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Transmedial Worlds - Rethinking Cyberworld Design



In this paper we introduce the concept of transmedial worlds, relating it to genre and adaptation theory, and presenting a framework for how to look for transmedial traits in a world. Through some examples, we argue that applying this concept to the analysis of cyberworlds can reveal interesting results, as well as being a useful tool for designers of cyberworlds to plan their content.
Transmedial Worlds – Rethinking Cyberworld Design
Lisbeth Klastrup & Susana Tosca
Center for Computer Games Research
IT University of Copenhagen &
In this paper we introduce the concept of transmedial
worlds, relating it to genre and adaptation theory, and
presenting a framework for how to look for transmedial
traits in a world. Through some examples, we argue that
applying this concept to the analysis of cyberworlds can
reveal interesting results, as well as being a useful tool
for designers of cyberworlds to plan their content.
1. Introduction
Certain universes stick with us Middle Earth, the
Star Wars Galaxy, or the Cthulu Mythos – and they have
such devoted followers that recreating the universe in
another media form is almost a sure success. But what
defines a successful universe that can be transported
across media – or as we will call it here – a transmedial
world? This paper puts forward the idea that in thinking
about and designing cyberworlds, we could take some
inspiration from transmedial worlds. The paper is part of
a bigger ongoing investigation about transmedial worlds.
2. A definition of transmedial worlds (TMW)
We propose the following definition of transmedial
worlds (in what follows referred to as TMW):
Transmedial worlds are abstract content systems from
which a repertoire of fictional stories and characters can
be actualized or derived across a variety of media forms.
What characterises a transmedial world is that audience
and designers share a mental image of the “worldness”
(a number of distinguishing features of its universe). The
idea of a specific world’s worldness mostly originates
from the first version of the world presented, but can be
elaborated and changed over time. Quite often the world
has a cult (fan) following across media as well.
Subjects interacting with the transmedial world in any
of its actualizations (for example a book, a film, a
game…) can recognize the world by its abstract
properties. Thus, for example, subjects are able to judge
if a novel that expands the story of one of the supporting
characters in a film (like the Star Wars canteen novels)
fits into the Star Wars universe or not; or are able to
discern that swearing is out of place in the Lord of the
Rings world. In our definition, a transmedial world is
more than a specific story, although its properties are
usually communicated through storytelling. For example,
the transmedial world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is more
than the particular book trilogy called The Lord of the
Rings, and it includes the films, the board games, the
computer games, the fan fiction, the landscapes painted
by graphic artists, etc. The point is that by encountering
one of the world’s actualizations (for example an
amusement park ride in which participants have to shoot
arrows at cardboard orcs), the imaginary construct of the
world is evoked in the participant’s imagination, and each
simple act gains a much wider meaning.
A transmedial world can initiate in any medium; the
Lord of the Rings world originated from novels, the Star
Wars world from films and the Pokemon world from a
Nintendo Gameboy game. It can be orchestrated by a
corporation that controls the different media incarnations
or appear spontaneously due to fan activity and
independent incarnations. In any case, it is impossible to
predict that a certain object will originate a transmedial
world just by looking at the object itself. Its success
depends on the way that the interpretive community (Fish
[6]) has received the originating object (novel, film, game
etc) and has been interested in expanding its world by
either consuming related objects in different media or
even creating their own objects within the transmedial
world, such as fan fiction or table top roleplaying games,
characters and adventures.
Such as in the case of cult literature and film,
transmedial worlds are often the object of near worship
by their fans (indeed some transmedial worlds originate
from cult objects, such as Lovecraft’s horror writing), but
are not only limited to small numbers of followers, as
some of the most recognizable transmedial worlds have
millions of fans and originate from big blockbusters (i.e.
Star Wars).
The concept of transmedial worlds is very related to
that of genre, as it has been described in literature and
film theory. Genre is a descriptive and normative concept
at the same time and depends on general recognition
within an interpretive community :
“Genres can be defined as patterns / forms /
styles / structures which transcend individual
art products, and which supervise both their
construction by artist and their reading by
audiences” (Ryall quoted in Lacey [13: p.132]
Genres are part of what readers/users know (part of their
repertoire, in Iser’s terms [8, p.69]; something they need
to apply in order to decode texts. A requirement for a
genre to exist is that more than one single product shares
the basic structure so as to be recognizable by audiences.
