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Toying with Transmedia: The Future of Entertainment is Child's Play

05/18/2010 8:45 AM Bartos theater
Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California;

Description: In what could be the ultimate twist on Toy Story, Henry Jenkins suggests that action figures -- those Star Wars and Masters of the Universe dolls from a few decades ago -- had the power to spark human creativity and transcend their original function. Jenkins argues such toys served children and young adults as "authoring tools" in stories that grew increasingly elaborate and technologically sophisticated over the years, spawning new kinds of play in our own time.

In a lecture spiced with stills and video, Jenkins demonstrates that early generations of action figures, such as movie, cartoon, and cereal box characters, inspired a cohort of player "creators," and helped shape the emergent phenomenon of transmedia. This, describes Jenkins, is a storytelling process "where integral elements of a fiction are dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience."

Transmedia is not about "dumbing down popular culture," Jenkins says. It involves complex mythologies that kids and adults can throw themselves into, with large casts of vivid characters in complex plots rivaling those in Russian novels. Transmedia storytelling also encourages children to "play out different fantasies," try out roles, and begin to construct their own identities. Storm trooper marshmallows in Star Wars cereal do not qualify, he warns, since branding alone does not unleash storytelling juices or encourage user immersion.

Jenkins claims that contemporary transmedia are "produced by the generation that grew up playing He"Man for the generation that is growing up playing Pok_mon." But this popular culture phenomenon owes much to a rich history of children's literature with offshoots, he notes. Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland triggered a series of book variations soon after its publication. L. Frank Baum wrote not one but many books about Oz, produced stage plays and movies, and lectured widely as "the royal geographer of Oz," says Jenkins. J.R.R. Tolkien devised an encyclopedically detailed mythical world for which he wrote songs. More recently, Walt Disney, "the father of modern mass media," says Jenkins, figured out how to bring great children's stories -- and such characters as Alice, assorted princesses, Mickey -- into the common playspaces of his amusement parks, films, TV and ice shows.

Just as Masters of the Universe and Star Wars toys, comic books and TV franchises helped shape the imaginations and culture of the generation that generated Game Boy (with its video games, anime, manga and trading cards), so, we may assume, will Pok_mon Pikachu figures and their fictional worlds inspire the next generation of transmedia producers. Expect these stories to show up on mobile phones and iPads, predicts Jenkins, where there is the most "potential for a multimedia experience." And don't be surprised to see "less geeky genres like sci fi and fantasy," and more adult genres such as historical fiction and comedy."

About the Speaker(s): Henry Jenkins joined USC from MIT, where he was Peter de Florez Professor in the Humanities. He directed MIT's Comparative Media Studies graduate degree program from 1993"2009, setting an innovative research agenda during a time of fundamental change in communication, journalism and entertainment.

As one of the first media scholars to chart the changing role of the audience in an environment of increasingly pervasive digital content, Jenkins has been at the forefront of understanding the effects of participatory media on society, politics and culture. His research gives key insights to the success of social"networking Web sites, networked computer games, online fan communities and other advocacy organizations, and emerging news media outlets.

Jenkins is recognized as a leading thinker in the effort to redefine the role of journalism in the digital age. Through parallels drawn between the consumption of pop culture and the processing of news information, he and his fellow researchers have identified new methods to encourage citizen engagement. Jenkins launched the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT to further explore these parallels.

He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture. His most recent book is Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

Jenkins has a B.A. in Political Science and Journalism from Georgia State University, a M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin"Madison.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, The MIT Education Arcade

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated almost 3 years ago

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December 16, 2011 16:43
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