media themselves positive impact of children’s transmedia play • Accessible: The ability to jump in from a variety of starting points and define a trajectory that takes into account people’s own unique contexts and We offer three extended examples of transmedia play expe- types of access riences that support these core principles: the emergence of Caine’s Arcade, the work of the Story Pirates, and the • Replayable: Enticing people to revisit, explore, Flotsam Transmedia Experience. and investigate rich worlds so intensive that they require multiple “visits” 3
  5. 5. Introductionby Henry JenkinsThere is a monster at the end of this report (well, maybe such a powerful learning system. In a 2007 online poll, thethere is, but you won’t know for sure until you turn all of American Education Association voted The Monster at thethe pages and read what we have to say). End of this Book onto a list of “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” A few years later, the School Library Journal gaveBut, it is telling that most of you probably recognize this it a prominent spot on its list of the Top 100 picture books.phrase as a reference to a classic children’s book, written byJon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollen, released in 1971just a few years after Sesame Street debuted on PBS, and“starring lovable, furry old Grover.” Much has been made ofthe ways that Sesame Street reinvented children’s televi-sion, embracing rather than running away from the proper-ties of its medium, incorporating tricks from advertising,parodies of popular culture, songs and skits, into somethingwhich encouraged the active engagement of its youngviewers. Yet, far less has been made of the fact that SesameStreet from the very start encouraged its young fans tofollow it across media platforms—from television to re-cords, books, stuffed toys, public performances, featurefilms, and much more. Certainly, the then-Children’s Televi-sion Workshop’s steps in that direction were cautious, giventhe anxieties many parents have about the commercializa-tion of children’s culture. But, over time, much of theAmerican public came to embrace those experiments intransmedia storytelling as part of what made Sesame Street image credit: Sesame Workshop 4
  6. 6. Part of what makes The Monster at the End of this Book so not want to exclude adults from the fun—reading books to-compelling is that it is as reflexive about the nature of the gether across generations is perhaps the most powerful wayprinted book as a medium as Sesame Street was about our to foster a deeper appreciation of the pleasures of reading.experiences of watching and learning from television. Read- But, Sesame Street has always understood that children doing this book becomes a kind of play as children scream not enjoy equal opportunities to learn. Some children arewith a mixture of fear and delight as we turn each page, left on their own while their parents work long hours. Somewondering when the scary monster is going to appear, only parents do not have good models for active reading withto discover that it is “lovable furry old Grover” who is the their children and look for prompts that might allow themmonster we warmly welcome at the end of the book. Gro- to learn how to play and perform and speculate around thever tries to do everything he can to block us from turning printed page. The experience of an e-book version of Thethe pages, from tying knots to constructing brick walls, from Monster at the End of this Book will ideally supplement andbegging to haranguing us, yet the desire to read overcomes scaffold the experience of reading the traditional pictureall of the walls he might try to erect. The children’s book book, not replace it, but it also adds a new layer to the everhas long been a site for domestic performance, as parents expanding “supersystem” which constitutes the world ofand children alike try out different voices, make sound ef- Sesame Street. So does The Putamayo Kids Presents Sesamefects, and respond with mock emotions, to the pictures on Street Playground, a CD/DVD set which shares with childrenthe page. songs from the many versions of the program which have been localized to languages and cultures around the world,This book had effects that go beyond the printed page: and video clips featuring the original casts in India, Mexico,Grover emerged as an early fan favorite on Sesame Street Russia, or South Africa. And Sesame Street, the longestas his personality took shape across platforms. When young street in the world, just keeps growing.people pick up The Monster at the End of this Book, theyalready know who Grover is, they know his back story, they Today, we might describe Sesame Street as a transmediaunderstand his motivations, they identify with what he is experience—that concept did not exist in 1971 when Thefeeling, and as a result, there is an immediacy about our Monster at the End of this Book was first published. Trans-experience of this book. media is an idea that has come into sharper focus over the past decade, having emerged from active conversations be-Predictably enough, The Monster at the End of this Book tween academic researchers, creative artists, policy makers,has in recent years evolved into a digital book, an interac- fan communities, anyone and everyone interested in thetive experience children have on their iPad. We certainly do 5
  7. 7. future of entertainment and storytelling. Transmedia, by suggest how much he means to the larger Sesame Streetitself, means “across media” and it describes any number of community. Neither example builds on extensive narra-possible relationships that might exist between the various tive information that must be remembered across differ-texts that constitute a contemporary entertainment fran- ent texts—that would not necessarily be appropriate forchise. Marsha Kinder (1991), a media scholar who has writ- younger viewers—but it does reward fans who apply whatten extensively about children’s media, coined the term, they learned in one context to each new appearance of the“transmedia,” to refer to the “entertainment supersystem” characters.which had emerged around charac-ters such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja In a hunting society, children learn by Each of these texts contributesTurtles, the Muppet Babies, or the playing with bows and arrows. In an something to our knowledge ofSuper Mario Brothers, as personali- this fictional realm, and each takesties and characters that move across information society, they learn to play advantage of those things theirmedia platforms, encouraging their with information. respective medium does best. Wefans to follow them wherever they want the depiction of Oscar orappeared. In my own work (Jenkins, 2006), I extended her Cookie Monster or the Count in a Sesame Street game toconcept to talk about transmedia storytelling, which refers be consistent with what we see on television, but we alsoto the systematic unfolding of elements of a story world want the game to provide us with an interactive experienceacross multiple media platforms, with each platform mak- that is only possible in digital media. By combining mediaing a unique and original contribution to the experience as with different affordances, we create a more layered enter-a whole. tainment experience. Or at least, that’s the theory. A good transmedia narrative uses these various cross-platformThe Monster at the End of the Book builds off what we know extensions to flesh out the world, to extend the timeline, toof Grover on television but it creates a new kind of experi- deepen our familiarity with the characters, and to increaseence that takes advantage of the distinctive affordances of our engagement.the printed book, which is designed to be read aloud in thechild’s bedroom or playroom. The feature film Follow that With an educational property like Sesame Street, transme-Bird (1985) expands upon the time we get to spend with Big dia does something else—it reinforces the learning both byBird while watching the television series in order to flesh encouraging us to reread and re-experience a particularlyout his backstory, situate him within a quest narrative, and pleasurable narrative (something, as we all know, kids are often inclined to do with little or no adult encouragement) 6