Genres occur within one media, and often translate to
other media (with different conventions according to the
nature of each medium), for example there are science
fiction books, films and computer games.
A transmedial world works interpretively in the same
way as a genre, with the difference that all the products /
incarnations share a basic foundational story and there is
only one acceptable version of an ethos, topos and
mythos (see below). A genre allows for minor variations
(think for example of the very different ethos of Alien and
Starship Troopers, both science fiction films). If genres
are themes, transmedial worlds are themes plus a
common background story, which makes them narrower
in scope, but also means that its incarnations are more
coherent and homogeneous than those of a genre.
Nick Lacey has proposed a list of what is part of any
genre, or what do we look at when applying our mental
genre schemata to things: setting, character, narrative,
iconography, style and stars [13: p.136], which he then
uses to describe several different genres (western, film
noir, etc.). His list is not unlike our model of transmedial
context production, with the difference that ours contains
specific categories for cyberworlds, and we are specially
interested in interactivity and performance.
The moment that a reader/viewer identifies a genre,
all the recognizable conventions apply, and it is the same
when receiving (film, book) and when performing
(computer game, writing fan fiction, roleplaying). We
argue that the same happens in transmedial worlds.
3. What transmedial worlds are not
We have been inspired by other author’s work in our
conceptualization of transmedial worlds.
Henry Jenkins talks about transmedia storytelling [9]
referring to general media convergence in the
entertainment industry, a phenomenon he is critical about
as sequels are, according to him, very often redundant,
watered down or full of contradictions [9].
Successful sequels have emerged from creators with a
single vision, like George Lucas, or rich environments
from authors that conceived of their art as worlds, such as
J.R.R. Tolkien. To Jenkins, the key is not only that each
franchise must be self-contained, but also that each
medium concentrates in exploiting its strengths: a story
could be introduced in a film, expanded through a novel
and “its world might be explored and experienced
through game play” [9]. We do not think his mention of
games as a good medium to support worlds is casual, but
that it implicitly points to the fact that the exploration
activity that cyberworlds allow for is a very substantial
advantage over other media when trying to bring a world
to life.
Jenkin’s perspective is interesting because it balances
both the corporate and the consumption perspectives,
and it is based on a few examples of good ways of
translating stories (the young Indiana Jones tales, the
Star Wars Canteen novels). The difference is that he
focuses on the concrete telling of one story through
different media, and our transmedial world concept is
about the abstract properties that cut across the different
On parallel lines to Jenkins, the narratologist Marie-
Laure Ryan has worked with the concept of transmedial
narrative. In a recent conference paper
, she stated that
she perceives of narrative as a transmedial phenomenon
whose identity lies “entirely in the signified”. By this she
means that narrative is a certain type of mental image, or
cognitive construct which can be isolated from the
stimuli that trigger its construction. Therefore narrative
is independent of the medium in which it is represented
– it is a “script” which is evoked (see also [17]).
According to Ryan, all narrative scripts involve a world
populated with events and objects, and the change of the
state of this world, through actions and happenings,
which seen in connection can be seen to form a plot.
Even if there are some similarities between her
theory and ours, she foregrounds “narrativity” as the key
element in the abstract, mental worlds, she discusses. For
us, even if a transmedial world can have narrative, it is
not the sole defining characteristic, or will not always be
there in a recognizable plottable form. Especially in
cyberworlds, dramatic events are something that emerge,
not something that exist in the world a priori.
Another related theory is Piotr Sitarski’s development
of Marsha Kinder’s entertainment systems concept in
relationship to computer games [18]. An entertainment
system is “a network of texts organised around a figure or
group of figures from popular culture”, such as for
example the Resident Evil series of games and the film of
the same name. Entertainment systems replace individual
texts in that the narrative is subordinated to the
Marie-Laure Ryan: “Transmedial Narratology and Concepts of
2nd International Colloquium on "Narratology beyond
Literary Criticism,
University of Hamburg, 20.-22. November 2003.
characters, and particular events; one of his examples is
the Mortal Kombat film plot, which cannot be explained
by narrative logic but by the need to adapt to a pre-
existing videogame. [18].
