Disclaimer: While I was interviewed for my thoughts about transmedia storytelling for A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, I received no compensation save for a review copy of the book.
Andrea Phillips stumbled across alternate reality games 11 years ago when a friend pointed her towards a website for the Anti-Robot Militia. The website, part of the proto-alternate reality game for Spielberg’s film Artificial Intelligence, opened Phillips to the possibility of taking a single unified story, splintering it across multiple media, and crafting a rich tapestry combing narrative, experience, and game. Transitioning from player to creator, Phillips went on to work on many critically acclaimed forays in the emerging field including Perplex City, Routes, The Maester’s Path, and Floating City.
While Phillips was working on these projects, quite a few trees were killed discussing the potential of these experiences. Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken and Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion each provided an overview of successful projects of the past and the elements that made them work, while novels like Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and Walter Jon Williams’ This Is Not a Game gave glimpses of a future where these immersive experiences find their way into mainstream forms of entertainment. These books serve as powerful sources of inspiration for compelling new ways of storytelling, but were not designed to guide creators from idea to execution. This is the niche that Phillips’ new book, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, hopes to fill, opening up a practical discussion of best practices for the industry. A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is guaranteed to stand out on your bookshelf; and not just because the book’s extra-wide pages will dwarf your standard paperback and hardcover books.
A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling provides a remarkably straightforward primer to the subject matter, aided by Phillips’ informal, conversational tone. Short interviews with creators in the transmedia space complement Phillips’ own thoughts on topics ranging from soliciting user-generated content and assembling a team, to budgeting projects and establishing revenue models. Phillips rarely seeks to offer hard-and-fast recommendations, preferring instead to address the underlying design considerations that should influence a creator’s decisions. When key sections like the fundamentals of storytelling or campaign benchmarks are glossed over, Phillips points readers in the direction of additional resources, such as Stephen King’s On Writing and Christy Dena’s ARG Stats page to fill in the blanks. Subscribers to Phillips’ newsletter even receive a set of sample planning documents for a hypothetical alternate reality game based on the story of Romeo and Juliet briefly described throughout the book.
A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling owes much to Dave Szulborski’s own treatise on the art of transmedia creation, This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming, one of the first practical handbooks on transmedia storytelling. Building upon Szulborski’s foundation in codifying best practices, Phillips’ book takes a deeper tactical dive, seeking to span the creative and skill-based gap between advertisers, storytellers, and game developers. In seeking to touch on so many aspects of the creative process, the book’s structure can at times feel disjointed, with the various sections often serving as self-contained entities, independent of each other. Each of the sections stand well enough on their own, however, particularly the book’s final (and strongest) chapter, a call-to-arms for creators. In the chapter, “Get Excited and Make Things,” Phillips shares a deeply personal memory of her insecurities as a creative freelancer between gigs to inspire readers to branch out and embrace independent creation regardless of experience level. For Phillips, the most important thing is to create.
One of A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling‘s Q&A sections reunited Phillips with Sean Stewart and Elan Lee, two of the minds behind the project that inspired Phillips to enter the transmedia field in the first place. In the interview, the pair recount their first project as Fourth Wall Studios, an interactive trailer called Eagle Eye: Free Fall designed to make alternate reality games and transmedia experiences more accessible to larger audiences. Stewart and Lee reflect, “the day [Free Fall] came out, someone posted, ‘OMG I showed this to my mother-in-law and she LOVED it!’ That was a huge win for us.” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling provides a similar bridge to mainstream audiences. After my mother finished reading the book, she wrote to let me know that “this book helped me understand what you write about.” For fans of transmedia stories, that should be considered a huge win.