  8. 8. and readers are invited to connect together pieces of infor- the sea, the universe beyond the Earth, the ancient world,mation across multiple installments. In his book, The Tip- the people who live on the other side of the planet—whichping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000) describes the original are central to our desired curriculum. Perhaps, the best waySesame Street as “sticky,” suggesting that young people be- to learn about them is to explore their stories, their envi-come so drawn to its vivid characters that they keep coming ronments, across media platforms, much as we acquire aback for more and in the process, these repeated encoun- deeper affection for Grover through repeated encounters.ters reinforce what they learn from its curricular design. Like any other kind of storytelling, transmedia is somethingTransmedia encourages additive comprehension. We learn that can be done well or badly. You can be attentive to thesomething new as we follow the story across media. This possibilities of expanding a story in new directions or youdistinguishes it from cross-media, which refers to the use of can simply slap a logo on something and pretend like it’sthese other media platforms as simple delivery mechanisms part of the same franchise. Transmedia can be enriching orfor the same old content. If we watch Sesame Street online exploitative, can be motivated by the crudest of economicor on a DVD and change nothing else about the content, motives or shaped by the most cutting edge learning sci-that’s cross-media. We might also distinguish transmedia ence. But, when transmedia is done well, it creates a deeplyfrom multimedia. Multimedia might use multiple kinds engaging, immersive experience, which multiplies the num-of media—words, pictures, sounds, videos—which are ber of learning opportunities.brought together in a single package: in the old days, theremight be a CD-ROM developed around Sesame Street, Young people do not simply consume transmedia narra-where clicking a button opens us up to a range of different tives; rather, transmedia encourages playful participation.kinds of media. In transmedia, there’s something power- In my book, Convergence Culture (2006), I talk about attrac-ful about how the reader is incited to search out dispersed tors (things that draw together an audience) and activa-content and reassemble it into a meaningful mental model. tors (elements which give the audience something to do, especially in a network society, ways to interact with eachIn a hunting society, children learn by playing with bows and other around the shared content). Narrative-inflected playarrows. In an information society, they learn to play with in- is hardly new. Go back and reread the great children’s booksformation. That’s part of why we think transmedia learning of the 19th century. There’s Meg in Little Women develop-is such a compelling concept. A science fiction writer has to ing a backyard game based on Pilgrim’s Progress. There’sconstruct a world which can extend across media platforms, Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s novel pretending to be a piratebut there already exist many rich worlds—the world under or Robin Hood. There’s Anne, she of the Green Gables, who 7
  9. 9. re-enacts the story of the Lady in the Lake. Each of these about or manipulating Grover, they become the monster––books remind us that children before the era of mass media and again, that’s a valuable experience. The child psycholo-actively engaged with stories told to them by adults and gist Bruno Bettelheim (1976) tells us that young peopletransformed them into resources for their own creative need to read stories which acknowledge the monstrous,play. In the 20th century, mass media displaced many tradi- because children know that they are not always good andtional forms of storytelling, but children’s play with narra- they need resources for thinking through how they shouldtive remained meaningful as a way of trying on adult roles respond to the things that frighten them in the real world.and expanding core stories that matter to them. And this iswhat this report means by transmedia play. Certainly, adultshave some legitimate worries about commercial media“colonizing” their children’s imaginations, but keep in mindthat the human imagination feeds upon the culture aroundit and children show enormous capacity to re-imagine thestories that enter their lives.Transmedia encourages this kind of creative reworking. Thescattered fragments of a transmedia story are like piecesof a puzzle; they encourage curiosity, exploration, experi-mentation, and problem solving. Transmedia’s process ofdispersal creates gaps that require our active speculation:some call this negative capability. Transmedia processesshow us that there are more than one way to tell story, thatthere is always more we can learn about the characters and So, there you have the core concepts of this report—trans-their world, and that such insights encourage us to imagine media stories, transmedia play, transmedia learning. Putaspects of these characters that have not yet made it to the them all together and something magical happens.screen. Young people make these stories their own throughtheir active imaginations. The stuffed toy becomes their Transmedia is not the monster at the end of the book; it’savatar: they use it as a stand-in for some other powerful not something you need to be afraid of encountering. Sofigure in their lives. For a short moment, as they are reading far, we know more about transmedia in entertainment and branding contexts than in relation to learning. That’s not a 8
  10. 10. reason to take off running down the street. That’s a reasonfor people who care deeply about insuring the most diverselearning opportunities for our children to take transmediaseriously, to try to understand how to link multiple mediatogether to create new pedagogical experiences, to beready to play together around the materials of a transme-dia franchise, to invite children to explore what it means toread a story across the borders and boundaries betweendifferent texts and different media. This report offers somerich exemplars of groups who are doing well by childrenthrough their creation of powerful and transformativetransmedia experiences, and it offers some design princi-ples so that educators and producers might generate moremeaningful, even mind blowing, transmedia experiences forthe coming generation. 9
  11. 11. Learning Through Transmedia Playby Becky Herr-Stephenson and Meryl Alper withErin ReillyIn this report, we survey transmedia products and experi- complex connections between information, leading toences designed for children, focusing on products designed learning that is deeply meaningful.for children ages 5 to 11. We are interested in how trans-media can be a resource for learning through participation, Some transmedia experiences for children are designedexperimentation, expression and, in particular, through with learning objectives in mind; for others, learning is notplay. In the introduction, Henry Jenkins discusses the “play- an explicit goal. However, even without overt “educationalful participation” encouraged by transmedia narratives. content,” transmedia offers numerous opportunities forThrough transmedia play, children explore, enjoy, and remix learning. The complex, interconnected, and dynamic narra-elements from diverse media—for example, characters, tives and vibrant story worlds characteristic of transmediasettings, and plot elements taken from books, television, provide fertile sites for children to explore, experiment, andvideos, toys, and new media. This “creative reworking” (in oftentimes contribute as story worlds unfold across media.Jenkins’ terms) allows children to tell new stories, work The multi-modal, multi-sited nature of many transmediathrough problems, and share with others. productions challenge children to use varied textual, visual, and media literacy skills to decode and remix media ele- As we will discuss in more detail in later sections of the ments. In these ways, the active, ongoing, creative engage-report, we believe that transmedia play has several charac- ment with complex stories required of participants in ateristics that are highly supportive of learning. First, trans- transmedia play experience stands in contrast to the rou-media play can support new approaches to reading across tine, decontextualized learning that, unfortunately, all toomedia, helping children develop broad literacy skills neces- often characterizes children’s experiences in school.sary to navigate a media-saturated society; second, trans-media play can foster co-learning among children, peers, Transmedia, done well, can contribute to an immersive, re-parents, and other adults through joint media engagement sponsive, learner-centered learning environment rich with(Takeuchi & Stevens, 2011); and third, transmedia play can information and linked to children’s existing knowledge andencourage learners to construct understanding and draw experiences. It can build upon what children already know 10