His approach is interesting because it points to the
very close relationship between contemporary products of
the same franchise, and explains new narrative
that force audiences to consume several
products of the same franchise in order to experience a
complete story. Talking in Iser’s terms [8: p.169], we
could say that in an entertainment system, some of the
gaps cannot be filled in by readers/viewers, because the
necessary information lies outside the text, in another
However, his concept is different from ours in that it
is centered on particular plot developments in specific
texts (and also very much in characters). We disagree
with the idea that there is no original text in entertainment
systems. To us, original texts that spin off worlds, such as
Tolkien’s books, very often acquire a cult status. Any
new interpretation or instantiation is closely followed by
fans, who will anathemize deviations with nearly
religious zeal.
Finally, Jesper Juul talks about transmedial games in
Half-Real. Video games between real rules and fictional
rules, where he points to the fact that computer games,
just like narrative, do not depend on one particular
medium to exist, and can actually be translated across
them [10].
Like Jenkins, Juul insists on the idea that different
media have different strengths. We have been inspired by
his use of the word transmedial, but our approach does
not focus on the structural properties of games or
narrativity understood as a particular sequence of events.
A focus on worlds allows us to go beyond a media-
centered theoretical perspective and concentrate instead
on the abstract content system itself and how it is
4. Transmediality and adaptation theory
If we look to other theoretical influences on our
theory, there is a natural link between concepts of
transmediality and adaptation theory. This field of study
has mainly discussed the adaptation of works from book
to film, but in principle deals with all media forms; an
early piece on adaptation was Lessing’s famous Laocoon
discussion of “adaptation” between painting and poetry.
A good example of a narrative anomaly, in this case the omission of an
important plot point, is in the film The Matrix Reloaded (2003), where
the story of how Niobe’s team manages to cut the electrical power down
so that the heroes can succeed in their final mission is never shown,
because it is part of the videogame (Enter the Matrix, 2003) action that
the player must complete herself.
Both transmedial thinking and adaptation theory address
the question of how “content” can move between
different platforms (verbal, pictorial, auditory etc).
However, much adaptation theory in fact defines and
points to the essential meaning-making properties of a
particular media form. Novels and other narrative texts
are seen as media genres which foreground time; film
and games as media genres which foreground space etc.
(see for instance [1] or [4]).
We are looking at worlds which can be organised
and presented in any media form and in which both the
rendering of space and the sense of history (time
passing) are important. We do not want to claim that
some media forms are better at presenting worlds than
other, though we believe that each media form has
particular advantages. In general, when analysing
transmedial worlds, it makes no sense to examine issues
of literal adaptation, but adaptation theory might
nevertheless help us to understand processes of
meaning-making, of “recoding” of the world and the
importance of fidelity to the original.
4.1 Perspectives on adaptation
We find two major perspectives on the process of
adaptation. One approaches adaptation from a semiotic
point of view and is concerned with how the aesthetics
and content of a work is adapted from one sign system to
the other [see for instance [15]. Another takes the point
of departure in the question of narrative we could call it
the story approach, which is quite close to the
transmedial narrative perspective. It discusses how a
story can be adapted from one media to another and
which aspects of the story is most important to adopt in
this process ([3],[4]).
While wishing to avoid a meaning-centric or story-
centric point of view, we acknowledge that in studying
particular actualisations of a transmedial work, it can be
fruitful to look at how this particular actualization
produces new meaning-bearing content – content which
can then be reproduced or reused in forthcoming
actualizations of the world. For this purpose, the
semiotic concept of transcoding discussed by for
instance Rifkin [15: p.10] might be useful. Following
Rifkin, when a world is presented in a new media form,
we should be looking for elements which have been
recoded into the new actualization of the world, both
expanding on and yet being faithful to meaning and
worldness implied within the ur-actualization. Hence,
questions of fidelity and spirit are important, also in
transmedial world theory.
Fidelity in adaptation is a question Dudley Andrews
has examined in his classic article “Adaptation”, where
he argues that fidelity of transformation can either take
place in the letter (literally) or in the spirit, either for
instance adopting a plot scene by scene or just in
. This fidelity of transformation will always be
at play in an actualization of a world, because in order to
maintain the essential worldness of a transmedial world
and to be true to its cult status, a certain amount of
fidelity is always required. Any instantiation of a
transmedial world must be faithful to the original setting
and story of the universe. It will always refer to the ur-
actualization of the world as the “cultural model” to
which all other models (or sign systems) refer.
