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John Murray

Mad Science: Portal and the Fulfillment of Technological Fantasies

We all want to play with the toys we read about. All sci-fi universes (and many fantasy ones) include technologies like lightsabers or tricorders. We imagine or watch our favorite characters like Geordi La Forge or Luke Skywalker use them to explore alien worlds or vanquish evil foes. These devices create expectation, or "affordance," of what we expect would be possible within a game set in their respective universes. What exactly can’t a lightsaber cut through, anyways? The fictional world has its answer, of course, and many plot sequences rely on it.

MechWarrior 2Many single player games like first person shooters happily allow you to devastate the terrain with any number of weapons of varying precision. A number of versions of the BattleTech Franchise allow you to pilot a 40-100 ton BattleMech (a robotic tank). But when it comes to non-conventional uses of technology, you are often limited to the imagination of the programmer who implements them.

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A Mutating Transmedium

Today, we have another new author joining our ranks at Fantasy Matters--John Murray, a computer science PhD student who is interested in video games and digital narrative.  His essay today talks about Henry Jenkin's concept of "transmedia"--that is, blending multiple platforms or media types to tell a story or convey an idea.  He looks at several video games that employ this concept in creative and exciting ways, as well as several that fall short in their attempt.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneIn 2007, the video game industry surpassed the movie industry in gross revenue. Another recent trend is that almost every successful fantasy or science fiction movie worth its salt has released an accompanying game, usually one that follows closely the storyline of the original movie. Such forgettable games as Enter the Matrix, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone point to one result of this trend: mediocre tie-ins and adaptations.

The reviews and feel of these games reveal how closely tied they are to the movies themselves and how the effort put into them is completely abstracted compared to the original material.  They often feature voice talent from the original movies and use key scenes, detailed props, or settings. Unfortunately, in many of these games the aspiration toward "transmedia," a concept that Henry Jenkins observes and named, falls short of its promise. But they are participating in the same process, the same blending of contexts that makes a “transmedia property.” How do these games contribute to this emerging genre, marketing strategy, and approach to media creation?

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