Broad Strokes: Coloring Canon Outside the Lines

Broad Strokes: Coloring Canon Outside the Lines

Telling stories across multiple media lends depth to the narrative.

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Interesting article, but I am going to attempt to debate some points.

EA's been pushing really hard in this regard and many people feel that the core experience of the game has suffered for this. Think of all the different ways Mass Effect 3 has stretched out from the core game. You have multiple phone apps, action figures, comic books, an anime, etc., etc. Star Wars has been doing this for years, yes, but the real onslaught of cross-promotion and merchandising didn't really hit until after the original trilogy had been well established. I'm not saying that this kind of thing can't be handled well, but you do run the risk of sullying the core experience.

My other point is in regards to narratives specifically. Transmedia stories open up great opportunities for expanding lore. I won't argue that. However, there is a tendency to treat "extra-media" contributions to the story as less canon which results in retcons and all sorts of ugly business. Just look at the Star Wars canon. It's gotten so bad there is actually a ranking system in place that determines how canon something is and how vulnerable the story is to a retcon. Since the core experience takes precedence in all cases it has a tendency to devalue other contributions to the overall story.

You may also run into problems when you have writers and creators telling their story in mediums they are not experienced in. Mac Walters, lead writer for Mass Effect 2 and 3, wrote a series of tie-in comics for Dark Horse that... well, they're okay I suppose, but it is clear that Walters is NOT a comic book writer.

If it's well thought out and done for the right reasons transmedia can be a godsend for narratives and fictional worlds, but its not without it's pitfalls.

Fappy:

Transmedia stories open up great opportunities for expanding lore. I won't argue that. However, there is a tendency to treat "extra-media" contributions to the story as less canon which results in retcons and all sorts of ugly business. Just look at the Star Wars canon. It's gotten so bad there is actually a ranking system in place that determines how canon something is and how vulnerable the story is to a retcon. Since the core experience takes precedence in all cases it has a tendency to devalue other contributions to the overall story.

I don't think that retcons and the lack of canon harms a story.

After all, every story is equally fictional. A "canon" is simply the set of works that the fans take seriously" But why do they take it seriously? Only because the story was good to begin with.

If a retconned, spinoffed, out-of-unverse story version can be good enough on it's own, then it doesn't need to be "canon", we will care about it without that. I've read fanfiction that was so good, that people wrote fanfiction of it. And then wrote fanfiction of that. They effectively turned the fanfic universe into it's own canon, and formed a fandom around it.

The phrase "lore" itself originates from mythology that didn't have a canon, just oral tradition, and some versions of that traditional knowledge that were stronger than others.

The only genre that imitates something similar, is the Marvel/D.C., that isn't trying to limit their universes to single writers. And they are better for it. The universes that they created are cornerstones of modern pop-culture, even if they don't have a canon, they have something better than that, iconic mythology.

Entitled:

Fappy:

Transmedia stories open up great opportunities for expanding lore. I won't argue that. However, there is a tendency to treat "extra-media" contributions to the story as less canon which results in retcons and all sorts of ugly business. Just look at the Star Wars canon. It's gotten so bad there is actually a ranking system in place that determines how canon something is and how vulnerable the story is to a retcon. Since the core experience takes precedence in all cases it has a tendency to devalue other contributions to the overall story.

I don't think that retcons and the lack of canon harms a story.

After all, every story is equally fictional. A "canon" is simply the set of works that the fans take seriously" But why do they take it seriously? Only because the story was good to begin with.

If a retconned, spinoffed, out-of-unverse story version can be good enough on it's own, then it doesn't need to be "canon", we will care about it without that. I've read fanfiction that was so good, that people wrote fanfiction of it. And then wrote fanfiction of that. They effectively turned the fanfic universe into it's own canon, and formed a fandom around it.

The phrase "lore" itself originates from mythology that didn't have a canon, just oral tradition, and some versions of that traditional knowledge that were stronger than others.

The only genre that imitates something similar, is the Marvel/D.C., that isn't trying to limit their universes to single writers. And they are better for it. The universes that they created are cornerstones of modern pop-culture, even if they don't have a canon, they have something better than that, iconic mythology.

I should have specified that I was kind of speaking on behalf of the people that get their jimmies in a twist about canon. I do value canon, but I also know how to enjoy non-canon stories. As a fan of Marvel comics I've had to come to terms with retcons and what not. Some of my favorite stories are no longer canon and it really doesn't bother me all that much. I do get upset sometimes when they retcon a story I liked, but many times it's not even really deliberate and it's almost never malicious.

