In the summer 2013 issue of YALS, Rachel McDonald and Jackie Parker provide an overview of what transmedia is, how to evaluate transmedia titles, and what teens have to say about the varieties of transmedia. The following is a list of transmedia titles you and the teens you work with might want to check out.
Most of us are fairly familiar with web-based transmedia through popular series like Skeleton Creek. This may be the most accessible form of transmedia, as many teens are likely to have Internet access in multiple places.
Originally published in 2006, Cathy’s Book contains an evidence packet filled with letters, phone numbers, pictures, and birth certificates, as well as doodles and notes written by Cathy in the page margins. This is one of the first examples of a young adult book incorporating alternative reality game elements. Over 1000 readers have discussed their theories online at www.cathysbook.com about where Cathy ends up after the book, where Victor is, whether Cathy’s father is dead or alive, etc. In 2010, Cathy’s Book was revamped and released as an app for the iPod touch and iPhone.
Prior to the release of the first book in Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek series, a conspiracy website called www.skeletoncreekisreal.com was created, questioning whether the videos and journal entries were actual events. The premise of the site is that its creator found hidden videos on the author’s website. The creator uses these videos to determine that the events depicted in Skeleton Creek happened in the real town of Sumpter, Oregon. As of late 2010, no new blog entries or videos have been posted. Even though Patrick Carman has admitted to creating the website, people are still commenting on the blog posts and sharing their theories about whether the events in the books are real or not.
The website for Michael Grant’s new book Bzrk includes blogs, comics, games, a forum, and interactive activities readers can compete for points. This is a great example of a forum for additional content for readers who are seeking more information and those who want to become fully immersed in a fictional world. There is also a free app game based on the book’s plot.
The next three titles are all available as both print books and enhanced e-books.
Chopsticks ($6.99 app/ $19.99 print version)
Chopsticks, a collaboration between author Jessica Anthony and designer Rodrigo Corral, was released earlier this year as both a book and an enhanced e-books. The e-books allows readers to enlarge images, flip through photo albums, watch video clips, listen to the characters’ favorite songs, and read their instant messages. Readers can even change the order of the story by shuffling the pages, recreating it as a custom version.
While Kirkus reviewed the print version favorably, a Horn Book reviewer pointed out, “[t]he digital version of Chopsticks is not without a few hitches. The videos and music clips are hosted on YouTube, rather than embedded within the app itself, and require an internet connection to access. One video was no longer available” (Bircher). If a reader had a slow Internet connection, would they wait for the videos to load? Features occasionally seemed to run simultaneously, such as an IM chat that continues to run even after clicking to see a YouTube video mentioned in the chat.
The Survivors ($.99/ $21.99 hardcover version)
In 2011, Chafie Creative Group unveiled Immersedition, a transmedia e-books app for fiction. Chafie creative director and author Amanda Havard designed The Survivors, a paranormal YA novel, to be an enhanced media experience. The e-books includes historical facts, information about mythology, and images of documents dating back to the 17th century. There is a music soundtrack, including three original songs, as well as music videos. Readers can explore more than 50 real-world locations in the books through location photos, as well as fully workable Google satellite maps to provide interactive aerial views.
Amanda Havard offers some insight into the process of creating a novel that incorporates transmedia, “A lot of the time when I’m working on pieces of the story, I’m really thinking about how we could go interactive, how we could piece in a plot thread that people could go dig deeper on, could research real world elements on, and could connect to in different ways” (Author interview).
Apps from Classic Texts
There are several examples of enhanced e-books and apps that expand upon classic texts. One reason for this is likely that the content is not only in the public domain, but also because these texts are part of the literary canon and thus are familiar to most readers. As classic texts become even more separated from their eras, the language becomes more difficult for modern students; students may lack the context to easily decode these texts. Transmedia is another tool with the potential to help mitigate the disconnect more effectively than footnotes.
Alice (Free Lite version, $8.99 full version)
Alice for iPad is an interactive app with abridged and unabridged versions of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. Its creators, Chris Stevens and Ben Roberts of Atomic Antelope, scanned a copy of Alice in Wonderland with John Tenniel’s original illustrations in it, redrew scenes and characters, and added new illustrated objects that can move around the screen. The addition of virtual gravity and physics to the characters and objects means users can shake the iPad and watch the interactive elements on the screen move around, fall down, or jump up.
Chris Stevens said, “Add[ing] physics interactivity to an existing book can be wonderful — as long as narrative and aesthetic is preserved. There needs to be sensitivity to the story and the original illustrator. The temptation will naturally be to throw this technology at every book, but the craftsmanship behind implementing this technology is as important as the technology itself” (Stevens).
Teresa, one of our teen reviewers, loved the interactive elements in the app and said the visual clues provided by the animations helped her decode certain words. “In the original book, there are some definitions on the side, but I don’t really want to look at them much because I want to pay more attention to the story,” she said. “When Alice gives the dodo some comfits, I didn’t know it was a type of candy until I saw the candy [on the screen]. So it helped me understand more.”
This retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein places the reader at the center of the story. Readers can choose from several different questions and responses while conversing with Victor Frankenstein. One section allows the reader to direct the monster’s behavior, putting her/himself in the role of his creator. The bifurcating narrative structure may be familiar to readers of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. The app also includes archival illustrations of anatomical drawings from the 17th century, adding to the gothic feel.
Jon Ingold of Inkle, a UK-based software company specializing in interactive stories, said, “The kind of storytelling we’re going for is something that’s becoming more common in video games [which] employ similar kinds of branching narratives.” (Jewell).
Akilas, another teen reviewer and avid video gamer, said, “It makes you interact with the story and makes you feel like you’re actually talking to [Dr. Frankenstein]. It gives you multiple options and he really does react as if you’re asking him a question. It requires you to be involved and imagine.”
Spanish app developer Play Creatividad has transformed a selection of Poe’s short stories and poems into an illustrated e-books enhanced with original music, animation, and interactive touches. The app includes four of Poe’s most famous works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart.” There’s also a brief biography of the author, a sketchbook with original illustrations, and options to read the text in multiple languages.
Teen reviewer Teresa really liked the music and felt like the app conveyed the horror of Poe’s stories, saying “I don’t know why I’m so scared, maybe it’s because of the music, but usually I’m not scared when reading books like this. I wouldn’t be scared if I was just reading the book.”
Shakespeare in Bits ($14.95)
Mindconnex Learning, an educational software company, has created a multimedia approach to learning Shakespeare’s plays, featuring animated reenactments, audio tracks and unabridged text all together. They currently have five titles including Romeo & Juliet.
Kelly Stroud, a high school English teacher from Sweeny Independent School District in Texas, uses Shakespeare in Bits with her students. She said, “Students can see, hear and read the text all at the same time. Many explanations and notes are provided to explain the unfamiliar text so I will click on those to show the students. The students love learning this way and prefer it over traditional methods” (Stroud).
Madelyn, an avid teen reader, owns an iPad which she uses to download library books. She was very excited about the Julius Caesar Shakespeare in Bits app. “You can picture it in your mind when you see [the animation],” said Madelyn. However, when she discovered the price, Madelyn said she would rather read the book (which she later checked out) since the app was so expensive. She did feel it was a good tool for getting students interested in the play and that the navigation made it easier.