4.2. The textual fallacy in transmedial discourse
Whether specifically discussing adaptation or
transmedial concepts, many theorists have a tendency to
stay within the textual realm of the work in question.
Questions of adaptability or transmediality are often
discussed either in relation to adaptation following either
the original story told or the “deep structure” or pattern
of a particular text: “narrative is a deep structure quite
independent of its medium” [3: p. 403]. With reference
to Wimsatt & Beardsley’s concept of the “intentional
fallacy” [21], we could call this the “textual fallacy” –
the tendency to approach transmedial objects from a too
literal point of view. Questions of originality, authorship
or narrative events might be relevant to discuss, but in
order to fully understand what a transmedial world is, we
need to move away from the idea of the world as a
material entity or single text, from which one true
meaning can be abstracted. A transmedial world is an
abstract idea of a world generated on the grounds of the
first actualization of the world and the core elements this
world contained, but not in anyway restricted by this.
We must thus approach transmedial worlds exactly as
worlds, not as a “texts” or any given sign system, but as
imaginary constructs shared by the cult audience with an
interest in the universe, or twisting Foucault a bit,
thinking of them as transdiscursive entities [7: p.134].
We can take the transdiscursive idea even a step
further, because the transmedial world is not just
transdiscursive, generating multiple works, but also
transsystemic, generating worlds which are actualized in
many different sign systems.
5. A framework for analysing the TMW
An example here could be Jane Austen’s Emma which, in a very literal
version, has been produced by BBC in the exact same setting as the
book, with period costumes and use of sentences directly from the
novel; and as a contrast has also been adapted into the Hollywood movie
Clueless which is set in our time and center around a highschool
teenager, yet remains faithful in spirit to the main themes of novel:
matchmaking, confusion of interests and the coming of age.
If we are to analyse the life of a transmedial world
from a transsystemic point of view, we need to begin by
studying the ur-actualization of the world and the core
elements which seem to define its worldness. First then,
will it make sense to begin study worlds at the textual
level, such as that of for instance story and plot. Later, a
concrete analysis of an actualized world in a digital
setting would need to take into consideration the
software with which the world is implemented and the
medium through which the world is filtered. These two
elements together acts as the interface to world, shaping
the way the user will perceive and handle the world.
5.1. The core elements of TMW
Which core features can we find in all transmedial
worlds? We propose the following:
Mythos: the establishing conflicts and battles of the
world, which also present the characters of the world.
The mythos also includes stories of or rumours about
certain lore items and creatures which are unique to the
world. One could say that the mythos of the world is the
backstory of all backstories – the central knowledge one
needs to have in order to interact with or interpret events
in the world successfully.
Topos: the setting of the world in a specific historical
period and detailed geography, such as a futuristic
technological world (science fiction) consisting of desert
planets; a world set in the middle ages with fantastic
elements (“fantasy”) and a wild nature inhabited by
raging beasts; or a crime-ridden underworld (for instance
detective/gangster style) laid out in a dystopic and
immense cityscape where people use both laserguns and
amulets etc. The actual space and time of an actualization
of the transmedial world can be changed, but the general
space and time of the universe is normally unchangable,
(i.e. the world will always be set in the past or the future
according to the time of the ur-actualization). However,
newer actualizations of a world might often be set either
before or some time after the mythic time of the ur-
transmedial world in order not to interfere with the
mythos. From the player’s perspective, we can say that
knowing the topos is knowing what is to be expected
from the physics of and navigation in the world.
Ethos: this is the explicit and implicit ethics of the
world and (moral) codex of behaviour, which characters
in the world are supposed to follow. How does the good
and the bad behave, and what behaviour can be accepted
as “in character” or rejected as “out of character” in that
world. Thus ethos is the form of knowledge required in
order to know how to behave in the world.
6. Cyberworlds as transmedial worlds
Deriving from Klastrup’s definition of virtual worlds
[12], we understand cyberworlds to be computer-
mediated, networked and spatially navigable multi-user
environments. They contain the possibility to interact in
real time with other users and to actively interact with and
influence the world itself. They can be game worlds or
entertainments world or social worlds, but most
cyberworlds provide all three opportunities (gaming,
being entertained, socialising) in some form.
Cyberworlds offer some interesting opportunities for
the actualization of a transmedial world. They let the user
of the world become and act as a character in the world,
not just experiencing the world from the outside, but
actually being transported inside it. In addition, since they
are multi-player worlds, they offer the opportunity of
interacting with other players which share the same
interest and knowledge of the transmedial world.
