Way back in 2004 when I started writing our interactive film, CRIMEFACE, I came up with an in-house term to describe the audience that would watch and interact with the film.
The term was VIEWSER, a blend of Viewer (passive/watching) and User (active/using). It helped me focus on what was needed in the script – ‘doing’ elements as well as ‘watching’ ones.
Back then it sounded a bit too left-field to start messing around with the meaning of ‘audience’ but today it feels a perfectly natural thing to do because the Digital Revolution has changed the way people consume and use media. It has changed the nature of the audience – from Viewer to Viewser.
By definition, an audience is a group of people gathered together in a place to watch a performance, film, play or show. They experience it together which gives it a communal dimension. It also refers to people reached by books, films, radio and TV.
These days an audience is able to do a lot more than sit back and watch. They are now able to like, comment, click away to something else, use a second screen, communicate with other friends and fans, write fan fiction, follow characters on social networks, attend live events and share their experience online, and follow their favourite stories across multiple platforms.
When creating content for the Viewser we need to keep all this new behaviour and emerging habits at the core of the writing in the same way a screenwriter knows his audience will expect a big screen, cinematic experience and writes accordingly.
I’ve always enjoyed sandbox games and see many similarities between designing this type of game and creating a transmedia story.
In game design terms a sandbox game is an area where players are free to roam around, accept main and secondary quests or missions, and can reveal the narrative elements at their own pace. Video games like ‘The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim’, give us different individual player experiences from the same set of game tools – character design, an open world or sandbox to explore, main and mini quests, and character progression (levelling up of skills and experience).
Transmedia storytelling uses a similar sandbox approach to story design – create a storyworld, fragment the story, generate story content, spread it around suitable platforms, and let the Viewser explore this immersive, interconnected, complex and dynamic story. They will piece together the story fragments to form a bigger picture in their own time and sequence.
Keeping the Viewser experience in mind as you write is key to creating engaging transmedia stories.