Categorising Multi-Channel Works

On September 14, 2004 by christy

Do categorisations help? After a post by Adam (see ‘Another Transmedia Researcher’) and my experiences with many ‘networked narrative environments’ (Andrea Zapp) at BEAP04, I’ve been thinking more about how and why multi-channel works can and should be categorised. With the great variety of works that have more than one modality (image, sound, text, object…) and works that can be experienced across channels (Internet, Film, Television, Radio, Games…) there is obviously a need to narrow the field of reference. I began by categorising according to whether a work with multiple channels can be experienced in the same space or same arts type or not. Hybrid art, particularly performance peices with projections, sound, etc. can be viewed by the audience member in their seat. Whereas The Matrix franchise has films, games, comics and so on. These have to be experienced in different spaces, through different mediums. Henry Jenkins calls this type ‘transmedia’. But then there is the further difference between works in different mediums that may or may not have a direct part to play in the unfolding plot. A website, for instance, may be within the storyworld (like the iRobot website that is actually a site pretending to sell the robots in the film. It does not have any impact on the unfolding plot in the film. It does however play a role in the audiences’ experience of the film if visited before. So I then categorised works according to what degree of interaction they have between each other and reference each other. I concluded that we can have multi-channel works that need to be experienced in order to move through or progress the plot (transfiction), works that reference each other and extend the experience of each other but have no direct role to play in the narrative (transmedia), and works that are not necessarily part of the storyworld (a movie website or poster) which are commodities. I’m still not sure about how to term the last category… The works can of course be classified differently if you are observing a semiotic relationship, or even a tangibility continuum. But I was happy with these categories because my aim is to work for a poetics, a creators view of the works. A writer or designer needs to know which works are within the narrative and which are just commodities during the content creation stage.

But then what about forums, fan sites, adaptation comics and so on? These ‘unauthored’ works do not fit into my content creation approach. Or do they? The text does affect and indeed manipulate the reader in many way. The work can be found in the text and not just the reader or user. I utilise reader response, human-computer interaction, human-agent interaction, human-robot interaction studies in my content creation. The user of a multi-channel work is also affected by reviews, forums, gossip, news and so on. They affect their experience of the work. Where do these community or reader/user/interactor reactions fit into the model then? Well, they do if I view the work as the sum of the original designer, the content, the medium, and the viewer/reader/user/interactor.

So now I see multi-channel works as being categorised by two co-ordinates: narrative relation and stage of creation.

X = transfiction, transmedia, commodity.
Y = pre-publication, initial publication, ongoing publication.

What about a Z? There has to be a Z! Many works and papers presentated at BEAP04 got me thinking about the different types of users/viewers/experiencers/ of a work. In Paul Sermon’s At home with Jacques Lacan (2004) [John Curtin Gallery + Central TAFE] the many possible degrees of interaction was evident. The telematic work involves two rooms at different locations. Each is a lounge room with a couch that has a television screen with the image of the couch. When you sit on the couch you can see yourself. When a person at the other location sits on the couch you can see them sitting beside you, and likewise. Together you make up the tv image that is also displayed on another tv for the bystanders to watch as well. Here we have the interactors (the people participating in the scene creation) and the people watching the television image and the interactors, and also people watching via the web. All of these people are experiencing the work, in different ways, and different locations. So here I could categorise them according to proximity to the primary work (the actual loungeroom) — but there are 2 loungerooms and why are they priviledged over the web experience? So how about role in the creation of the work: a driver and a passenger metaphor perhaps? But there are 3 or 4 groups in this work. According to the medium they experience through could be a system: users (on the web), audience (watching performers and tv), performers/interactors (in the work). A user on a website can actually have an involvement in the creation of the work in other peices so this system doesn’t transfer too well. What about the author and the medium then too?

Any suggetions?