  12. 12. about playing games, telling stories, and sharing media. transmedia within the children’s media industry to the pres-While transmedia does not have to privilege new media ence of producers who grew up in an age of “ubiquitoustechnologies, leveraging new media in creative and acces- but discontinuous content… bouncing medium to medium,sible ways in order to facilitate sharing and communication while longing for a connective thread” (2012, pp. 1-2). Nowamong participants or to provide in positions of power in the indus-frequent and personalized formative The multi-modal, multi-sited nature of try with access to multiple newfeedback can be valuable for en- media tools and platforms, this newhancing the learning environment. many transmedia productions challenge generation of producers can craftWe have carefully selected the ex- children to use varied textual, visual, the transmedia experiences theyamples and case studies presented and media literacy skills to decode and have long desired and imagined. Aslater in this report to demonstrate remix media elements. Kleeman notes: “Suddenly, it seems,both old- and new-media approach- the world of ‘transmedia’ isn’t justes to transmedia play. Despite these a buzzword, or even necessary todifferences, we believe that all the examples demonstrate say [within the children’s media industry]. It has seeped intohow transmedia play acknowledges children’s cultural mainstream culture, not only surrounding the audience, butparticipation, respects children’s thoughts and feelings, and coming from the audience” (2012, p. 2).builds up and upon 21st century literacies. Our second reason for considering relationships between transmedia and learning is related to trends in education. ItWhy transmedia and learning? is well documented that public schools in the U.S. are strug-We have chosen to investigate transmedia and learning gling to keep up with their students’ needs—whether theyat this time for two reasons: First, although transmedia is are supplemental literacy supports for struggling readers ornot a new concept, it has in recent years become a regular enrichment activities for advanced students. Throughoutpractice within the children’s media industry. As we will the United States, school districts are challenged to stretchdescribe in later sections of this report, numerous children’s shrinking budgets; and, while changes to the No Child Leftmedia producers have been experimenting with transme- Behind (NCLB) Act have been authorized and implementeddia narratives built around books, television programs, and in some states, the accountability movement that linksinteractive media. David Kleeman, President of the Ameri- student performance on standardized tests to school fund-can Center for Children and Media, attributes the rise of ing continues to trouble the climate in schools. Within this 11
  13. 13. context, many school districts are looking to media and opportunities, and empowerment for some marginalizedtechnology for solutions to provide additional support to groups (p. 12).students, from instructional technologies such as interac-tive white boards to school services such as online credit In the sections that follow, we explore a variety of transme-recovery classes. In addition to the efforts from schools dia properties for children, looking at how children learnthemselves, numerous organizations have leveraged media and play with these media. We highlight five characteristicsand technology in creative ways to provide expanded learn- of transmedia play that make it useful for learning. We thening opportunities to students. Expanded learning includes present three core principles for designing transmedia playinformal learning experiences that take place in non-schoolspaces such as afterschool programs, libraries, museums, oronline communities.We believe that transmedia has the potential to be a valu-able tool for expanded learning that addresses some of themost pressing challenges facing education today. Throughimmersive, interconnected, and dynamic narratives, trans-media engages multiple literacies, including textual, visual,and media literacies, as well as multiple intelligences. Itis highly engaging and allows for important social sharingamong collaborators. We see a strong connection betweentransmedia play and the practices and settings conducive to“connected learning,” a concept put forth by a MacArthurFoundation-funded research network and defined as learn- experiences before presenting extended examples thating that is “socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented support the principles. In the final section of the report, wetoward educational, economic, or political opportunity” sketch out a research and development agenda in this area.(Ito et al., 2013, p. 4). Media use, production, and sharing First, however, we present a brief discussion covering theare essential parts of connected learning. New media in basics of transmedia. We recognize that the interdisciplin-particular are thought to support engagement, self-expres- ary nature of transmedia, as well as the enthusiasm withsion, social support for interests, access to unique learning which it has been adopted by different sectors, has poten- tial to create confusion through differences in language and 12
  14. 14. grounding theories. For this reason, we wish to present the of delivery than about the process by which audiences andorigins, key terms, and logics of transmedia that shape this producers shape content and negotiate meanings. Multi-report. media emphasizes the number of different types of expres- sion used within a given project, while transmedia focuses on the way a project is dispersed across multiple mediaOrigins of Transmedia: Key Terms and Logics platforms without privileging one combination of mediaMultiple theoretical principles and historical precedents platforms over another. Multimedia is separate too fromhave formed the foundation for contemporary conversa- the idea of “multimodality,” or a range of possible modes oftions about transmedia. The word “transmedia” on its expression across various systems of representation (Kress,own simply means “across media.” Different scholars have 2003).focused on “intertextuality,” or ways that media cross be-tween boundaries. Cinema scholar Marsha Kinder (1991) For a work to be a transmedia story, the storytelling processfirst wrote about “transmedia intertextuality” in the late needs to combine multimodality with radical intertextual-1980s, defining it as “the intertextual relations between ity. For example, one way of combining radical intertextual-television and cinema as compatible members of the same ity with multimodality would be the characters, plots, andever-expanding supersystem of mass entertainment” events dispersed across multiple comic book titles, mov-(p. 40). Literary critic Julia Kristeva (1986) also discusses ies, and TV series within the DC or Marvel universes. Eachmedia and intertextuality, using “intertextuality writ large” medium has a different range of possible affordances andto describe the uncoordinated but complex relationships different constraints around what kind of transmedia storybetween texts that influence and reference one another. can be told across it (Dena, 2009; Gomez, 2010). This way ofJenkins (2011) explores what he terms “radical intertextuali- distinguishing transmedia from other modes of storytellingty,” or “a movement across texts or across textual structures emphasizes that networks of people (e.g., audiences andwithin the same medium.” producers, individually and collaboratively), technology, and institutions all have the potential power to influence theThose who use the term transmedia to describe their work stories we consume, create, and share using media.sometimes use it interchangeably with “multimedia” or“cross-platform.” While these terms describe related con- Historically, transmedia entertainment is not a new industrycepts, using them as synonyms elides important differences. development, despite its recent official recognition by theAs a concept, cross-platform tells us more about the means Producers Guild of America (“PGA Board”, 2010). The idea of a fictional franchise existing across multiple platforms is 13
  15. 15. fairly old. For example, modern serialized “webisodes” on logics might include transmedia branding, transmedia activ-the Internet have generic roots in newspapers and maga- ism, transmedia ritual, or transmedia play.zines through the unfolding fictional narratives of CharlesDickens in the 19th century (Hayward, 1997). The ways Transmedia storytelling (Jenkins, 2006) is, at the time ofthese narratives unfold, however, has evolved over time. this writing, the most robustly theorized logic of transme-“Old” media and established ways of audiences engaging dia. Transmedia stories are, at their most basic level, nar-with media are not being displaced by the introduction of ratives experienced across multiple media. Jenkins (2007)new media platforms, as expressed in the digital revolution defines transmedia storytelling as “a process where integralparadigm of the 1990s (Negroponte, elements of a fiction get dispersed1995). Instead, the function and Through immersive, interconnected, systematically across multiple de-status of older platforms continually livery channels for the purpose ofshift (Gitelman, 2006), as articulated and dynamic narratives, transmedia creating a unified and coordinatedby the concept of “convergence engages multiple literacies, including entertainment experience.” Theculture” (Jenkins, 2006). These textual, visual, and media literacies, as specific properties of each me-shifts are partly possible because of well as multiple intelligences. dium—from television to websitesthe interconnectivity, layering, and to social media—are leveraged todiversification of networked com- shape the way in which the storymunication. New media has not brought about transmedia unfolds. For example, books and television episodes arepractices, but it has certainly enhanced the circulation or useful for conveying large amounts of information about a“spreadability” of content at all levels of culture (Jenkins, story’s plot and characters, while websites make it possibleFord, & Green, 2013). for producers and users to add on to the story in an ongoing and time-sensitive manner. Websites and social media fur- ther provide places for users to connect, discuss, and shareTransmedia Logics fan-made media. In a well-designed and executed transme-There are different “transmedia logics” shaping conver- dia property, there is a careful balance of new and repeatedgence culture, or ways to think about the flow of content, information across mediums.information, and knowledge across media (Jenkins, 2011).These flexible strategies are leveraged by producers and Transmedia play is a related but distinct concept from trans-consumers alike to shape mediated experiences. Some such media storytelling in that it involves experimentation with and participation in a transmedia experience; but it also 14
