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Storytelling 2.0: a new era in storytelling for, and with, children

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Claudio is an Anthropologist, media practitioner and PhD researcher currently looking at the intersection of stories, books, games, digital media, and the flows of creativity and content adaptation across media. He works as Senior Research Manager at Dubit, a digital game studio, and is finishing a Professional Doctorate on digital innovation in storytelling, collaborating with the UNESCO Chair project 'Crossing Media Boundaries: Adaptation and New Media Forms of the Book' (University of Bedfordshire, with UNESCO Chair Professor Alexis Weedon).

I have a special interest in the flows of stories across media, and in particular into digital media. Here I briefly describe a recent research study in cross-media for children, and point towards areas of change in the children’s media landscape that are worth of further investigation.

Children nowadays can access stories in a multitude of forms (books, films, TV, story apps, digital fiction, games). Many of the narratives they find across media are based on the same characters or brands, which is linked to the ways in which the media sectors operate, with licensing and cross-media expansion being common practices for popular brands. It seems that cross-media adaptation - which - has reached a peak in history, and particularly in the children's market. When characters and stories travel across media, they encounter different potentials (or affordances), different conventions, different ways of working and economic models, and different ways of telling stories, which often mix narrative with other aspects such as the ludic features of games, or the creative features of many story apps for children.

I have been lucky enough to work for a digital entertainment studio that, at the time, was making a game for the BBC, or rather for CBBC, called Muddle Earth. The game was designed as a digital “companion” to the TV series, which in turn was based on Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell’s book with the same title, a parody of Lord of the Rings. Drawing on the analysis of production documents and producer interviews, the research investigates adaptation in the context of cross-media strategies, following the journey of the source narrative from book into cartoon and finally into digital game. I propose the need to replace persisting fidelity models (and the exclusive use of textual analysis) with a more flexible concept of transmedial brand consistency.

Stories do not remain “the same” when they travel across media – they adapt and change according to a number of factors, not least the very fact that they enter a new medium, a new realm where different (and sometimes similar) rules and possibilities operate. The study pointed to the need to analyse adaptations as the complex result not only of hypertextuality (reference to a source narrative / text), but also of interconnected processes of cross-media intertextuality (influence of other books, other games, other media texts in a complex web of references); medium-specific affordances (what can be done / is currently done in games); and production contexts (e.g. BBC editorial guidelines, perceptions of audiences, etc.). You can download a free copy of the full study here.

Games tell stories differently – players not only watch cut scenes or read / hear text, they also play the story. Games mix ludic activities with plot development in ways that are different to the storytelling in other media – not to mention the types of emergent narrative whereby players create their very own stories in game worlds.

I am now collaborating with the UNESCO Chair project “Crossing Media Boundaries: Adaptation and New Media Forms of the Book”, with practice-led research into digital media and changes to books and publishing industry, digital storytelling formats, and authoring and reader engagement practices. This project involves an ongoing mapping of the current landscape of digital “storytelling” (ranging from ebooks to enhanced ebooks, story apps, game-books, and into digital games with narrative), and engaging in analyses of the ways in which previously separated media are increasingly merging to create hybrid forms that both remediate (imitate, adapt) older media such as books, and also draw on the conventions of digital games and other digital forms.

The other side of the research looks at the ways in which the creative industries have been involving their “audiences” (readers, players, watchers) in production processes, both through the more traditional means of research and data analytics, but also through co-design, co-creation, the often called crowdsourcing, and crowdfunding.

This has lead not only to changing models of production, but is also moving notions of authorship, aesthetics, copyright and so on.

Changes in the ways children consume entertainment – increasingly multimodal, and allowing (potentially) their participation and creativity - also drive a need to revisit notions, and practices, of (media) literacy, and the ways children learn. Importantly, conceptions of media hierarchies, where certain (typically more recent) media are seen as inferior to others need to be revisited, and rather focus on the potential of creativity across a range of media and modes, for learning and development purposes.

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