A Story for All Mediums

Andy Weir’s The Martian is unique in that it has been retold through a plethora of diverse mediums. Each time, the story takes advantage of the medium it is in to present the tale in an effective and unique way. These mediums, however, have certain weaknesses that become more noticeable when all juxtaposed together with the story held constant.

First there is the original blog Weir would update as Mark Watney in a serialized manner. This form flexes in it’s ability to utilize multimedia. The site would use graphics to explain and visualize certain maneuvers and locations, something that was lacking in the later printed codex. The serialization also allowed Weir to release his story in chunks that he thought would keep his readers engaged and waiting for the next ‘episode.’ Perhaps this isn’t exactly a strength, although it is something I admire and find charming. One of the weaknesses of this medium, as David Golubmia discusses in Characteristics of Digital Media is the definite linearity of this type of story telling. With serialization, the reader must read the story at the exact pace and sjuzet the author intended. This does not exactly weaken the story, but does make it less flexible.

The true novel codex iteration of the novel presents a solution to the linearity. Physical books will always have a place in story telling. Digital alternatives are just barely behind in accessibility and intuitive design.

Today’s obvious evolution from the book is straight to the silver screen, assuming hollywood thinks theres enough money behind it. Ridley Scott’s movie interpretation, as I discussed in my last post, was a well crafted cinematic experience. What the medium loses in reader freedom of imagination, it gains in a more exhilarating and immersive experience. In the same vein, a virtual reality telling of The Martian in production could further pronounce these strengths and immersions at the cost of alternate views. The movie is arguably the definitive version of Watney’s odyssey.

The least exciting iteration of this story was the mobile game, “The Martian: Bring Him Home” by Little Labs, Inc. This has you at NASA’s end helping Watney make decisions. The game’s devotion to the text becomes a little bit of a hassle, at it eventually feels like someone is just reading the book to you and interrupting itself with questions. This game works off of an illusion of control, where the decisions that the player makes actually has little effect on the outcome of the story, aside from a few game over decisions. In Jeff Ritchie’s, “The Affordances and Constraints of Mobile Locative Narrative,” he discusses how when the medium affords the ability to offer the reader choices, it simultaneously constrains itself to depth and polish on alternate decisions. Overall, The Martian is best at home in the cinema, where it strikes a balance of immersion and well paced storytelling.


One thought on “A Story for All Mediums

  1. Hey Finn,

    While scrolling through this week’s posts, yours caught my eye. I found your initial claim particularly compelling – that examining different iterations of a single story brings each iteration’s weaknesses and strengths to light. Holding the story world more or less constant, it is possible to compare the effectiveness of each medium to that of the others.

    You chose to first examine Andy Weir’s original serialized blog fiction. I particularly enjoyed exploring Weir’s work via the Wayback Machine because it gave us a glimpse of The Martian before it was vetted by publishers and achieved its current popularity. I agree that the blog fiction’s ‘visual aides’ afford it a layer of technical credibility and immersion that we don’t find in the codex. My immediate question, then, is why Weir and his publishers ultimately decided not to include any such aides in the novel. My best guess is that the addition of maps and diagrams would disrupt the novel’s somewhat-rigid format as primarily a transcription of Mark Watney’s computer logs. Given the monumental task of surviving on Mars, he was likely not uploading detailed diagrams to supplement his entries. However, the ability of the blog fiction to engage the audience through multiple media is, as you argue, one of its most valuable affordances – one which is also shared by the film and the game, and which might have enhanced the experience of the novel.

    I also wanted to address your evaluation of the Little Labs game. The illusion of control is prominent in its gameplay, as you argue in your final paragraph, and I agree that the app’s storytelling capabilities pale in comparison to the film or the novel. But I think that its multiple possible endings have a lot of potential in expanding the story (through Ritchie’s idea of transmedia). When I missed the Hermes interception in my first playthrough of the game and watched as Watney flooded his suit with pure nitrogen, I had not yet finished the film or the novel – for all I knew, that could have been Watney’s fate after all. Golumbia’s emphasis on nonlinearity is exemplified in a game setting like this, where the audience may experience multiple, equally valid endings. Although this affordance may not have been fully explored by Little Labs, Inc. (who as you say, offer little more than “a few game over decisions”), I believe that the ability of a single work to contain multiple branching stories is extremely powerful as a storytelling technique.

    Ultimately, while I’m not sure I would agree categorically that The Martian overwhelmingly better-suited for cinema, I agree with much of what you have to say with regards to the affordances and constraints of the digital adaptations of the story. Great post.


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