  16. 16. applies to media that has no storyline, such as open-ended ity for interacting with the narrative. As we will discuss in avideogames. Within the logic of transmedia play, play is future section of this report, children as young as preschoolapproached not as a frivolous activity, but as a meaningful are included in initiatives to create transmedia for learning.and important mode of interacting in the world. This way Transmedia for children similarly reflects beliefs about whoof understanding play is aligned with its definition as a new children are and what they can do. In particular, when wemedia literacy: “the capacity to experiment with the sur- think about transmedia experiences that support learningroundings as a form of problem solving” (Jenkins Clinton, (either by design or incidentally), we see a construction ofPurushotma, Robinson, & Weigel, 2006, p. 35). Writing the child audience as being made up of interactive, con-about young children’s play, Vivian Paley (1990), noted that“there is a tendency to look upon the noisy, repetitious fan-tasies of children as non-educational, but helicopters andkittens and superhero capes and Barbie dolls are storytell-ing aids and conversational tools (p. 39). For children grow-ing up amidst convergence culture, transmedia experiencescan provide rich sites for exploring, enacting, and learningthrough imaginative and productive play.Transmedia for ChildrenTransmedia storytelling and play assume an active audiencecapable of demonstrating new media literacies—the techni-cal and social skills Jenkins et al. (2006) have identified asessential to taking part in participatory cultures. New media nected, interest-driven learners (Dickson, 2012a; Michaelliteracies differ from “traditional” literacies—reading and Cohen Group, 2012; Pasnik et al., 2011). This notion of thewriting—placing increased value on visual, oral, and aural (inter)active child user is consistent with new models ofcommunication as well as on performance, experimenta- childhood that posit the child as an agent who has rightstion, and play. The relationship users have to transmedia and needs, rather than a “work in progress” becomingexperiences is at least partly bounded by the beliefs of an adult (at which time s/he will have rights and needs)media producers about the audience’s ability and capac- (James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998; James & Prout, 1997). Impor- 15
  17. 17. tantly, new models of childhood position children as “active inexorably linked to consumer culture.participant[s] in, and impacting upon, a wider social world”(Marsh, 2010, p. 13) from an early age. Such constructions Such concerns have not receded in the era of transme-have supported an understanding of media as an important dia. Transmedia requires access to multiple media–oftenresource in addressing concerns about children’s academic accenting the problem of the participation gap (that is,achievement and preparation for future work and civic par- inequalities in terms of access to resources and opportuni-ticipation (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). ties for participation in the new media landscape). Further, transmedia asks users to immerse themselves in the story,The children’s media industry has long focused on ways to removing critical distance in favor of “immersive aesthet-reach audiences through multiple channels and has main- ics” and “pervasive fiction” (Dena, 2004; McGonigal, 2003),tained a commitment to creating learning opportunities both of which may be seen as positioning viewers in awithin the different media that children access. One might particularly vulnerable position. Early attempts at trans-trace the historical antecedents of transmedia for children media, which mainly involved reusing the same media onto the period following World War II, during which factors different platforms, contribute to ideas about transmedia assuch as free market capitalism, the influx of modern domes- overly commercialized and without much other benefit. Astic conveniences, and the availability of affordable mass- Brenda Laurel (2001), a key figure in the digital arena in theproduced goods in the U.S. altered the amount and type of 1990s and founder of girls’ software company Purple Moon,cultural materials available to children, particularly paper- writes:back books, board games, and other toys (Jenkins, 1998). [T]he transmedia process has thus far consistedThe array of media and products associated with transme- of repurposing content from one medium for an- other—film to TV, comics to film, dolls and toysdia properties may bring to mind the “program length com- to videogames, movies to dolls and toys, or mov-mercials” (animated programs produced to sell toys) that ies to the Web. In a transmedia world, wheredominated Saturday morning television in the United States you know from the start that you want to pro-throughout the 1980s. In Playing with Power, Kinder ac- duce content that will appear across severalknowledges that these shows helped children “to recognize, media types and delivery devices, repurposing is an inelegant and inefficient solution (p. 82).distinguish, and combine different popular genres and theirrespective iconography that cut across movies, television, An alternative to repurposing content that is better alignedcomic books, commercials, video games, and toys” (p. 47), with transmedia is what Mizuko Ito has called “media mix”but expresses concern that this cognitive development was 16
  18. 18. (Ito, 2008). Ito uses this term to describe “a synergistic program experience has been enhanced by a transmediarelationship between multiple media formats, particularly story The Adventures of the Electric Company on Pranksteranimation, comics, video games, and trading card games” Planet, a serial animated adventure that unfolds across tele-(p. 403) that she has observed to be particularly strong in vision, and online comics, games, and videos. Each pieceJapanese children’s media. Japanese media mixes open of the transmedia story supports a math curriculum whileup story worlds and invite different types of participation. making unique contributions to the experience of the story.Using Pokémon as an example, Ito describes how children Prankster Planet is credited with increasing traffic to thecan “look to the television anime for character and back- Electric Company website by 432% in 2011 with nearly 3.2story, create their own trajectories through the content million visits and 900,000 unique visitors (Dickson, 2012b).through video games and trading card play, and go to theInternet to exchange information...” (p. 403). Transmedia remains a hotly debated topic in the children’s media industry; some producers have invested heavily in itsLaurel (2001) points to a need for children’s media produc- abilities to engage and communicate with audiences whileers, designers, and researchers to develop “a methodology others think it is no more than a buzzword (Getzler, 2011).for creating core content that can be shaped with equal Despite this debate, examples of significant investment inease and effectiveness for myriad devices and context, in- transmedia as a strategy for supporting learning throughcluding ones that haven’t been invented yet” (p. 84). Some media exist. In the next section, we describe a multi-millionproducers, both in the U.S. and internationally, have taken dollar transmedia initiative sponsored by the U.S. Depart-this challenge to heart, such as the German program Ene ment of Education. This initiative provides significant sup-Mene Bu (And It’s Up to You) from Der Kinderkanal ARD/ZDF port (financial and symbolic) to the project of educational(KIKA). Ene Mene Bu is a television show for preschoolers transmedia.where young children show viewers how they draw, craft,build, and play. The program also collects images of viewers’artwork through its online site and incorporates selected Ready to Learn Transmedia Initiativeartwork into the show’s graphics. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education awarded three grants through its Ready to Learn program to support theEvidence of the value of experimenting with new methods development and evaluation of transmedia properties forfor storytelling can be seen in Sesame Workshop’s dynamic children ages 2-8. The three grants were awarded to sup-re-launch of the literacy-focused series The Electric Com- port organizations creating transmedia properties thatpany. Beginning with the show’s third season, the television 17
