The immersive experience of deep media

The Art of Immersion

BOOK REVIEW  by Mélanie BOURDAA  •  Published 26.08.2011  •  Updated 30.08.2011
Frank Rose, editor-in-chief of American magazine Wired, addresses the changes that creative and cultural industries are experiencing in terms of interactive storytelling, on the one hand, and TV viewer, listener and reader engagement, on the other hand.

Title: The Art of Immersion

Subhead:  How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories

Author(s): Frank Rose

Editor(s): W. W. Norton & Co

Release Date: 18.03.2011


Franck Rose, editor-in-chief of American magazine Wired, describes immersive experiences in entertainment and advertising and reports conversations he had with creators and producers of these new storytelling forms and strategies. Over the course of 13 chapters, Frank Rose offers a panorama of the most significant “deep media” experiences in cinema (The Dark Knight, Tron: Legacy, Avatar, Star Wars), television (Lost, The Office, Chuck), video games (Myst, Gears of War) and role-playing (Dungeons and Dragons), music (Nine Inch Nails and its Year Zero experiment) or even advertisements (McDonald’s, Coca-Cola). From the introduction onwards, the author places an emphasis on the importance of video games in the making and development of these immersive experiences, as according to him, video games contain all of the core characteristics that enhance the interactive experience: non-linear narration, different storyworlds and characters, and the involvement of the player in the unfolding of the stories. He also emphasizes the importance of narrative coherence in creating unified and complete universes.

Deep Media vs. Transmedia

Frank Rose’s argument is based on the notion of “deep media”, which he differentiates from transmedia, coined by Henry Jenkins. Jenkins wrote about this notion for the first time in 2003 in The Technological Review in order to describe the multimedia narrative strategies used for the Matrix franchise. For him, transmedia storytelling is “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.” Like Henry Jenkins, Frank Rose underlines the importance of new technologies in the creation and development of these interactive and immersive processes, praising the adaptative skills of the creative and cultural industries in a changing media ecosystem. However, his book focuses on the experiences of the audiences and for him, deep media is clearly about how to make audiences engage in an interactive story; any deep media experience must include the audiences in its process. Frank Rose notes that the term “audiences” is not longer relevant due to evolutions in cultural practices, replaced by what he calls “the people formerly known as the audience”. This “new” audience increasingly engages in extended, interactive and immersive storyworlds with the help of changed cultural practices and appropriations of new technologies.
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Deep media audiences

This phenomenon of intense immersion and sophisticated participation is nothing new. Frank Rose points out its origin in Otakus, the Japanese hardcore fans, and the development of the “media-mix” strategy that appeared in the 1970s in Japan and is well known to Manga fans. For Frank Rose, Otakus have “the desire to experience a universe through as many different media as possible. A need to extend and embrace that universe by telling new stories within it”.

The wiki Lostpedia

The author also underlines the importance of the community and collective workforce in cultural practices. In fact, receiving agents are not isolated in their reception and engage collectively in unified storyworlds. He reports on the creation of the Lost Wiki, founded by Kevin Croy, who wanted to gather fans of the TV show together to discuss and share their insight and experiences. Rose uses terms like “foraging” and “sense-making” to describe the various fan activities. This Wiki contains data that fans collected across all media platforms that constitute the Lost experience. Deep media audiences represent what Pierre Levy calls “collective intelligence”, which symbolizes the ability to use new technologies to share knowledge. The best example Frank Rose gives in his book is the transmedia experience surrounding The Dark Knight. The producers of the movie created an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) called Why So Serious? For Frank Rose, an ARG is “a hybrid of game and story. The story is told in fragments; the game comes in piecing the fragments together. The task is too complicated for any one person. But through the connective power of the Web, a group intelligence emerges to assemble the pieces, solve the mysteries, and, in the process, tell and retell the story online.” Why So Serious? players worked together to solve mysteries and understand the non-linear, multiplatform narration of the universe built around the movie.

The platform of game in alternate reality Why so serious?
But fans also use social networks to enjoy immersive experiences; with Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube, they can be “hyper-connected”. Moreover, companies like fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. or Burger King, and even Coca-Cola, use social networks to launch marketing and ad campaigns asking people to create their own ads. Those three particular companies asked people to tell a story around a product (a burger or a beverage) and to post their videos on YouTube. Not only were these campaigns quite successful, but they also went viral thanks to their sharing by Internet users on various social networks.
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The crisis of “authorship”

Given increasingly involved and engaged audiences, Frank Rose notes that the border between production and reception, author and consumer, is more and more blurred within the creative industries. Before the implementation of new technologies, media were linear and unilateral, and people were only consumers of cultural products. Today, fans want to be part of the construction of the story, but they also want producers to build coherent universes. Frank Rose had a talk with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the producers of Lost, in which we learn that Paulo and Nicki, two characters from season three, were killed off because fans hated them. The author also reports how Mad Men’s fans created Twitter accounts to impersonate their favorite characters from the show to continue and expand story arcs, and how AMC, which broadcasts the series, did not appreciate this, invoking copyright issues. For fans, this was simply a way to prove their devotion to the show. Moreover, Frank Rose recalls the episode of the “Potterwar” between Warner Bros. and teenage fans of Harry Potter who created websites using images from the movies. As far as the Star Wars franchise is concerned, George Lucas admits that although he created the storyworlds and story arcs, “fans own the saga now”. In fact, fans themselves tend to use original material to create their own stories and extend the universe, as when they write fan fictions, for example.
Translated from the French by Sarah Heft

Photo credits : Official website of publisher W. W. Norton & Co.
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Book title: The Art of Immersion
Subhead:  How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories
Titre original du livre: The Art of Immersion
Author(s): Frank Rose
Editor(s): W. W. Norton & Co
Release Date: 18/03/2011
N° ISBN: 0393076016
Number of pages: 354 pages
Suggested price: 19 euros

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