Furthermore, they can offer the user the opportunity to
explore in real time the geography of both the original
and perhaps also the expanded universe of the world.
However, the ultimate success of a transmedial
cyberworld depends on how the designers are able to
implement and expand on the mythos, topos and ethos of
the ur-transmedial world.
In what follows, we will take a brief look at some
well known transmedial worlds to see how they are and
could be ‘adapted’ to a cyberworld format and how
successful this actualization has been with regards to the
implementation of the tree core elements mentioned.
6.1 A world of worlds: Lord of the Rings
We can only do a very brief introduction here to this
the most archetypal of transmedial worlds, followed by a
brief look at one of the digital instantiations of this
particular transmedial world
Mythos: The creation of Middle Earth and the
races as detailed by Tolkien
. The history of its people
and races, communicated by the author throughout
numerous works.
Topos: Middle Earth, its languages, its poetry and
Ethos: The fight of good versus evil, the love of nature
and beauty, the idea of an higher order than the material,
an exaltation of friendship, the promotion of heroic
qualities such as devotion to one’s king or acceptance of
Not a multiplayer one, but it reveals some of the inherent problems of
cyberworld incarnations.
Not only in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also in the Silmarillion
and other works.
duty and willingness to sacrifice personal goals for the
collective good.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
was the first of the three games released throughout the
period in which Peter Jackson launched his movie trilogy.
The game´s plot does not follow the movies´ though, but
keeps closer to the books. In this action adventure game,
the player controls three different characters: Frodo,
Aragorn and later Gandalf. There are no puzzles to speak
of, but very simple quests and a lot of fighting. The story
is very linear as it has to adjust to the plot development of
the original book.
Topos: The scenarios of Middle Earth are very well
reproduced; there is a good sense of space, appropriate
music and decent voice acting. They are not as beautiful
as in the Peter Jackson´s movies, but since this is another
medium we expect different conventions and limitations.
The experience of exploring the world is however
extremely powerful.
Mythos: It is not explicit, but it can be seen behind the
scenes; for instance in the encounter with Tom Bombadil
and his mysterious “Eldest, That’s what I am”, which
fans will immediately relate to the wider mythos.
Ethos: This is where the illusion completely breaks
apart. None of the above mentioned themes appears,
except for the fight of good (the player) versus evil, but
even this is nearly completely devoid of transcendence.
The player has the impression of spending all her time
fighting (using a rather cumbersome fighting system) and
getting really inane quests that go against the ethos of the
story. The first time that Aragorn appears (in Bree) he
gets the following quests: find Merry (who is lost in the
village), collect some clothes, collect some melons,
collect some hay bolsters, and collect some small logs. It
is very hard to recognize the heroic Aragorn from the
transmedial world in this one, who is running around
picking up melons while fleeing wolves
Quests only gain significance if you can relate them
to the transmedial world
For example, the first hard
quest is to avoid the black riders in order to leave the
shire, something that took us quite a few attempts filled
with dread at the perspective of being caught by the evil
beings. When we finally suceeded, it was with a great
sense of triumph and achievement. This quest is actually
part of the original story (even if in another form). The
problem arises when in order to create more gameplay,
The game was developed by Surreal Software and published by Black
Label Games in October 2002. We played the Playstation 2 version.
Actually, a way to avoid being killed is to let the hobbits stand
between Aragorn and his enemies, because they, as non-playing
characters, cannot get killed, and will finish off your enemies for you.
Nothing could be more against the ethos of the transmedial world.
For an introduction about quests in computer games, see Tosca 2003.
the designers expand the cyberworld with meaningless,
against-the-transmedial-ethos, quests .
6.2 Non-transmedial cyberworlds
There are a number of massive multiplayer online
games that do not spring from any transmedial world, but
still we can look at how they relate to these ideas in order
to find possible reasons behind at least a part of their
success or failure.
is the most successful Western MMORPG
to date for several reasons: the good quality of the
graphic world, the opportunities for players to explore
vast territories, the pleasures of advancing the
customizable characters, and, most importantly, the
enjoyment of the collaborative interaction with other
players in order to achieve results. However, the problem
of not having a transmedial world to refer to is that the
actions of the player characters cannot be related to any
meaningful universe behind, and that is also why serious
roleplaying is impossible, as Tosca has discussed in a
previous article [19]. EverQuest picks up the superficial
traits of the fantasy genre (the medieval society, the
different races, etc), and tries to create its own mythos
and ethos of chivalry (both in-game and in the game
package and other marketing objects), ultimately
unsuccessfully, we argue, as the strength of cyberworlds
is not the telling of stories, as we discuss below.
