Jeff Gomez is the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, that develops transmedial story worlds for ‘the best known franchises in the world’ like Pirates of the Caribbean, Fairies, Prince of Persia and Tron for The Walt Disney Company, James Cameron’s Avatar for 20th Century Fox, Halo for Microsoft, Happiness Factory for The Coca-Cola Company, and most recently Transformers for Hasbro. So you can safely say he is at the hi-end of this practice. He spoke at the exciting Transmedia Conference at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (where I spoke as well on the concept of Situated Storytelling.
When Jeff Gomez explained what in his view were the prime success parameters of transmedial story worlds, it suddenly struck me: this is not an newly emerging expressive genre at all, it is actually one of the oldest successful forms of creating experiences that we know… The development of the Roman Catholic story-world (and probalby others, but I’d have to look into those more carefully) closely follows Gomez’s rules.
This is Gomez’s list of success factors:
1 Content is originated by one or a few visionaries .
2 Cross media roll-out is planned early in the life of the franchise.
3 Content is distributed over at least 3 platforms .
4 Content is unique, adheres to platforms specific strengths and is not re-purposed .
5 Content is based on a single vision of the story world .
6 Concerted effort is made to avoid fractures and schisms .
7 Effort is vertical across company third parties and licensees .
8 Roll-out features audience participatory elements including web portal, social networking and story guided user generated content.
The rules neatly describe the experience, the participatory nature and narrative coherence of organised religion. Minor incongruencies occur, but certainly for Catholicism, there is a tight fit.
1 Content is originated by one or a few visionaries: Jesus, later Peter.
2 Cross media roll-out is planned early in the life of the franchise. Texts, participatory rituals, songs, buildings, specific dress codes and hairstyles, prayers.
3 Content is distributed over at least 3 platforms. See previous point – by all means! But also: there is always a clear ‘driving platform’: the Bible (or Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Book of Mormon etcetera.)
4 Content is unique, adheres to platforms specific strengths and is not re-purposed . To some extent yes: pictures, and statues are made to reach illiterate vup’s (viewer/user/player), canonical books for the general audience, mystical texts come from – and are meant for the hardcore fan-base. (But basically a lot of the IP is actually re-purposed. )
5 Content is based on a single vision of the story world . This was the plan that was adopted at the Council of Nicea. There the biblical canon was established. But a lot of the stories had been living a life of their own the past hundreds of years, so were hard to bring totally in line. Complete coherence proved a hard job in practice. For instance, there are two conflicting accounts of creation in the first pages of the Bible. God is both a highly vengeful god (in the older parts of the old testament) as well as a forgiving god, etcetera.
6 Concerted effort is made to avoid fractures and schisms . For Catholicism (the example I know best) yes, a lot of coordinated effort has been put into that, throughout history. The 12th Century Inquisition was a coordinated effort to root out the Cathar and Albigensian heresy. The Reformation turned out into a schism, but was actually an attempt to restore purity in the core intellectual property. The Counter-Reformation tried to counter the Reformation (!) and to restore unity.
7 Effort is vertical across company third parties and licensees . Indeed – there is a clear hierarchy in place. The Pope, cardinals and bishops run the show – down to the local parish priest or missionary. Third parties have been developing the buildings and the films for instance, but according to clear guidelines from the central authority.
8 Roll-out features audience participatory elements including web-portal, social networking and story guided user generated content.Here we have to go slightly metaphorical, since most of the describe socio-technical infrastructures are of very recent origin, where the Catholic church is 2000 years old. But focussing on the participatory character of the storyworld: of course – the whole thing is entirely participatory and experiential. Fans are encouraged to perform the role of believer, to imitate, yet personalise the behaviour of the main characters. Fans are encouraged to have personal, yet canonical transgressive experiences, they in turn convey new fans. Evangelists, hardcore fans, followers, casual passers-by.
It actually seems quite obvious once the comparison is made. I just wonder if the big transmedial developers actually studied the way religions are organised, or even know them first hand. Otherwise I would suggest they look into some of these tested and proven successful practices. I’m not saying faith equals suspension of disbelief but I do suspect some of the perceptive mechanisms are indeed the same.