Computer and console games that incorporate elements of narrative have captured a significant audience. In these games, users have a sense of free will that is often conveyed by enabling robust forms of spatial navigation and interaction with objects in the game world. This has resulted an obsession with the idea that “the more agency, the better” (Mulholland & Collins, 2002). However, the degree of user agency needs to be considered carefully when designing a transmedia narrative.
Determining where on the narrative-game spectrum the project falls will determine what kind of transmedia work it will produce. At one end of the spectrum is narrative, which has a high degree of author control over the narrative flow and meaning, while on the other end is game, which gives the user/player a high degree of control. Towards the middle of the spectrum are alternate reality games (ARGs) in which control in shaping meaning, and to a lesser degree narrative flow, is shared.
“Gamification” is becoming increasingly popular for a variety of applications (Peters M. , 2011). Games and game-like features are finding their way into transmedia narratives. At the other end of the spectrum, increasingly sophisticated games are including narrative elements to enhance their entertainment value.
Any “gamification” of a transmedia narrative should add significant narrative potential. In order to do so, gaming elements should be rich enough to create purposeful and meaningful experiences that can be used as the source of the user’s own narrative. Transmedia narrative designers should avoid including games that encourage mindless attention and passive participation (Screven, 2000, pp. 166-167).
The Burn Notice website for the television series of the same name is an example of how games should not be used as part of a transmedia narrative. The site has ten games including “See It Like a Spy” and 12 quizzes like “Can You Outsmart Michael?” (USA Network, 2011). None of them are integrated into the ongoing narrative of the series nor do they provide any narrative content themselves.
Source: USA Network (USA Network, 2011)
“See It Like a Spy” is a simple click-drag-and-drop game in which the user has to move three graphics onto a graphic of a workbench to get the correct answer. The “Covert Ops” game is more sophisticated, putting the player into the role of an associate of the protagonist in the television series using a first-person perspective, but there are not narrative elements to the game. The quizzes are little more than a series of questions with four possible answers for the user to click on. None of these game elements have any significant connection with the on-going narrative in the television series nor do they extend the Burn Notice storyworld in a meaningful way. Rather, the games and quizzes provide the user with features that promote mindless rather than mindful attention (Screven, 2000, pp. 166-167) and fail to deepen user engagement with the narrative.