Fuck Transmedia

Fuck games.

That’s what games researcher Miguel Sicart said in his really entertaining and thoughtful talk at the Play All! seminar on Wednesday:

Fuck Games

Moving along the same lines:


[blockquote color=’#4f4f4f’]Fuck Transmedia[/blockquote]

[blockquote align=”right” color=’#4f4f4f’]Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

Henry Jenkins[/blockquote]

But why this seemingly confrontational attitude towards a phenomenon, which so many people currently eagerly embrace?

Because it’s nothing but bloody confusing and misleading, that’s why.

People keep talking about transmedia as the holy grail of contomporary storytelling.

Many initiatives stress the importance of “adding value” by distributing content across media.

“If it’s transmedia, it’s great”.

What if all this leads to is a disappointing feeling of “butter scraped over too much bread”?

Let me make it clear, that I’m obviously not opposed to the application of several different media platforms in building stories, universes, experiences, whatever. I’m just blatantly opposed to the notion, that transmedia is as universally good, as current discourses would have you believe.

It is not.

Transmedia ought never be a success criterion by itself. Transmedia is never the goal.

In many cases, it doesn’t make any sense at all, and the hype seems to turn proper decision processes on its head.

Too often the first decision in the creative process is to build transmedia.

That’s the wrong approach.

Forget media. Transmedia, any media.




What do you want to achieve?

Entertainment? Reflection? Learning? Provocation? Change?

How do you want to achieve this? What’s the creative idea?

Those are important questions, whereas the choice of media is a trival one. Consider media mere tools, which you apply in well thought out ways and doses whenever relevant.

Transmedia holds potential, but the potential is not in “transmedia”. The potential is in carefully selecting relevant tools/media, designing a framework for your users/community to interact with in order to facilitate desired experiences (as a side note, I think the most interesting examples of transmedia are build around the notion of “interactivity”, allowing users to play with the content). “Transmedia” might be a perfectly fine choice in many situations, but why even think about what you do as “transmedia”? Why not think about it as a “fan-fuckin’-tastic project creating a unique and engaging user experience”? It’s not transmedia that creates such an experience; it’s a team of creative content developers.

Here’s my second major gripe with transmedia; it mirrors an all-too-common tendency to uncritically embrace and believe technology, hailing it as humanity’s only hope.

Humanity’s only hope is humanity. Not technology. Technology does neither good nor bad.

Humans does.

Fuck technology.

Fuck transmedia.


The current infatuation with transmedia only reminds me of this:

Emperor's New Clothes

Let’s please be a little more critical with transmedia; if it means anything, it just describes a toolbox.

Use it wisely.

By Mathias Poulsen

PhD student at Designskolen Kolding. Studying how we might design for playful, embodied and speculative democratic participation. Founded CounterPlay and the Danish Play Think Tank.


  1. I was annoyed with transmedia from the first time I heard it uttered, but for slightly different reasons.

    First, it is most obviously a "spreadsheet concept", an idea cooked up by analysts and not by creatives. It's wonderfully rational yet clearly fails to acknowledge that most filmmakers and gamemakers find even their own craft extremely challenging. Thinking across media is just toweringly over-ambitious for most people.

    Second, transmedia is the "knowledge sharing" of the creative world – something which would (in theory) be perfectly nice from the cosmic perspective but where the individual incentives are lacking. It's film and game people drinking wine and agreeing that the world would be a great place if everybody worked together. By which they often mean "if everybody ELSE worked together."

    So, yeah, by all means drag in the f-word. But I think you overstate the case a bit. Yep, ideally everything start with an overwhelming desire to share some experience – after which the medium is chosen as a mere practicality. But in the real world things do happen the other way round – game people sit down and discuss which GAME to make next, film people try to get funding for their next FILM project etc. And I can live with that.