In those cases when it is somewhat malicious (like a writer didn't like something another writer did) I can get pretty pissed off. Knights of the Old Republic II is a good example of this. The whole damn thing was more or less invalidated because Lucas didn't like how the Force was portrayed.

EDIT: Out of curiosity I googled some articles on Star Wars canon. Holy shit I have a migraine already.

Fappy:
In those cases when it is somewhat malicious (like a writer didn't like something another writer did) I can get pretty pissed off. Knights of the Old Republic II is a good example of this. The whole damn thing was more or less invalidated because Lucas didn't like how the Force was portrayed.

Which is silly, because everything seemed perfectly in line with what had already been established. All the game did was introduce a character that looked at it from a different point of view, and added a couple of anomalies that don't at all affect how the Force normally behaves.

Not to mention that Lucas himself completely changed his mind on how the Force and its dark side work in Clone Wars...

JediMB:

Fappy:
In those cases when it is somewhat malicious (like a writer didn't like something another writer did) I can get pretty pissed off. Knights of the Old Republic II is a good example of this. The whole damn thing was more or less invalidated because Lucas didn't like how the Force was portrayed.

Which is silly, because everything seemed perfectly in line with what had already been established. All the game did was introduce a character that looked at it from a different point of view, and added a couple of anomalies that don't at all affect how the Force normally behaves.

Not to mention that Lucas himself completely changed his mind on how the Force and its dark side work in Clone Wars...

I found this fun bit that apparently originated from Lucas:

As George Lucas says, the movies are Gospel, and everything else is Gossip

Seems like you're trying to credit marketing plays with artistic merit.

Only in America.

llagrok:
Seems like you're trying to credit marketing plays with artistic merit.

Only in America.

And in Europe, and in Asia.

And probably in Australia and Africa too.

Halo 4 is an example of how this transmedia enterprise fails badly, and it seemed to take alot of the advice offered in this article.

One had to go to waypoint to access terminals' content, which separated the narrative and the game experience, rendering them meaningless in relation to each other. And the story is an even bigger problem. Unless you read the first 2 books in the forerunner trilogy, or did some research prior to launch, you likely didn't have a clue what it was about (save for the terminals). I am not hating on transmedia, as it has been effectively used time and time again. However, a game must beable to stand on its own, with all content on other mediums being a bonus, but not essential to the core experience of the game. By core experience, I mean an meaningful relationship between narrative and interaction/mechanics.

One last point to the author, If indeed she will ever read this, is that games like tetris aren't entirely devoid of narrative. As an (ex)academic working in her area, I am sure she is aware of Bartle's argument on this matter.

I'm one to agree that this transmedia concept as a whole is beneficial to the art of storytelling as a whole. The different mediums are better at telling different stories, and this fact should be used as an advantage rather than a complaint.

The major problem that I have, and my other friends share, is when the different medium's stories do not share consistency. I don't mean canon. Canon (for sake of my argument) is where one version of the story itself is deemed to be true. By consistency I mean the rules by which the world is governed. I'm a little biased since I love to worldbuild, but with a strong world built, with well-known and followed rules of how science, cultures, magics, religions, what have you, are governed, you can create any story and it will retain the sense of that world.

A "true canon" I think is detrimental to creativity, as it means that one way of thinking is always true. It is well known that Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star by using the Force to guide his shot into that small hole. But what if that was just his telling of events? What if Luke shot a fellow rebel's ship by accident, causing it to crash into just the right spot and explode in just the right place that it happened to blow up the Death Star and save the day, and Luke just got lucky with his accidental friendly fire? Yes, this is a silly scenario, but to me each telling of a story is through a certain character's or groups point of view, and there is no reason these narrators cannot be lying, wrong, or confused as to events. Stories are a history, even if they are fictional, and history may not always be true. And just as in real life, one may never know the full truth of any history.

In a perfect world, you could match the story to the medium that best suites it. For example, introspective stories are better suited for novels, as it is the best place to gain knowledge about how a character feels, thinks, etc. Action stories are great for games, as you get to experience the action itself rather than watch it.

That is one place that I disagree with Andrea. I do not go into a game to bash dragons rather than watch a movie about bashing dragons. To me, the means by which the dragon gets bashed is not the reason I am watching/playing. I am watching/playing because the story intrigues me. I do not get upset because a cut screen interrupts my play, because I am enjoying the story, and that is the way the creator has decided to portray that element of the story.

