Enter top-down with blindfolds ‘n’ earmuffs

I really do not know where to begin…

The Unwritten is a fascinating comic that challenges existing notions of fiction and reality by intertextually creating a transmedia narrative stemming from several alternate “worlds” controlled by various creators/authors while employing the power of fan culture to illustrate, solidify, and legitimize the confusion between what is real and what is fake.

Tom Taylor is the son of Wilson Taylor, a prominent author who wrote a popular series called Tommy Taylor. Tom is indignant towards his childhood because of his father’s love-affair with his stories, Tom knows the world’s geography inside and out and can never seem to break-away from his father’s shadow. For Wilson Taylor, his stories were reality and whether others shared this view we can only imagine Wilson might not have cared, he is the puppet-master and rightfully so, his narrative is his creation. We can infer this principle because Tom, being the expert of his father’s narrative cuisine, suggests the affirmative. As Tom makes his way, walking the streets in disguise with his agent and observing his surroundings, Tom points out that Coram’s Fields was the hospital in Dickens’ No Thoroughfare: “Over there is Coram’s Fields. The foundling hospital in Dickens’ No Thoroughfare was there… And it’s the main setting for Jamila Gavin’s Coram Boy.” In these narrative clues, Tom unveils worlds that are not part of the real world. Dickens’ hospital in No Thoroughfare is a location in reality, but that is merely the only similarity. Once we enter this world of Dickens’, we must succumb to his choices, desires, illustrations, explanations, allusions, and worldly features. In this sense, Unwritten is much like a video game where the player/reader is controlled by the game designer/author, or the puppet master. As explained in length by Jane McGonical,  the puppet master controls the setting and must take the participant on a journey without them knowing they are being controlled: puppet masters “control the game.” Importantly, McGonical reexamines the puppet master’s origins and clearly spells-out that it is a “bottom-up expression” of how one will interact with the narrative. Interestingly enough, this connects with the notion that narratives are themselves very much real worlds. If the process of the puppet master were a top-to-bottom expression, then transgressing a narrative’s world might be synonymous to watching a movie blindfolded and with totally silent earmuffs; in other words, you would not effectively be entering the world of the author, of the narrative, of the story. If we attempt to understand the “novel power dynamics” of the author, we succumb to experience their creation: their world. Through their vision can we view their reality amidst our reality. It is my interpretation that the intertextual references of characters belonging to various worlds yet meet in the comic’s world are mere reflections of narrative stories given realistic properties through the legitimization of fan culture.

This sense of various realities within one can perhaps be used to explain what Pullman meant by “a tragedy in one act.”

Pullman says, "A tragedy in one act." Multiple realities in one?

The Unwritten combines multiple and differing media elements to advance the narrative; Unwritten employs not only classic comic story-telling techniques but also fan culture expressed through varying mediums. Tom Taylor is called-out by a member of the audience doing background research on his life. Fans like to get involved. In the same scene, Count Ambrosio appears in the audience, or so we think. Is it the real Count or some fanatical fan dressed as the real deal? Luckily fans take to the net and discuss their cravings. In one emulated media message in Unwritten, a fan suggests that he “couldn’t distinguish between reality and fantasy.” Again touching-on McGonical, the inability for fans to not clearly distinguish between reality and fantasy provokes tantalizing questions and perhaps endangering many, whether participating or not. In immersive games, where fantasy meets reality, players often cannot tell where the game boundaries exist, sometimes even “the desire of immersive fans to see a game where non actually exists brings one into existence.” This is such a scary thought especially when political ramifications are connected.

Oh noes! What's real?

Whether real or not, fans collaborate to solve problems. McGonical suggests that one consequence of immersive play is the ability for fans to objectively view real, literally real–not fantasy, situations and work together to solve them. The Cloudmakers were way too smart when the sum of their brains worked together collaboratively, the same holds true and is depicted in Unwritten. After Tom was challenged by Lizzie from the audience, fans took to forums, discussion threads, and viewed shared cams to try to unravel the mystery of Tom’s identity. This “power of the fan” is quite evidently referenced in the following snipet which states “If you want to keep people from realizing their collective strength, make them too afraid of each other ever to meet or talk.” Jenkins points out that fans want to know, they want to become “involved” in the design, creation, and experiential elements of narratives, and sometimes their collective intelligence becomes a mass far superior to the creativity of the authors and game designers themselves.

The power of the collaborative mass.

To sum, Unwritten was a cluster-fudge. It implemented crazy realities that I still cannot fully comprehend in such a short reading but do nonetheless suggest the power of narratives becoming reality, the transmedia elements in Unwritten (using mediums to advance narrative), and the power of fans.


So are we living in one reality? Thank God because for we sure as hell aren’t.

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