Matt Firor, who was involved in the development of
Dark Age of Camelot
reflects on why this game was
successful. "Having a recognizable background to the
game would go far toward making the game more
appealing to players." [14: p. 340-341] Even without
being a specific transmedial world, the Arthurian theme is
directly related to a recognizable body of legends, made
popular through countless incarnations in different media,
something that was a key factor in the success of this
Gaute Godager, of Funcom, says of Anarchy
backstory that they wanted to have something
non-linear that people could influence [14: p.304], which
they called the “Funcom Universe”, a true fairy tale,
where people chose sides and played out their dark or
white destiny" [ibid.] However, the story was "a
disappointment to many players" (14: p. 305) because it
did not achieve the promised interactive heights. So even
though the conflict of the clans kept players interested,
the story eventually lacked the desired depth that it would
Developed and published by Sony Online Entertainment. Its first
version launched in February 1999.
Developed by Mythic Ent and published by UV Games in October
Developed and published by Funcom in June 2001 .
have had if it had been part of a transmedial world, we
would argue.
6.3. A successful transmedial cyberworld: Star
Wars Galaxies
One of the most prolific transmedial worlds of the two
last decades is the Star Wars Universe presented first in
the 1980’s movies, immediately establishing a huge cult
following. In recent years, the world has a revival with a
new wave of films laying out the “backstory” of several
of the characters we got to known as grown-ups in the
first films. On parallel lines, several new computergames
have been released, expanding on the universe and the
mythos, as is the case with the very popular Knights of
the Old Republic game, which takes place several
thousand years before the rise of the empire. The latest
addition to the universe is the cyberworld and massive
multi-player game Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) which was
launched online in 2003 and has already passed the
magical 100.000 subscriber limit.
Mythos: the SWG producers state that this world will
allow players to “live the
Star Wars movies in a way they
never have before” [22] and the claim to fidelity towards
the original movies is apparent throughout the
gameworld, from the beginning of the game which opens
with the famous scrolling text on a black universe
background, presenting the current setting of the story.
When designing a character, following the original
story, the player can choose to fight either on the side of
the rebels or the empire or to stay neutral. Favourite
characters from the movies have been incorporated into
the world as non-playing characters which can give your
character missions to fulfill; however you are not yourself
allowed to play any of the known characters from the
universe – in this way, they remain immutable.
SWG also emphasises the aspects of multiplicity of
“life forms” which are a salient characteristics of the ur-
transmedial Star Wars world.
The player is presented
with the option of playing eight different races. Droids,
almost as human as R2D2 and C3PO abound as
computer-controlled characters. One could argue that a
certain amount of techno-fetichism combined with more
magical abilities is one of the traits that make Star Wars
stand out as a world: and indeed, also in this actualization
of the world is possible to obtain the most desirable
object of all: the lightsabre, the yielding of which requires
the mental capabilities of a jediknight, a character class
the player has to work hard to deserve.
The fascination of life forms is taken even further in the Knights of
the Old Republic game where many of the races you meet speak each
their language (consequently implemented in the game with voice
acting). Currently, most races in SWG speak English.
Topos: like the first transmedial world, Star Wars
Galaxies is set in a “galaxy far, far away” and currently
entails the possibility to visit ten different planets. Some
of these are known from the first movies, such as
Tatooine, the home planet of Luke Skywalker, however
some of the planets are known from the “expanded
universe” of the original films which has been elaborated
upon in the cult literature, games and later films. Both
originals planets and races and later additions are
referenced on the Star Wars Encyclopedia Site
( which serves as a useful reference
guide in further world creation.
Ethos: The main ethical decision in the Star Wars
Universe has always been whether to follow “the dark
side” or the right side of the force. It is worth noting that
both the Knights of the Old Republic and the Star Wars
Galaxies gameworld offer players the possibility to
become both a good and an evil jedi. This is recognition
of the fact that users might not always want to comply
with the “honourable code” of a world, but will as likely
want to follow the evil path, as long as the evil code is
also clearly stated in the layout of the universe.