In my perfect world, stories could be experienced with multiple shifts in media: the action parts played, the narrative parts read or viewed, all depending on the best way to experience that moment of the story. Computer screens, with access to literally every form of medium, could make this idea a reality. Though, I admit, that it would take a lot of thought and skill to do well.

weatherfn:

That is one place that I disagree with Andrea. I do not go into a game to bash dragons rather than watch a movie about bashing dragons. To me, the means by which the dragon gets bashed is not the reason I am watching/playing. I am watching/playing because the story intrigues me. I do not get upset because a cut screen interrupts my play, because I am enjoying the story, and that is the way the creator has decided to portray that element of the story.

In my perfect world, stories could be experienced with multiple shifts in media: the action parts played, the narrative parts read or viewed, all depending on the best way to experience that moment of the story. Computer screens, with access to literally every form of medium, could make this idea a reality. Though, I admit, that it would take a lot of thought and skill to do well.

This, if I understand you correctly.

We don't need to shift media just for a maximized "efficiency" of interfaces, but only when the writer has a comfortable way to do it.

I love plenty of genres and mediums, that are pretty much just the result of historical happenstance, and not really practical, but I love them anyways. For example, turn-based games. Both RPGs and strategies. Thy are just a legacy of tabletop games, you could say that now that computers can calculae everything more immersively, we don't need them any more for storytelling, but screw that, I got used to them.

Or Visual Novels, that are probably the closest to true multimedia: Literary stories, with audiovisual background support, and sometimes a handful of interactive choices, and moving cutscenes too. Yet the way that genre-medium is traditionally put together, is all wrong. The literary story is more wordy than a novel, the visuals are not used to cut back on words, just to add a scenery, the interactivit isn't enough to give you control over the characters... it's all wrong, if you look at it from a "which-medium-suits-which-story" point of view. Yet with good artists, they still provided some of the greatest stories I have ever read/played/watched.

It's like this, transmedia is good from a marketing perspective, but not from a consumer perspective. All these tie ins, spin offs, and other things contribute to the fan dormancy due to over saturation when the new major installment of something comes out.

What's more the idea of a major property with an ongoing narrative is to be consistant. While many people dismiss canon, it becomes VERY important that everything fit together and not contridict each other. I notice you use a picture from the "Dead Space" movie there, but understand that while that might have made money (I'm not sure) I think it actually hurt Dead Space's performance (it was not as successful as it could have been) due to being developed entirely seperatly, and involving fundementally differant concepts than the game it spun off from. Basically the guys doing the movie were apparently told about "plasma cutters" and then came up with wrist mounted energy blades as opposed to anything like what was featured in the games. Despite being connected and involving some of the same elements, they came accross as being entirely differant works, with the movie being the equivilent of a bad work of fanfiction by someone who never actually saw the original source they were spinning off of.

"Star Wars" might have been a successful merchandising empire, but all of that sidestory crap lead to the jumble that is the extremely contridictory "expanded universe" which itself contributed to the problem with no actual sequels being made. Not to mention some serious financial concerns over people afraid of losing "canon" status due to the fact that the EU itself pretty much took a giant dump on the original Star Wars sequel-in writing projects (the young adult novels like "The Glove Of Darth Vader", and "Prophets Of the Dark Side").

Perhaps the most extreme example of this in fairly recent memory was the entire Marvel Comics "X-men Vs. Avengers" storyline. If you read the main issues of the title it's complete garbage, because pretty much any explanation or context, or any of the really cool stuff, takes place in other comics written around the same time. Basically it was so split up that the actual title itself wound up being pretty crappy due to a desire to put as much of the content as possible in other sources to sell more books for those who wanted to see the entire series of events. To be honest this is an time-honored comic book technique, but in this case it appears to have been taken to the extreme, and while not unique in having this happen, it does sort of illustrate the problem with this kind of marketing, even when you stay within the same media.

The idea of spin off products, side stories, etc.. is not entirely a bad one, it can work in some cases, but it's not something that should be planned for from the get go. That seems to destroy products or at least their long term integrity as much, or more often, than it works. Especially when you have "transmedia" planned from the beginning and seperate teams working on things so there is no collaberation at all... I doubt the guys who did the first "Dead Space" movie has any real involvement with the game through it's development.

That said, to use "Dead Space" again, the whole "No Known Survivors" page did manage to expand the mythos and elaborate on a lot of things, probably because the guys that did that actually worked with the guys who developed the game and talked to them. Granted, as a free "product" it was more advertising than transmedia marketing, but it's a case of something that actually worked, as opposed to something that didn't.

 

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