Time-Agnostic vs. Time-Dependent Transmedia Stories

Designing a transmedia narrative to be time-agnostic provides both the author and the audience more flexibility than making it time-dependent. Time-dependency can take at least three forms:

  • Requiring the user to participate in a narrative or some of its elements at a specific time (e.g. scheduling an online or real world event for a particular date and time).
  • Setting “checkpoints” in the narrative that are opened, closed, or re-directed at a predefined time (e.g. requiring users to reach a particular point in an adventure story before a specific time when an event is triggered.
  • Designing the narrative so elements of the story need to be revealed in a specific sequence to have meaning (e.g. revealing a series of clues that progress the user through a mystery narrative). In this case, it is the sequencing that is important, not the specific date and time.

Alternate reality games are extremely time-dependent for all three reasons noted. Start dates and times, timing for the release of clues, and the sequence in which story elements are revealed are all critical to the success of these types of games. That time dependence adds significantly to the user experience, but once the game has run its course, it makes it difficult if not impossible to play the game again or for newcomers to join late. As a result, alternate reality games tend to be “one-of” projects, which makes them useful for the promotion and marketing of movies or consumer products but far less effective as narratives with any long-term value.

Designing a transmedia narrative or some of its elements to include shared participation will make it time-dependent if online or real world events, performances, and other gatherings require the scheduling of specific dates and times.

In spite of the limitations posed by time-dependency, there may also be advantages. The carefully choreographed release of information in transmedia narratives and alternate reality games can be closely linked to marketing campaigns they support. It may also be necessary to schedule when various narrative elements are published in order publish the transmedia narrative in serial form (e.g. a transmedia narrative for which the initial release is carefully sequenced to avoid overwhelming the audience).

The best approach may be to use a time-dependent initial release but when the entire transmedia narrative has been published, ensure that new users can enter and enjoy it as a time-agnostic narrative.

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