The Benefit of Transmedia Narratives

The Martian by Andy Weir has effectively utilized the capabilities of transmedia narrative to expand the story’s universe and following. Jeff Ritchie describes transmedia narratives as those that tell stories pertaining to the same universe and plot across different media. The Martian effectively depicts the capabilities of these narratives, especially in its digital renditions by introducing new affordances and different constraints. The story written by Weir began as a non-linear progression of the survival story of a stranded astronaut. Later this story became a full movie, and continued the trend of transmedia through interactive applications on smart phones eventually becoming realized as virtual reality simulations.

Transmedia narratives are imperative to expanding the possibilities of storytelling and audience immersion. In being told across different formats, especially digitally, stories present the writer/designer with brand new sets of affordances and constraints, permitting the expansion of the universe in which the story takes place. For example, taking The Martian into the digital realm in the form of an app allowed designers and writers to collaborate in creating interactive interfaces that give the user a chance to affect the story progression, ultimately making them a co-author of the story. The affordances of telling The Martian in the form of an app allowed the developer to involve multimedia including sounds, images, hypertext, and interactivity all cumulating into a more immersive experience than a reader would feel simply following a print storyline. However, this source of media was also limited in user interaction. The constraint of technology limited the decision making structure of the audience to two decisions, oftentimes having little differentiation in plot. The exception I noticed to this trend occurred when making life or death choices, for example the game (Mark Watney) asked the user what the lowest percent of oxygen present would allow for the hydrogen to ignite. These particular questions placed the character in dangerous situations giving the user’s response more weight, as choosing the incorrect answer would cause the game to rewind. During these situations, the app rendition of the story compels the user to visit other texts and articles in order to obtain the proper information to carry out the story and protect Watney, increasing realism.

The universe of The Martian further became a reality when it was moved into a virtual reality as a result of a new set of affordances and constraints on the form of storytelling. In the VR Martian game, the user is physically able to look around himself/herself to see the environment that Watney was put in. The affordance of physical movement in real life directly translating to the same movement in game creates an entirely new level of immersion that the app was unable to because of the constraint of technology and apparatus. Transmedia narratives are effective because they are capable of introducing new affordances that build on the audience’s previous experience, keeping fresh perspectives on the same story.

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