  19. 19. integrate math and literacy curricula for young children. The as well as formative and summative research reports fromprojects, funded through 2015, include: Expanded Learning the project’s evaluators. In addition to the online site, CPB/through Transmedia Content, conducted through a partner- PBS has partnered with 11 public television stations acrossship between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) the country. As demonstration sites for the project, theseand the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); Project LAMP stations will work to introduce local communities to the(The Learning Apps Media Partnership), run by the Hispanic transmedia content through outreach and public awarenessInformation and Telecommunications Network, Inc. (HITN); campaigns, as well as train caregivers and teachers on itsand UMIGO (yoU Make It GO), created by Window to the use.World Communications, Inc. (WTTW). Similarly, Project LAMP focuses transmedia storytelling inEach of these projects takes a different approach to provid- new and existing properties. This project aims to produceing cross-platform media content to child audiences. For open educational resources available through a variety ofexample, Expanded Learning through Transmedia Content platforms from books to television, with an emphasis onhas supported development of mobile applications. Again, the mathPBS Kids Lab, a website featuring and literacy curricula are an impor-“suites” of cross-platform games Harry Potter and The 39 Clues are tant part of the transmedia storiesdesigned for play on computers, intensive social reading experiences. in this project, providing a particularvarious mobile devices, and smart For many, reading also involves type of story to guide users as theyboards. The suites of games are participating by creating and circulating navigate across media platforms.built around popular characters media or information, makingfrom PBS Kids programs such as Whereas Expanded Learning throughCurious George and Dinosaur Train connections between elements of the Transmedia Content and Projectand allow children to play with the story found in different media, and LAMP focus on transmedia storytell-same characters and story worlds collaborating with other readers. ing—following characters acrossacross devices. The suites are also platforms and expanding storylinked by math and literacy curriculum, and accompanied worlds, UMIGO emphasizes trans-by suggested activities for home, school, and out-of-school media play, a concept we will explore in greater depth insettings. These suites are bundled with tools for tracking the next section of this report. Key to UMIGO’s transmedialearning and modeling content for use in the classroom, play approach is the way in which stories unfold hand-in- hand with opportunities for children to explore, build, and 18
  20. 20. tinker with digital and physical objects. Tinkering tasks from • Transmedia play can promote new approaches todesigning clothing to creating musical mashups are linked readingto an early math curriculum. All three projects emphasizeoutreach through community organizations. This is accom- In order to take part in a transmedia play experience,plished through partnerships with children’s museums and children must learn to read both written and multimediapublic television stations across the country. texts broadly (across multiple media) and deeply (digging into details of the narrative). This kind of reading has beenThe Ready to Learn grants provide important support to described as “transmedia navigation” or “the ability totheories about the value of transmedia for learning. Fur- follow the flow of stories and information across multiplether, the grants call attention to the needs of low-income modalities” within the context of the new media literacieschildren and English language learners—children who are (Jenkins et al., 2006, p. 4). Dresang (1999) has notednot the target audiences for other high-tech transmedia ex- changes to print books themselves in reaction to theperiences. The projects appear to straddle the line between new demands and pleasures of reading new media. Shecross-platform and transmedia content. As the content rolls describes such books as “Radical Change” books—printout across media formats and demonstration sites, the suc- books influenced by digital age aesthetics and logics.cess of the projects as transmedia storytelling and transme- For example, these books may tell stories in a non-lineardia play experiences should become more apparent. manner or may feature narratives with multiple layers of meaning. More recently, Jenkins (2009) has discussed the concepts of “spreadability” and “drillability” asThinking Seriously about Transmedia Play important features of transmedia texts. In order toThe evaluations and research poised to come out of the navigate transmedia stories, children must learn to copeReady to Learn transmedia projects will meet a need for with spreadability by learning to scan different media toempirical data about the roles that transmedia might play in collect bits of a distributed narrative. Drillability requireslearning. Currently, very little of this type of evidence exists that a child learn research techniques and skills for(Fisch, Lesh, Motoki, Crespo, & Melfi, 2011). However, in comprehending complex narratives. Both spreadabilityreviewing numerous children’s media properties and the and drillability leave room for readers to contribute to theexisting popular and scholarly literature about transmedia unfolding narrative (Jenkins, 2009).and children, we have identified the following ideas abouttransmedia play and learning: 19
  21. 21. In 2011, Scholastic and Ruckus Media announced a fandom,” or in-depth research and theory-building aroundpartnership to create a children’s transmedia imprint the story. Potter fans also have contributed to buildingthat will publish children’s books across print, e-book, the transmedia story by creating music, videos, art, andand enhanced e-book platforms (“Scholastic and Ruckus podcasts; by writing and publishing fan fiction as wellMedia”, 2011). This is certainly not Scholastic’s first as scholarly papers and books; by hosting conferencesforay into the world of transmedia. Indeed, several of and performances; and by creating organizations likethe publisher’s top titles for children in the 5-to-11 age the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA). The HPA works online,range are examples of transmedia storytelling. This is in local communities, and in conjunction with schoolscertainly not Scholastic’s first foray into the world oftransmedia. Indeed, several of the publisher’s top titlesfor children in the five to eleven age range are examplesof transmedia storytelling. The Harry Potter series and The39 Clues series are two particularly interesting transmediaexamples, in part because of their very differentapproaches to transmedia storytelling.Although not initially conceived as a transmediaexperience, the Harry Potter franchise provides a strongexample of transmedia storytelling. The seven books inthe Potter series act as a “mothership” for a transmediaproperty that extends to films, music, toys, clothing, fooditems, video games, mobile apps, a theme park, museumexhibits, and ancillary books. Reading the Potter books and community organizations to incite action aroundis, for many, just one part of the experience. In addition social justice issues. Through all of these extensions,to these many official extensions, a vibrant and prolific the transmedia world of Harry Potter is expanded andfandom has developed over the 15 or so years since enriched. Although not every Harry Potter reader engagesthe first installment of Harry’s story hit bookshelves. with all of the transmedia elements of the story, it hasDuring the wait between books, Potter fans showed become nearly impossible to experience Potter as “just”their acumen at what Jason Mittell (2009) calls “forensic a book series. Navigating the many extensions to the 20
