- Converging WorldsFrom Transmedial Storyworlds to Transmedial Universes
Contemporary media culture is shaped by technological innovations and the gradual move of media conglomerates from vertical to horizontal integration. Among other things, this has led to the increased visibility of transmedial constellations that transgress the borders of both single works and conventionally distinct media, ranging from novel-based franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, or Harry Potter, via comics-based franchises such as Batman, X-Men, or The Walking Dead and film-based franchises such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or The Matrix, to television-based franchises such as Doctor Who, Star Trek, or Lost and video game-based franchises such as Tomb Raider, Warcraft, or Halo. While there are other aspects worth considering, these transmedial entertainment franchises tend to be most visibly defined by their representational functions. In light of the largely uncontested saliency of the representation of characters, stories, and worlds across media such as novels, [End Page 21] comics, films, television series, and video games, however, media studies still tends to operate with a surprisingly vague account of transmedial entertainment franchises’ “converging contents.”
Among the existing approaches to the analysis of the latter, Henry Jenkins’s concept of “transmedia storytelling” has proven particularly influential. In his essay “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” for example, Jenkins describes the location of video games within transmedial entertainment franchises such as Star Wars as follows: “One can imagine games taking their place within a larger narrative system with story information communicated through books, film, television, comics, and other media, each doing what it does best, each a relatively autonomous experience, but the richest understanding of the story world coming to those who follow the narrative across the various channels” (2004: 124). In several subsequent publications he revisited and elaborated the concept but left its core parameters largely intact (see, e.g., Jenkins 2006: 93–130; Jenkins 2007; Jenkins 2011). Particularly because he emphasizes that “narrative analysis need not be prescriptive” (2004: 119), though, it seems striking that Jenkins remained primarily concerned with a decidedly “ideal form of transmedia storytelling” (2006: 95).
More specifically, Jenkins’s emphasis on the model of “co-creation” as opposed to the “current licensing system” leads him to dismiss a large part of existing forms of transmedial entertainment franchises as “redundant … , watered down … , or riddled with sloppy contradictions” (2006: 105). While the ideal form of “transmedia storytelling” may, indeed, entail “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” (Jenkins 2007: n. pag.), it seems that current industry practices continue to regularly fail in their attempts to realize that ideal. As Jason Mittell remarks, then, it is fruitful to contrast “Jenkins’s proposed ideal of balanced transmedia, with no one medium or text serving a primary role over others, with the more commonplace model of unbalanced transmedia, with a clearly identifiable core text and a number of peripheral transmedia extensions that might be more or less integrated into the narrative whole, acknowledging that most examples fall somewhere on a spectrum between balance and unbalance” (2015: 294, original emphases). [End Page 22]
Another early approach that more explicitly addresses the often complex and contradictory nature of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions was developed by Lisbeth Klastrup and Susana P. Tosca, whose concept of “transmedial worlds” analyzes these franchises as “abstract content systems from which a repertoire of fictional stories and characters can be actualized or derived across a variety of media forms” (Klastrup and Tosca 2004: n. pag.; see also Klastrup and Tosca 2011, 2014). At first glance, Klastrup and Tosca’s concept of “transmedial worlds” seems well suited to come to terms with the indeterminacies and contradictions of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions, because it explicitly allows for them. However, it does so at the cost of employing a rather fuzzy notion of what a “world” is. “What characterises a transmedial world,” according to Klastrup and Tosca, “is that audience and designers share a mental image of the ‘worldness’ (a number of distinguishing features of its universe)” (2004...