“When a book is read, an irrevocable thing happens- a murder, followed by an imposture. The story in the mind murders the story on the page, and takes its place.”
– Wilson Taylor
I, for one, am a fan of reading comic books for homework. It makes life so much more interesting. Anywho, let’s get to it. Where to start, where to start. I feel that to understand the full complexities of this story and what exactly is going on, I’d obviously have to keep reading the next volumes to keep following Tom/Tommy Taylor and his adorable little Mingus. But I feel like I have the basic gist. Honestly, in a lot of comics and the beginning of series, it’s like that a lot. You kind of get thrown into something and you have to climb your way out by putting the pieces together.
I think the most obvious way this comic relates to transmedia story telling is the way that book organized itself. It was a compilation of not only several different storylines and perspectives but different imitated media. Several pages were devoted to mock-ups of websites and fan-chats or live video news feeds. This was designed to attempt to recreate a world where Tommy Taylor is known everywhere. We all know how the media outlets can get when they get hold of a celebrity scandal, and this way of illustrating it was extremely effective. The media were all varied from fan-based chats (demonstrating the strong fanbase of the series) to news reports and blogs warning against the dangers of Tommy Taylor and children. The varied forms helped create a more cohesive and believable, crazed environment in which to envision the life of Tom Taylor.
For a storyline that doesn’t immediately have anything to do with gaming or with the subjects that we’ve been discussing lately, I was able to find quite a few connections to our readings, which surprised me. I think though that elements of all kinds of storytelling relates to different types, no matter what media or kind of story you’re telling.
First off, there was a theme of immersion, which McGonigal discusses in her article about the Cloudmakers and the Beast. She said that they often saw clues where there weren’t any and once the game was over, they had trouble distinguishing reality from a possible game clue. This theme is extremely prevalent in storyline, especially for the daughter of the prison warden, Cosi. However, the first clue of this theme appears on the last page of the first volume “from the desk of Wilson Taylor.” The first note in the top left corner says “Staring to see stories everywhere I look. Probably not good. I need to keep some sort of objectivity on this.” This reflects the feelings of some players of immersive games and how they had trouble dividing reality and game. This theme is put in place in order to show that stories are more than just fables or child’s play. They affect us on a deeper level, more so than we probably know. This is probably most effectively shown in the early part of volume two when Cosi confronts her classmates who are discussing the homicidal tendencies of Tom(my) Taylor. She tells them that “it’s just a story” that Tommy is a murderer and then attacks one of her classmates quite violently with spells she’s learned from the Tommy Taylor books. This is of course the paramount of all fears of Moms Against Harry Potter *coughLauraMallorycough* — that children will take what they read in these fantasy novels and take it to heart and try to use evil magic on their own. This kind of immersive fantasy is dangerous when a person is no longer able to separate reality from game. Cosi sums up her feelings later with a psychiatrist when she says, “Even if it’s a game… it’s real too. Sometimes it’s not up to you to choose.” I think the panel that is most disturbing in Cosi’s whole magical/reality confusion is when she is in the car with her mother, driving home from the principal’s office. Cosi does not even seem to understand that she has done something wrong. She simply admires her hands, as if she can see the magical power radiating out of her own skin, and says, “I think I’m getting better at defensive hexes. The wand just channels the spell. The real power comes from inside you.” Although this panel isn’t violent by any means and out of context, doesn’t seem to be anything harmful, her complete lack of understanding for what she had done is simply disturbing for just that reason. She just does not understand.
This brings up a whole bunch of different tangents. If it’s a story, is it a game? Can any story be a game? When does it stop being a game? Are children able to differentiate between games and reality? Should children be allowed to read fantasy novels until they’re old enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality? How is that line drawn? Is it a dysfunction in the child or the material? I honestly have no answers for any of these questions but I’m not sure that there really are any answers. I think these are all the kinds of questions that this book is attempting to ask to make us think about stories and how they affect our lives.
Connections to McGonigal’s Cloudmakers article continue when Cosi and Leon see the burning prison next to their house. Just as the Cloudmakers wanted to use their knowledge that they had gained from their game experience, Cosi and Leon wanted to use the knowledge and spells they had gained from playing the world of Tommy Taylor to help save the day. The experience of the stories gave Cosi a strange sense of empowerment because of her “game experience.” Again, her lines between reality and fiction seem blurred unhealthily.
Tom’s interaction with Frankenstein provided a connection with another one of McGonigal’s articles about the puppetmaster and the puppets.
“I understand your dilemma. it is frightening to think of the world as having no firm foundations. Frightening to meet one’s maker. And to find him… unsatisfactory.”
I’m not sure why but this line really echoed in my head for awhile, and not just because it makes a great connection to puppetmasters. It’s a very striking line and the way that it was laid out in the panels was very well-crafted. Anyways, as for the connection to puppetmasters, for the players of “power plays,” as McGonigal calls them, they might see themselves as just pawns in the creators’ game. They don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know what they’re going to get out of it. They essentially have to put their entire trust in the hands of these unnamed, unseeable puppetmasters who will hopefully, fingers crossed, take you on a great ride. But in the case of Push, the game with the ending that was considered disappointed, the players found the makers completely unsatisfactory. They later took the game into their own hands, but the fact is that they were unsatisfied with what they were made to be. This is reflected in Unwritten because these characters of authors are completely reliant on the prowess and originality of their creators to be something great. When characters come face to face with their authors, much like Tom(my) is striving to do with finding his father/Wilson Taylor, will they be disappointed with the person who created them? Will they be everything they imagined? This idea of the almighty author who does no wrong and has absolute control over everything and is great god on high is not constrained just to games, either ARGs or video games. Look at how Harry Potter fans view JK Rowling. She is untouchable. She is greatness. But what if we had an unsatisfactory ending in the Deathly Hallows? Would fans look at her differently? Unsatisfied with the maker of our childhood creations? Of course we would. They are the authors of the stories that shape our fantasies. It’s not just about comics, Tommy Taylor, ARGs, or video games. It’s about TV, books, plays, movies, media we consume every day. Stories are everywhere and they are as much a part of our life as the air we breathe.