    The "let's think up a transmedia project" approach fills me with terror as well. But world-building (as opposed to storytelling) is not inherently dumb (as you mention yourself) and I do think interesting experiences may await in that direction.
    But you know, more Tolkien please, and fuck spreadsheets.

  2. Thx, Jonas.

    First off, I agree about me overstating the case. In most cases I would also tend to be much more pragmatic, yet just felt a need to make a few clear-cut points without all the nuances & perspectives…my main criticism is probably directed at "The "let's think up a transmedia project" approach".

    …due to my background in the humanities, I quickly softened up my arguments on twitter with links to much smarter people exploring the field of transmedia.

    I believe the term holds value, also in that it directs people from within different creative industries to think about the possibility of learning from each other. Even if the result is not elaborate, complex transmedia universes, developers of movies, games, music, books, etc. might in turn expand their own horizon by peeking into the work done in neighboring fields.

    Regarding the idea of building worlds rather than stories, I'm very keen on following those tendencies. It resonates with Miguel Sicarts argument to focus on "play" rather than "games". Spaces to explore & play within rather than storylines to follow.

  3. My only issue with your argument, Mathias, is that you're presenting it as if no-one thinks these things. It is only the stupid people that frame transmedia as an end-point in itself. That you have framed the complaint as if it isn't shared by those how work in it, perpetuates bad thinking! But I think you realise this now. 🙂

  4. Christy – thx for commenting. I never meant for my post to imply that no-one is actually doing good, solid work within this field; I do know that you, Henry Jenkins and several others are way beyond the superficial understandings sketched out above (and way beyond my own insight). The same goes for content developers – many exciting things going on.

    Even so, I often have this eery feeling when transmedia is brought up, and judging by the reactions from many others, I'm not alone. The post primarily served to pinpoint some of these issues. If anything, it is no more than an initial point of departure for myself and those, who are nowhere nearly as well versed in this stuff as you are.

    The somewhat harsh rhetoric is probably best understood in the context of Miguel Sicart's talk, which merely pointed out, that "games don't matter" because what people do (play) is more important than the games themselves, and that games could become more meaningful if they allow for greater degrees of actual play (in the "paidea"-sense). My parallel would be, that transmedia "don't matter", but that the experiences, communities & interactions absolutely do.

  5. Hi Mathias,

    I concur with Christy above, it might be you've talked to the wrong transmedia people :)… naturally, nothing becomes "good" or even "tolerable" just by slapping on a "transmedia" label. But, for instance (from a content devleopers POV) using transmedia storytelling methods, even for a project that never ends up as transmediated or even multiplatform, helps A LOT in the creation and development process. Try it, you'll like it! 😉

  6. Hi Mathias,

    Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the seminar 🙁 But did Miguel actually argue for a focus on player creativity rather than ludus? As a prescription for game design?

  7. @Simon – I don't at all disagree with neither Christy nor you. As stated in another comment, I'm sure there's a lot to be gained from the different industries meeting/learning from each other, from thinking differently about building worlds, from understanding how media interact & how communities interact with media/content providers etc. My rant was really only thought of as identifying a few of my main gripes with the way some people seem to approach transmedia.

    @Jonas – yeah, at least that's how I understood his arguments. He talked at some length about how freeform play and what players do is much more interesting than games, rules, structures. I would also say, that he argued in favor of "a focus on player creativity" and more loose game structures.

  8. Mathias, this is a GREAT post!

    Actually it could be applied to almost any hype on internet / marketing world.

    I´m brazilian and I teach storytelling and transmedia classes in a major university here. These are powerfull concepts, but it does not mean anything without good creative work behind it.

    Every class I get students asking what is the formula, or how to apply this or that. My answer is always "first you have to know why and what you want to say, then you start to ask how".

    1. @Bruno – thx a bunch!

      I obviously agree with you, and wouldn't imply, that it never makes sense to build stories and/or universes across different media. It's just the notion of a magic "formula", as you mention, I'm strongly opposed to. Good answer to the question, by the way – why?

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