However, although many known characters and items
have been made part of the game, the fact that they in
order to remain untouchable, have been assigned to be
non-playing characters (NPC’s) has actually made them
act “out-of-character”, which has caused major
complaints from the players in the game forums.
To sum up, our analysis of some known transmedial
worlds and their digital and cyberworldly manifestations
indicate that adhering to both the mythos, topos and ethos
of the world help ensure a positive user response.
Following, in the light of the discussions here presented,
can we now give any recommendations as to how
designers could use these ideas in the cyberworld design
7. Using TMWs in the design process
Examining the main game design manuals, we find that
a few designers have dealt with aspects related to our
discussion about transmedial worlds, but none of them
has really incorporated this way of thinking.
In their 2003 book, On Game Design, Rollings and
Adams give recommendations about world design
describing five dimensions of a game world: the physical,
“Look at C3PO's dialogue, for example. It simply does NOT sound
like him. It sounds like a MMOG designer assigning a quest. Second,
give rewards on the quests that feel special--NOT powerful items, but
unique, "Star Warsy" trophies and tokens, just fun things that say, "I did
the quest!". There's nothing more immersion-breaking than having a
Rebel doctor hand you a broken viewscreen. That just feels idiotic. [23]
Specifically in the chapter "Game Settings and Worlds" [16].
the temporal, the environmental, the emotional and the
ethical. The physical dimension is about the visual aspect
of the world, the temporal is related to gameplay (i.e.
turn-based or real time), the environmental has to do with
the cultural context (backstory, setting as related to our
world, etc.), the emotional is about making players care
about the game and experiencing adult emotions, and the
ethical dimension about what kinds of behaviours will be
possible in the game (i.e. how violent will it be).
In general they are quite worried about the originality
of the game world. In their “environmental dimension”
they declare it boring to use fantasy settings inspired by
Tolkien, and encourage designers to try to make it
different by finding new sources of inspiration, like
Islamic Spain, “Valhalla, in Russia under Peter the Great,
in the arctic tundra, at Angkor Wat, at Easter Island, or at
Machu Pichu" [16: p. 73]. They go as far as to
recommend not to use settings that will be instantly
recognized by players, such as a grim Blade Runner like
future [16: p. 74]. As intriguing as this might sound
, this
approach does not take audiences into account, so that
what seems original to the designer might not work,
because people do not share the necessary references in
order to become immersed in that particular world. It also
misses the possibility of drawing upon world knowledge
that people might have from other media.
The book, Developing Online Games: An Insider´s
Guide, by Mulligan and Patrovsky, is written from a
technical and business oriented point of view without
specific content guidelines. It is interesting that for them,
"in the end, an online game is really just a mechanism to
allow players to socialize in a context" [14: p.139], which
is also very important to us in our understanding of
Mulligan and Patrovsky also argue that players do not
want to be told a fixed story that they cannot influence.
They recognize the need for providing some background
story for the online game “if only to assist the player in
suspending disbelief and deriving more entertainment
value from your game." [14: p.146]. But it is a mistake as
designers to try to impose an own one outcome, because
the most compelling content will always be player-
created, if you allow them to affect the world in some
This reinforces our idea of cyberworlds being the
most appropriate vehicle for players to perform the
transmedial world content, which would also solve the
Mulligan and Patrovsky relate these overused themes to the Western
orientation of game designers, posing it as a marketing problem: : "it
won´t matter how large the total market grows if you base your games
on Western mythology and deliver them in English only" (13)
“An example of this might be two members of separate guilds getting
"married" in the game, thus ending a faction war that had made the area
dangerous for all players to move around in without getting killed" (147)
problem of the “imposed story” that Mulligan and
Patrovsky criticize, since they can be told the
foundational story in other media (books, films etc).
In his book, Designing Virtual Worlds, Richard Bartle
also deals with practical aspects to take into consideration
when designing a world (scope, geography, population,
physics and “major decisions” regarding for instance
ethics or economy). Notably, in the introduction he
claims that some genres are more suited to “adaptation”
into a virtual world format than others. For him, the
success of a virtual world (or a cyberworld) is
independent of its genre: “The chief importance of genres
lies in their ability to attract players. From this
perspective, the choice of genre becomes a marketing
issue, rather than a design issue” [2: p.41], which seems
to us a very strange claim, since players will cognitively
frame the game according to genre, and therefore it is a
key design issue. Likewise, choosing a TMW as the
framework for one’s design should make a lot of design
issues much easier to handle.
