Henry Jenkins defines transmedia storytelling as “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”
In transmedia storytelling, narrative is central to the story, which is told across multiple platforms, and may include sound, images, text, movie and gaming elements. The best part about it is that each of those elements plays an integral part of the narrative. And without experiencing all of those elements, you miss the full story. That’s what makes transmedia storytelling a powerful tool for 21st century literacy and learning.
In today’s literacy-rich world, I identified 7 different literacies that you’ll find within good transmedia storytelling projects (Inanimate Alice is an exemplary form, and includes all these literacies):
- Multimodal literacy. Multimodal literacy is meaning-making across multiple modes of communication. Transmedia storytelling facilitates the practice of multimodal literacy because you must make meaning across all the elements in the story to fully understand it. The sound, images, narrative, movie and gaming elements all play a unique role in unraveling the story.
- Critical literacy. Critical literacy is essentially ‘destructuring’ and ‘restructuring’ a text in order to develop a critical understanding of its plot and purpose. Transmedia storytelling requires the ‘destructuring’ and ‘restructuring’ of multiple modes of text, a complex task to say the least.
- Digital literacy. Digital literacy typically refers to the navigation, evaluation and creation of information using digital technologies. Transmedia storytelling requires navigation of the story, and evaluation of the digital elements in the story. And transmedia storytelling provides an inspirational platform for the creation of new digital stories (like fan fiction).
- Media literacy. Media literacy is about evaluating and creating media messages. Because transmedia storytelling exists across multiple forms of media, each media element must be evaluated separately before multimodal meaning-making can take place. New media messages can be created through digital storytelling.
- Visual literacy. Visual literacy is the interpretation of images in a way that enhances other forms of literacy. Transmedia storytelling is a visually rich experience, and the images play a significant role in the narrative.
- Information literacy. The interactivity of transmedia storytelling enhances information literacy skills. Actions drive the story and require information seeking to solve problems and make decisions.
- Game literacy. Game literacy is the literacy of problem solving, and the gaming elements in transmedia storytelling require the use of logical and strategic thinking.
To me, one of the most exciting things about transmedia storytelling is in its potential to close the gender literacy gap….in two ways. We know that there is a reading gap between boys and girls, Well, there’s also a gaming gap. Girls read. Boys game. (a generalization)
Both gaming and reading are important forms of literacy. The importance of reading doesn’t need explanation. Gaming though, is important because it builds visual spatial and problem solving skills that can serve as a foundation for math success (and STEM education).
So, the gaming and interactive elements of transmedia storytelling will engage boys in critical literacy practices without them even knowing it. And the narrative elements in transmedia storytelling will engage girls in game literacy practices without seeming like a game. That’s powerful stuff!
Transmedia storytelling examples: