Tanya Krzywinska and Douglas Brown
Through a convergence of technology, brand marketing and aesthetics, we are close to a point of singularity within the entertainment industry. This is evident in the increasingly transmedial nature of contemporary SF blockbuster economics. Diversity is still somewhat in evidence but fading with the increasingly common implementation of transmedial franchises. With graphics technology and networked platforms acting as emollients, the ‘transmedial friction’ Kinder (2014) described as occurring between media is diminishing to vanishing point.
Modern Blockbusters are now only green-lit if conceived of fundamentally as transmedial entities. We are living in a media time-zone of competing houses who look to develop franchises across media platforms: House Marvel; House Blizzard; House HBO etc. It follows therefore that, televisual series and games are as much driven by blockbuster economics as cinema and SF themes and iconography are increasingly blended with Fantasy and Superhero genres. In addition, Remix culture, which appears in some lights to democratise these media, in fact supports this central drive towards multi-form presence, with copious fan productions such as machinima, mashups and modding, as well as database-style transmedial tools supporting the proliferation of a House’s brand. This all means that blockbuster SF is charged with the capacity to become pervasive and ubiquitous. Central to this endeavour is the concept of a world.
The blockbuster label can now be applied to many games as well as movies (although its defining characteristics appear to be in a state of change). As with television series, the different media bear comparison.
SF games in this category include Destiny, which had a total budget of $500 million, and has begun a franchise to rival the Halo, Mass Effect and Fallout series developed by Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Bethesda respectively, three of the largest game publishers. These diverse games share many commonalities with blockbuster SF movies – they are big budget, action heavy and spectacle is integral to the player experience. The worlds they put forward are as well-developed as those of any blockbuster and focus on similar themes.
Blockbuster movies, televisual series and games now also share a uniform visual aesthetic. The software used to create spectacular visual effects and realise impossible worlds is the same. This means that a transmedial production process underlies the creation of worlds that can exist in a uniform and visually coherent way across different media. Noticeable differences in the quality of effects are no longer an issue.
The CGI in one or two episodes per series of Doctor Who is comparable to that which takes up half the running time of a Marvel movie -there is simply less of it. Not only is there greater visual synergy, but also more scope for the generation of distinctive visual styles. The sharing of the same tools to produce assets and effects is driving the convergence from below, while increased investment and reliance on these tools drives it from above. As games have aimed for ever more realistic characters and environments, so movies have invested in bringing the fantastic to life through CGI. Computer generated characters in blockbuster films are indistinguishable from real actors, and convincing representations of movie star actors lend not just their voices but also their likenesses and motion-capture to games.
While convergence is inexorably on the rise, holdouts and exceptions remain. The most high profile and recent of these is Interstellar (2014), an SF blockbuster which looks to cinema as a medium, rather than towards transmedial aesthetics. As such references to Auteur SF such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) and Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975) comfortably sit within this love letter to existential SF. In sticking with film rather than digital, Nolan keeps true to cinematic medium, pushing back against technological interventions which in his opinion did not enhance the movie’s art. This is a movie grounded in reality with dystopian elements, typically close therefore to current situations. The fantastical worlds it posits are firmly scientifically grounded – these places could exist thereby cementing the movie’s aims of creating ‘pure’ SF rather than the more common ‘blended’ SF such as found in many comic-based and super-hero blockbusters. The element of the modern blockbuster substantially downplayed by Nolan is therefore wide-scope transmediality: the characters’ exploration of different worlds affords, for example, a riper opportunity for gamification than is offered by many other blockbusters. Transmediality is tightly limited: the one game permitted as part of the movie’s release is a free web-based text-adventure, about as far from modern blockbuster games as it is possible to get. The game attempts the same goals of articulating the potential of a ‘pure’ form of its medium as its parent text does, creating through their deployment a kind of synergy which works beyond a surface level, and representing an approach to transmediality which harks back to the pioneers of transmedial techniques.
The problem with pervasive cross-medial convergence is that it reminds us of the concept of reification. Rather than seeing transmediality as a material to work with in its own right, what we see is simply the integration of multiple media as a means of creating a larger market share. What want to call for here is instead a far more artisanal approach to what we can do with all this connectivity and all this pervasion but which moves on from formal specificity as is the case with Interstellar. What then would it mean to develop transmediality as a means to create new forms rather than simply just connect old forms together. Transmediality is so often just seen as connectivity while in our view it needs to be regarded as an art-form in its own right. New worlds might not simply be about creating franchises but instead places within which creativity is not lead by monetisation.
Bio: Tanya Krzywinska is a Professor in Digital Games and Director of the Games Academy at Falmouth University, Cornwall, UK. She is the editor of the peer-reviewed journal Games and Culture (Sage) and author of several books and many articles on different aspects of digital games. Her current research is in the area of transmedial content creation, and she is also writing a book on the place of Gothic in games and games culture.
Bio: Douglas Brown is a games studies researcher who teaches the Games Development courses at Falmouth University in Cornwall, UK. His main area of interest is how games tell stories, and he has previously published work on games in the Lord of The Rings franchise, movie-game spin-offs and how suspension of disbelief functions in videogames.
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