  22. 22. narrative and storyworld—including places where the characteristics of the series that contribute to its strengthWizarding World and “real” world meet—is an integral as a transmedia property are the series’ multiple authors,part of reading Harry Potter. which include many well-known young adult authors with distinct styles. This situates the books within aScholastic’s The 39 Clues series was from its inception larger context of children’s/young adult literature anddesigned as a children’s transmedia experience. The 39 contributes to the ways in which the stories can beClues currently includes two series of books: 12 books interpreted. The series also incorporates importantin the original 39 Clues series and six books (so far) in a historical figures from around the world—from Benjaminspinoff series called Cahills vs. Vespers. The books tell the Franklin to Anastasia Romanov, adding to the story’sstory of Amy and Dan Cahill, tween-aged orphans who sense of alternate reality.join in their family’s long-standing hunt for the 39 Clues.Although the books are the basis of the property, reading Both Harry Potter and The 39 Clues are intensive socialthe series involves also engaging with a number of game- reading experiences. For many, reading also involveslike elements of the story, including finding collectable participating by creating and circulating media orcards and participating in an ongoing interactive game information, making connections between elements ofon the39clues.com. The collectable cards contain clues the story found in different media, and collaboratingrelated to the narrative in the books; readers must with other readers. These four Cs (creating, circulating,log their cards on the website to track clues and earn connecting, and collaborating) have been identifiedadditional cards. The online game is a role-playing game/ as important functions of participatory culture (Reilly,alternate reality game in which users participate as a Vartabedian, Felt, & Jenkins, 2012).member of one branch of the warring Cahill family andcompete with other user-populated families to collectclues. Taking part in the clue hunt by collecting cards • Transmedia play can encourage learning through jointand participating in the online game are not just nice media engagementenhancements to the story; they are essential to theactive reading experience designed into The 39 Clues. The complex narratives, rich worlds, and multiple points of entry characteristic of transmedia experiencesFurther expanding the transmedia experience of The can provide opportunities for families to experience39 Clues is a forthcoming movie, which will likely be transmedia together. Previous research from the Joanaccompanied by new licensed products. Other unique 21
  23. 23. Ganz Cooney Center has investigated “joint media or reading ancillary books. In these ways, both motherengagement,” an expansion of the concept of co-viewing and child are able to share in the transmedia experiencetelevision to include multiple new media platforms of Star Wars in ways that are appropriate to their(Stevens & Penuel, 2010). Authors Takeuchi and Stevens comprehension level and that maximize their enjoyment(2011) have identified characteristics, challenges, and of the story.design strategies related to productive joint mediaengagement. As they describe, experiences designed for Other characteristics of joint media engagement suchproductive joint media engagement “can result in deeper as dialogic inquiry— “collaborating with others to makeunderstanding, inspiration, greater fluency, and physical, meaning of situations” (p. 43)—and co-creation—makingemotional, or mental wellbeing than others” (p. 43). media, physical artifacts, or shared understandings—alsoThe idea of productive engagement with media, as well apply to transmedia experiences. The three case studiesas a number of the characteristics and design principles appearing later in this report are excellent examples ofpresented in Takeuchi and Stevens’ report, are salient to these characteristics as well as of what Takeuchi andtransmedia. Stevens call “intention to develop” —an orientation toward media use in which “at least one partner intends for herselfFor example, joint media engagement involves mutual or a partner to grow through the activity” (p. 44).engagement—meaning something in the experienceappeals to the diverse partners involved. As Takeuchi andStevens note: “Neither partner is bored nor participates • Transmedia play can support constructivist learningout of sheer obligation to the other” (p. 43). Transmedia goalswith multigenerational appeal, for example, Star Wars,exemplifies this principle. The broad transmedia narrative Transmedia play involves exploration, experimentation,and linked extensions offer multiple opportunities for and remix, all activities that are firmly aligned with ausers to enter the story and to experience it in ways that constructivist approach to learning (e.g. Bruner, 1990;are interesting and engaging to them. For example, a child Piaget, 1985; Vygotsky, 1978) that emphasizes themay engage with Star Wars through LEGOs or other toys, active role of the learner in creating knowledge bywhile her mother is drawn to online fandom practices working to make connections among information in asuch as writing fan fiction. Conjunctive points of their specific context. Constructivist learning theory has beenparticipation might exist around watching the movies influential in much research on digital media and learning, 22
  24. 24. which has highlighted the importance of experience and Learning to Play with Informationactive participation in learning activities. An importantpart of the construction of knowledge is communicating Years of research in developmental psychology have high-one’s ideas and understandings; this is what takes it from lighted different aspects of play that contribute to children’sbeing an individual to social process, thus facilitating healthy development. In Play, Dreams, and Imitation inadditional connections and deeper understanding. Childhood (1962), Jean Piaget distinguished between play and imitation, describing play as “primarily mere functionalGood transmedia experiences scaffold children’s or reproductive assimilation,” meaning that a child playsparticipation—supporting them through tasks such as without thought to how her/his play fits with reality. Forasking and answering questions, making connections example, a block can be used as an airplane without havingbetween information, creating media, and sharing to adhere to laws of gravity or aerodynamics. Piaget distin-creations with others. Such activities, in and of guishes play from “objective thought,” a hallmark of adultthemselves, are examples of constructivist learning. cognition, “which seeks to adapt itself to the requirementsWhen designed with specific constructivist practices of external reality” (p. 87).in mind—for example, providing learners with highlyrelevant, real-world experiences, emphasizing multiple Whereas play (and especially imaginative play) aligns withrealities and perspectives, or fostering collaboration and the process of assimilation, imitation aligns with accom-co-construction of meaning—transmedia play can be a modation. When a child recreates activities from real life,transformative learning experience. As Laura Fleming, making an effort to portray them accurately, s/he is workinglibrary media specialist and advisor to the transmedia to change the way s/he thinks about the world. Imitatingproject Inanimate Alice, notes, such actions “shift the a parent kicking a ball while playing soccer or mimicking alocus of control in learning firmly away from the teacher media character’s speech or actions are examples of accom-towards the learner…” thus “morph[ing] the concept modation. Learning, according to Piaget, happens as chil-of StoryWorld familiar to transmedia producers, into dren work toward achieving equilibrium between assimila-something that is powerful for learning in the digital tion and accommodation.age, the Transmedia Learning World (TLW)” (2012, p. 1). Lev Vygotsky (1978) emphasized play as a tool for practicingThe case studies presented later in this report exemplify behaviors. Importantly, Vygotsky highlighted the value ofTransmedia Learning Worlds. play in helping children develop abstract thinking by sepa- rating thought and action. Pretend play is especially good for the development of abstract thinking, as children must 23
