If you were asked to describe the history of the The Matrix, would you be able to? That’s the question that featured prominently in my mind on my way home today. Though the answer to that question personally, is ‘no’, the answer that thousands upon thousands of fans would give is a detailed, well informed perspective on what became a replica of the success of Star Wars, but in a deliberate form. So how, and more importantly, why does this work?
The fact is, a large section of film viewers would have no idea how deliberate transmedia storytelling has become. The Star Wars franchise is one of the first true examples of the creation of an entire world of content where the films only act as a starting point, and fan fiction, video games, comics, spin-off films and numerous other media channels develop the stories further than what they could be in the central films. The Wachowski brothers deliberately encouraged this kind of phenomenon. Each media channel, e.g. the Matrix films, the Animatrix, the video games, and the comic books, all give a whole range of essential information that create an entire history of the Matrix (1). It occurred to me that we’ve been seeing examples of entertainment companies creating ‘worlds’ in which fans can explore the many possibilities of a story in many contexts for many years now; an early version of this was the world of Marvel Comics that gave a series of characters such as Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk a place in the Marvel Comics ‘Universe’, where they would eventually come to interact. And now this ‘Universe’ has become much more extensive; the Avengers’ stories are all interwoven across an entire ‘world’ of media, throughout the huge series of American films developed by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, the video games featuring some of the individuals from the ‘Universe’, tv spin-offs, soundtracks, cosplay and fan creations inspired by the Marvel Universe.
Not only do these transmedia narratives cross media channels, but they also cross cultural divides. There is a certain sense of give and take when it comes to media; for instance, the Matrix was inspired by an incredibly diverse cultural base, such as Hong Kong action cinema, Japanese animation, Italo-Westerns, Doctor Who and Alice in Wonderland themes. The success of a franchise also does not have to be tied to one culture, as Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z have demonstrated; Pokémon originated in Japan to market to a Japanese audience, and when released with English dubbing to a child-based Western market the series became part of an already entire world of interaction that involved trading card games, video games, comic books, films and soundtracks.
My generation’s participation in transmedia storytelling cannot be avoided; the numerous entry points for enticement into the ‘worlds’ now created by companies such as Warner Bros. throughout the Harry Potter franchise, are hard to avoid. Despite bringing out the last film for the Harry Potter franchise last year and the last book being released in 2007, Harry Potter completely captures a giant audience, such as through the Harry Potter exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney recently and the Pottermore website. Their complete monopolization of all forms of delivery of content means that we become sucked in no matter where we begin from.
The reality is, most of us don’t actually stop to think about what’s happening to us, and we willingly involve ourselves almost entirely within these stories, or even, histories. They are fast becoming the future of media entertainment, a true example of media convergence.