The Martian: A Multimedia Experience

After spending the last two weeks reading, watching, and playing the Martian, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine the advantages and disadvantages of a multimedia story.

Books, unlike movies, can be enjoyed at any pace, and over any amount of time. The time constraints of movies force producers to eliminate elements of the story. The Martian movie loses several climatic scenes from the book, including the death of Pathfinder and the enormous dust storm that slows Watney’s travel. Arguably the most important affordance movies provide is the uniformity of the audience’s experience. Unlike in a book, where each reader uses their own imagination to build worlds in their minds, every movie viewer sees the exact same thing. Certainly every viewer still carries his or her own biases, but these are present throughout every media form. Movies can also utilize music and sound effects to heighten the audiences’ emotions; throughout the Martian, the diegetic effects match the tension and relief the audience experiences. Usually, when a book is converted into a movie, the protagonist’s internal dialogue is lost. In the Martian, however, Mark is able to recount his experiences to his logs as a first person narrative, preserving much of his thought process.

Blog style narratives work well for a very narrow type of story, but Mark Watney’s logs complement this style very well. The blog, as this story was originally written, allows for some feedback and interactivity between the readers and author.

We also examined Mars through Virtual Reality. This technology, when implemented well can completely immerse the viewer in the world of the story. It is, however, an isolating experience. In the same way that the affordances of books encourage solo reading, the constraints of virtual reality make it difficult to share.

The Martian is also available as an interactive game story, in which the user has some control over the course of events. One of the affordances that the app uniquely provides is the opportunity to get information from outside the game. This multimedia hypertextuality draws in the users outside experiences and ability to research topics on demand. This is a popular utility in many mobile apps, and often includes additional external elements such as GPS location.

While neither the virtual reality experience nor mobile game was social or particularly interactive with the real world, I think there is huge potential for this in the future. As an example of collaborative game, the chaotic game Spaceteam involves multiple players in the same room, each with a fraction of the control panel of their collective ship and instructions that might apply to someone’s else’s screen. I can easily imagine a Martian themed variant of this idea in which multiple players must work together as NASA to help the endangered astronaut(s). Perhaps, however, social interactivity doesn’t belong in the story of a man alone on a barren planet.

Transmedia is the idea that each medium should play to its strengths and add a unique layer to the story. While there are some minor differences between each of these versions of the Martian, they are largely all the same, and their individual contributions are meager. For readers exploring multiple venues simultaneously, this may cause saturation. As I switched between the movie, book, and game adaptations of this story, I felt a sense of déjà vu and found it difficult to determine if I had read a section already, or if I was just overfamiliar with the story. On the other hand, the exploration this story through multiple medias reveals more detail and a deeper understanding than is possible through one medium alone.

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