  25. 25. learn to reconcile competing realities. As Tsao (2002) sum- • Constructive play involves manipulating objects,marizes: building, and designing Thinking and acting are no longer simultaneous; • Games with rules show a child’s progression from behaviors are no longer driven by objects, but an egocentric understanding of the world to rather by children’s thinking. By exercising their social play. minds through different play behaviors, children become capable of using high-level mental func- tions (i.e. abstract thinking) to manipulate and Children’s play rarely is restricted to any one of the above monitor thoughts and ideas without direct and categories; indeed, children engage in different genres of immediate reference to the real world. Therefore, play depending on the circumstances (e.g., locations, play play can be an important educational strategy for partners) and resources (e.g., toys, stories) available. facilitating children’s development in cognitive, so- cial/emotional, motor and language areas (p. 231). When playing in transmedia universes, people manipulate the different forms of media available across platforms,The child development literature highlights social and “collecting” the pieces of a narrative—plots, characters, set-cognitive elements that categorize play. In terms of social tings, and so on—distributed through transmedia storytell-interaction, play can be solitary, parallel, or social. Solitary ing and world building. People employ these pieces in newplay happens throughout childhood. Parallel play, in which ways and/or explore and experiment in non-narrative butchildren play near but not with one another, is typical of alternatively linked cross-platform spaces. For many chil-toddlers. Social play tends to emerge during the preschool dren, this kind of “mixing and matching” of media is not ayears for typically-developing children. new mode of play; indeed, researchers have long noted theThere are also distinct cognitive characteristics of play: appropriation of media elements in children’s play (Dyson, 1997; Kinder, 1999; Paley, 2005; Seiter, 1993). As children • Sensorimotor play includes play and exploration remix media properties through imaginative play, tinkering, with objects (movement, banging, shaking, etc.) experimentation, and creative expression, creating their own rules for how media may be used, they push on the • Pretend play includes socio-dramatic play boundaries defined by institutions and media companies. wherein children act out roles and try on identities 24
  26. 26. Writing about young readers (age 8-12) of popular (or Taking a more critical view, Stephen Kline (1993) notes char-“branded”) fiction, Sekeres (2009) describes an “interplay” acter play with television characters as a phenomenon thatbetween the real and the story world: is frequently co-opted by marketers in order to sell more toys: The tween reader of branded fiction may see, hear, write, and, through tangible toy products like action In character play the mental processes of “expres- figures or dolls, manipulate the market child—the sion” (entailed in the creative encoding which takes virtual character imagined through the consump- place in a child’s play enactments) and “interpre- tion of multiple products associated with a brand— tation” (the application of social knowledge and in ways that expand the imaginative potential of media grammar which allows a child to understand the character. When tweens interact with other television fiction) must be brought into alignment. products in the brand and with other real children The activities of watching television and playing in an imaginary or virtual world, their imaginary with toys have thus become mutually reinforc- interplay expands, changes, and codifies storylines ing: television feeds the child’s social imagination and interpretations of the market child. (p. 403) with knowledge about fictive social universes that only a particular toy can make available for simu-The three processes noted in this quotation—expanding, lated play enactment. The synergy created betweenchanging, and codifying—are significant to transmedia play, television and toys through their merger within aas they represent different modes of participation across single narrative universe links these separate do- mains of expressive and interpretive experiencemedia. Just as non-media-based play involves different through a common structure of fantasy (p. 323).modes of participation (e.g. pretend play versus sensorimo-tor/active play), transmedia play offers multiple opportuni- Kline’s concern is that children’s play with television charac-ties to experiment with and participate in a transmedia ex- ters may be circumscribed by their understandings of televi-perience. In this way, transmedia play reflects the definition sion narrative—that is, that television will draw boundariesof play put forth as one of the new media literacies: “the for children’s creative play. This is a reasonable concern, ascapacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of television (like all media) is a mix of open texts (allowingproblem solving” (Jenkins et al., 2006, p. 24). multiple interpretations) and closed ones (leading readers to a single interpretation) (Eco, 1979). Good transmedia experiences, we argue, primarily consist of open texts, thus creating myriad opportunities to play. 25
  27. 27. A nice example of open-ended transmedia play can be seen Understanding the characteristics of transmedia play andin the example of Minecraft, a transmedia experience that the ways in which it fits within the context of children’s playis quickly growing in popularity among children and adults experiences more broadly is one way to give play the atten-alike. Markus Persson, a developer with the Swedish inde- tion it needs and deserves. In the next section of this report,pendent game development studio Mojang, created the we describe a working set of principles for educators andgame in 2009. As of November 2012, the game boasted 8 producers to consider when building meaningful transmediamillion downloads for PC. Minecraft is, first and foremost, play experiences.an open-ended video game that challenges players to buildwith virtual blocks. Currently, users can build with 153 differ-ent kinds of blocks; some are “naturally occurring” within theMinecraft world, while others are created during gameplay(“Blocks”, n.d.). Each block has different characteristics andfeatures. For example, stone blocks can be used to constructbuildings or pathways, while note blocks allow the user tocompose music in-game. Discovering, researching, gathering,and experimenting with different kinds of blocks, involvesdeveloping and leveraging knowledge of the “natural” prop-erties of these resources within the world of Minecraft. Italso involves reaching out to various other media resources,including online videos, wikis, and other websites, to learnfrom other players’ experiences. All of these activities canbe described as “tinkering,” casual experimentation with theintention of learning how something works and/or repairingit; tinkering has been found to be a useful mode for learningin formal and informal learning spaces (Kafai & Peppler, 2011;Guzzetti, Elliot, & Welsch, 2010). 26
  28. 28. Transmedia play is: Mobile Mobility in transmedia play means a num- Rich worlds that invite exploration, characters that require analy- ber of things: use of mobile technologies; sis, and clues that need investigation all contribute to replayabil- movement between platforms, media, ity.and setting; and causing movement within media themselves. Bylinking stories together across platforms, transmedia storytellingencourages children’s media producers to consider formats other Resourcefulthan the 11-minute television episode. The remix, appropriation, As we have described in earlier sections ofand tinkering characteristic of transmedia play similarly pushes this report, transmedia requires participa-industry creators to consider how children are moving stories, tion that is different from that required bycharacters, merchandise, and other aspects of a media product more traditional media. Transmedia consumers are expected tobetween platforms in order to create new meanings. be active and motivated, skilled in new media literacies, and able to access and navigate ubiquitous connections to networked, convergent media. Another related characteristic is resourceful- Accessible ness, which we define in the context of transmedia play as a The cross-platform nature of many trans- quality that combines the ability to act with/react to diverse, media experiences gives them a high challenging situations by thinking creatively about solutions that potential for accessibility. People can jump leverage any and all available tools and materials, even if thatin to play with transmedia from a variety of starting points and means pulling from somewhere else or repurposing items.can define a trajectory that takes into account their own uniquecontext and access. Accessibility in transmedia play also meansthat some experiences become memorable moments that can be Socialaccessed in future play. Salient and memorable transmedia experi- Transmedia play generally happens in con-ences can be a valuable resource for learning. versation with others. Other players may be co-located, or linked through media/ technology, as in the case of social media, online communities, or Replayable massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. Many transmedia experiences are large- scale and unfold over time, leading to high potential for replayability as the story isrevealed and revisited. Indeed some transmedia experiences areso intensive that they require multiple “visits” or interactions. 27
  29. 29. Building Transmedia Play ExperiencesPlay Partners Places To Play Paradigm-shifting Play 28
