Comments on transmedia storytelling.

The interdependent group of scholars who debate such things as “transmedia storytelling” has left a recent series of interesting tracks.  Here is that trail:

First, read this post by David Bordwell:

Then, read this response by Henry Jenkins:

I will not carry you through the Bordwell argument above, other than to say that argument appears to undermine one or more tenets of the Jenkins’ platform.  I am, for this reason, interested in both the tone and the content of Jenkins’ response, which remains incomplete.  Currently, I find the first installment of that response (posted in the link above) lacking in direction and confidence.  I would not state this at all except that it then allows me to acknowledge simultaneously and in contrast, without prejudice, that Jenkins seems a much better blog writer than Bordwell.

I would like to emphasize only this portion of the Bordwell argument:

Storytelling is crucially all about control. It sometimes obliges the viewer to take adventures she could not imagine. Storytelling is artistic tyranny, and not always benevolent.

Likewise, or so my argument goes, culture is all about control.  This is precisely why culture and storytelling and, indeed, any sort of educating or indoctrinating are anathemas to play.  To play is to gain control or, in situations in which control is given (temporarily) to a game during game play, to relinquish control only freely, only willfully, only temporarily, and only under the odd and strict conditions of the game rules.

The attempt to wrestle the story from the storyteller and to assign control of that story to the readers of the story (i. e., within Jenkins’ “participatory culture”) seems to make sense only if we continue to deal with stories and storytelling.  This makes sense, in turn, only if we continue to deal with, as Bordwell puts it, tyranny.  For it is not only the storytelling that is the tyrant; the predetermined outcome of the storytelling also must tyrannize:  the story form itself.

Can we have a “participatory culture” without stories and storytelling?  I don’t think so.

Can we have play and games without stories and storytelling?  Yes.

From this position, I find it somewhat strange that Bordwell would, in the end, most directly challenge Jenkins only with this:

Gap-filling isn’t the only rationale for spreading the story across platforms…

The critical issue in transmedia storytelling is not whether gaps exist prior or gaps are filled anterior.

The critical issue must be, as Bordwell earlier indicates, control.