We have put forward the claim that transmedial
cyberworlds allow the players to interact within a known
and shared context, where they can be creators of their
own stories – and be able to expand the universe
themselves by making player-built cities, objects etc.
However, the success of cyber-transmedial world
depends on the designers’ ability to identify and
implement the core elements of the ur-world without
betraying its topos, ethos and mythos.
Our analysis suggests that cyberworlds which
concentrate on the performative aspect (letting players
create their own content) yet still refer consequently to
the mythos, topos and ethos of the ur-world will be more
successful than cyberworlds which try to retell or modify
the mythos of the ur-world or try to impose their ‘own’
storyline. Relying on a transmedial world can also solve
some of the most poignant problems of storytelling in
computer games, such as excessive linearity and quests
which do not make sense to the dedicated player.
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[3] Chatman, Seymour. 1981. "What Novels Can Do that Films
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[8] Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading. A Theory of Aesthetic
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[24] Star Wars Encyclopedia.
... As Jens Eder and Jan-Noël Thon (2012) have pointed out, there are currently at least three or four academic discourses 1 in which 'transmediality' 2 is being discussed: firstly, in the field of adaptation studies that, as Eder (2014) observes, is increasingly abandoning "its old focus on fidelity of literature-to-film adaptations" and "is beginning to open towards questions of transmediality" instead; secondly, in a literature, film, and media studies discourse centring on concepts such as 'intermediality,' 'transfictionality,' and 'inter-' or 'transtextuality,' which are employed to examine the "intricate relationships between works of art with regard to their media specific aesthetics" (Eder 2014); and thirdly, and of most importance to this paper, a rather new discourse primarily within media studies in which mainly film, series, or digital game franchises are put into a wider conceptual framework. This framework is necessitated by the realities of contemporary media production for which the detailed analysis of individual works seems no longer enough, but for which larger conceptual entities such as 'transmedia storytelling' (Jenkins 2007;, 'transmedial worlds' (Klastrup and Tosca 2004;, or 'transmedia practice' (Dena 2009) are required. Lastly, Eder identifies a discourse in communication studies and economics that "empirically investigates journalism and marketing under the generic concepts of cross-media and convergence" (Eder 2014; emphasis in the original). ...
... One of their central characteristics of transmedial worlds is "that audience and designers share a mental image of the 'worldness' (a number of distinguishing features of its universe)" that "mostly originates from the first version of the world presented, but can be elaborated and changed over time " (2004). Thus "a transmedial world is more than a specific story" (Klastrup and Tosca 2004). This notion sets their definition explicitly apart from Jenkins's 'transmedia storytelling' that aims at telling a unified story across several media. ...
... Similar to the concept of transmedia storytelling, there are other terms such as "Cross-media" (Petersen, 2006), "Transfiction" (Dena, 2009;Ryan, 2008), "Multi-platform" (Jeffery-Poulter, 2003), "Deep Media" (Rose, 2012), "Media Mix" (Steinberg, 2012), "Mixed Media" (Boumans, 2004), "Intertextual Commodities" (Marshall, 2004), "Transmedial Worlds" (Klastrup & Tosca, 2004), "Transmedia Interaction" (Bardzell et al., 2007), "Multimodal" (Van et al., 2001), "Intermediality" (Higgins, 1966), "Game Assemblages" (Nakamura & Tosca, 2021), and "Distributed Narratives" (Davenport et al., 2000;Walker, 2004), among others. Most of these originate from the concepts of intertextuality and multimodality in semiotics. ...
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... In Figure 3 the authors describe how each transmedia world is composed of franchised products that contain the main story, which is transferred by "parts", enriching the story of the world through different channels; and each narrative has its own value. Concluding, [14] offers a definition of a transmedia world as abstract content systems from which a repertoire of fictional stories and characters can be actualized or derived across a variety of media forms. The audience and designers share a mental image of the worldness -a set of distinguishing features of its universe, which can be elaborated and changed over time. ...
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Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment (TIDSE) conference, in Darmstadt, 2003, and printed in its proceedings, published by Fraunhofer IRB Verlag)