The Growing Russian Doll

What makes Mike Carey’s and Peter Gross’ (Henceforth referred as C&G) Unwritten a great commentary about the notion of transmedia storytelling is its ability to evoke a dynamic discourse between its fan dimensions and gaming fabric from which the narrative thrives and is derived. Essentially, the fan culture layer of the story warrants the narrative world’s reality as the game-like aspect of it disorients and questions its foundations. At certain points, the reader may sense that Tommy Taylor is, in fact, the Tom Taylor without special powers who is made into a commodity by his father for selfish gains. But in other times, the engrossed reader may change his/her mind about the narrative premise to see that Tom Taylor is, in reality, the Tommy Taylor character with special powers who represents a key piece in his father’s prophecy. Hence, it was almost inevitable that I would have ongoing revelations about how the overarching narrative looked like. In this, the Unwritten narrative does well in performing the primary function of transmedia storytelling, which I believe is to offer a kind of story that reaches out of its prescribed boundaries to permeate contexts of reality and through it, generate diverse strands of new narratives.

Alike the Immersive gaming genre discussed by Jane Mcgonigal, parts of Unwritten also pose ethical and political questions regarding the extent to which users of transmedia should be involved with the time and space created by participating as “actors” of the game or story “performance”. A good portrayal of this is when, during the second volume, Cosi performs a “defensive hex” on her classmate by stabbing him in the eye to defend Tommy Taylor’s existence as a heroic character in her worldview. Her drastic behavior thus denies an attack on her beliefs of her truth.

Similar to this portrayal of behavior, the motivations behind the Shove players in the game “Push” from Mcgonigal’s article The Puppet Master Problem: Design for Real-World, Mission Based Gaming also show that it is nearly impossible to discredit and end an immersion that has taken place once people have anchored themselves to the game/story worlds as a true kind of desired reality.

Another element that C&G’s Unwritten uses to develop its story is the interactive format that mimics the provisions of gaming. Here, C&G makes use of many items that help “move” the story onwards. Analogous to Greg Costikyan’s “beads-on-a-string” model, Tommy Taylor’s adventure progresses in a manner that require event/item cues that allow him to continue his search for truth behind his identity and Wilson Taylor’s disappearance. For instance, the magic doorknob often functions as an “if-all-else-fails” story backdoor that “unlocks” the next compartment “bead” of adventure relative to the overall unilateral sequence of narrative.

The one thing I noticed about these cues is that they are arbitrarily and conveniently slipped into the narrative without being explicitly detected as “irrelevant” to the story game. This aspect of it thus plays out very close to how the game creators of immersive gaming provide contents for its participants, where the limits of gameplay are perceived as boundless.

The Unwritten narrative also incorporates a fair amount of fan involvement that ties into the story’s initial grounding “reality” where people and the media industry produce opinions for the sake of influencing public opinion. In the process of seeking public opinion regarding Tommy Taylor, the collaboration of different groups creates a sense of community. In this way, the news media facilitates the role of “puppetmaster” by leading and steering public opinion and fans are basically the last line of defense against the public’s conformity to the news media. Nevertheless, the reason why public opinion is a means for the news media to act as a form of puppetmaster is because Tommy Taylor is directly affected by the community’s view of himself, which motivates him to partake in the “adventure” world.

If there was one aspect of Unwritten that was most bizarre, it would be the spontaneity of materialized characters from interjected references to classic characters such as Frankenstein, the flying cat, and Sir Roland, whose stories make transitions for the main Unwritten storyline and provide intertextuality to the narrative as a whole. Tommy Taylor interpreted these visible figments as mere “moments of hysteria” but as C&G suggests through continual reappearances of explicitly fictional characters that there must be another reason. My theory postulates that these recalled characters are metaphysical guides that selectively exist for characters who believe Tommy Taylor as a real entity.

The fact that it is difficult to clearly define the blurring reality presented in Unwritten reminds me of the beginning of the semester when we watched and analyzed David Lynch’s Mullholand Dr., where there are different stories embedded together without much explicit purpose. Thus the two easily allow for varying narrative interpretations and perceptions that help develop different strands of sub-stories. In turn, this creates new possibilities for the narrative to be derived via the preexisting story. Hence this shows that transmedia storytelling is an expansive world within a given narrative that can endlessly generate contents to the stories.


About jonycfu

Hello! My name is Jon and I am currently a to-be Web Development Immersive student at General Assembly Hong Kong! I graduated with a double major in Business Marketing and Communications. In my spare time, I enjoy building computers, cooking, golfing, reading, and watching TV shows (e.g. Fringe, Breaking Bad, GoT, Sherlock, Parks and Rec, The Office, South Park, Futurama).
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