  30. 30. Aligned with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s mission to Creative Director, Erin Reilly and advised by USC Annenbergstudy the relationship between digital media and the devel- Professor Henry Jenkins. This design guide also incorporatesopmental needs of children ages 5 to 11, our suggestions our experiences discussing transmedia storytelling, play,for building transmedia play experiences target this age and performance with scholars, researchers, educators, andrange, itself quite diverse. The guiding principles below may children’s media industry professionals at various children’salso be a useful starting point for those designing trans- media and transmedia conferences and meetings.media play experiences for older or younger groups. Ourprinciples are summarized by three core themes: We believe that children have much to add to the process of developing exciting and personally meaningful trans- 1. Play Partners Relationships between producers media play experiences. Young people can contribute to and audiences; conditions for people engaging in the socio-technological design process in many valuable transmedia play together ways through a variety of age-appropriate methods (Druin, 1999). More work must be done to develop and refine best 2. Places to Play Metaphorically, meaning places practices for supporting children’s roles as users, testers, within a transmedia “universe”; and physically, informants, and design partners (Druin, 2002) at the inter- the environments within which children section of participatory culture, participatory learning, and participate in transmedia play participatory design. 3. Paradigm-shifting Play Or “pattern-shifting What follows is not intended to be complete or compre- play”—modifying pre-existing concepts and hensive, but a work-in-progress to which we invite further routines to maximize the lasting positive impact reflection and refinement. Not all of these design principles of children’s transmedia play must be present in a children’s transmedia play experience for learning to occur. However, each component focusesThese principles emerged from the authors’ various experi- on an important part of the process of making a media textences researching and developing experimental, small-scale “transmediated” and the challenges in producing a trans-transmedia play experiences. For nearly two years, we had media play experience whose “final product” will continu-a regular series of discussions about the relationship be- ally evolve in the minds, hands, and hearts of audiences.tween transmedia and learning as part of the USC Annen-berg Innovation Lab’s Children, Youth, and Media Research-Design Track, led by the Annenberg Innovation Lab’s 29
  31. 31. Play Partners • Together isn’t always better. While collaboration is important and transmedia play is generally a social • Flexible contracts. Adults and children entering activity, some children may feel more comfortable into collaborative transmedia projects together setting boundaries and engaging in peripheral, start off inherently in different positions of power. parallel, or solitary transmedia play. Spending time It can be tricky to navigate from consulting children with a rich transmedia world doesn’t necessarily need to involving children more deeply in design without to involve partners or parents. Children frequently tipping the scales and overburdening them. imagine partners for their play (with tea parties as Beginning a project with a contract—but one with a classic example); participation in fandom can be a wiggle room—opens up possibilities for youth-led next step in imaginary play, with children imagining actions, shared decision making, and partnerships possible publics with whom they might engage. with adults while balancing children’s needs for scaffolding and safety. • Sharing transmedia. Kids, often very organically come up with conditions for playing together and sharing, particularly when using popular culture material (e.g., favorite characters, toys, songs) as the basis for play. While children may sometimes act in the interest of the group and with a notion of shared ownership (both online and offline), joint media engagement also necessitates children being able to identify “that’s mine” and “that’s yours.” Issues around individual and collective ownership, consumption, creation, and circulation of media might also raise issues around what traces children leave behind in this process (again, both online and offline). 30
  32. 32. Places to Play • Environment as third teacher. While teachers and • Accessible play places. In both online and offline families are children’s primary mentors early in their play, it is important not only to make the content of lives, the thoughtful arrangement of physical space transmedia play experiences accessible for children around a child and around her/his use of media (both of all abilities, but also to provide a variety of low and at home and school) can provoke new ways of looking high tech tools that enable participation, creation, and at the world (Caldwell, 1997). Consider how the contribution (Alper, Hourcade, & Gilutz, 2012). Make physical environment might impact the effectiveness space for difference in participation online and offline of learning through transmedia play in formal and spaces, including grade-level differences, a range of informal educational settings. Also consider how linguistic backgrounds, and budgetary constraints on transmedia play might pop up in unexpected places schools, families, and communities. (e.g., see Caine’s Arcade, below). • Mobility matters. Designers of transmedia play • Strategic mix of positive and negative space. experiences should be aware of how people spend More participatory transmedia properties build time with media—and if that time is on the go or rich worlds for audiences to explore, but minimally spent in a fixed location. In the Joan Ganz Cooney participatory ones leave little opportunity for children Center’s report on joint media engagement (2011), to cause any personally meaningful change or test authors Takeuchi and Stevens describe the need their ever-evolving theories about how the world for designers to understand the “fit” of any new works. Look for “hooks” or ways for less engaged platform within families’ existing practices. They users to focus on dense pre-established narratives emphasize that technologies must “easily slot that hint at later engagement (or “positive space”), into existing routines, parent work schedules, and and for more engaged users to fill in the “negative classroom practices” (p. 48). Mobile technologies space” with their own missing pieces or build out on are increasingly a part of these practices, as well as provided materials (Laurel, 2001; Long, 2007). many others that are part of families’ everyday lives- -including play. Transmedia play experiences that are flexible and mobile are best able to fit within diverse family practices, routines, and play spaces. 31
  33. 33. Paradigm-shifting Play • Mind-blowing experiences. Transmedia play and and share with children outside of one’s immediate storytelling can be paradigm-shifting experiences geographic area, and the possibility of sharing one’s in that they provide gestalt moments that children ideas or creations publicly and widely are among can reflect upon, revisit, and activate later for new the most compelling features of a transmedia play purposes or new stories. These experiences may come experience. However, with these new opportunities all at once (e.g., class field trips, seeing a theatrical for participation come concerns about safety and performance), or coalesce over time. For example, privacy as children venture into public (or semi-public) Sherry Turkle’s book Falling For Science (2008), a conversations, often for the first time. Transmedia collection of essays written by her students at MIT, producers should carefully consider the benefits and includes various accounts of how countless hours drawbacks of children’s real time versus delayed (and spent with LEGO bricks led many of them to see the moderated) participation, particularly if producers scientific world in new ways. Transmedia is partly wish to incorporate children’s feedback into a something that a child consumes, but also something transmedia play experience in a timely manner and if that a child does. Be aware of the everyday, ordinary, those children are geographically dispersed. and mundane of kids’ lives so that the transmedia you are making matters. • Playing in real time. New media and, in particular, mobile and social media, make it possible for children to participate in ongoing, real-time conversations and games as part of a transmedia play experience. This stands in contrast to the delayed response children, even in recent years, may have had with media, such as sending letters that might be read on a future episode of a television program or waiting for a requested toy to arrive in the mail. In many cases, providing feedback that changes the progression of the experience, having opportunities to connect 32