Assassin's Creed and Transmedia Storytelling

Assassin's Creed and Transmedia Storytelling

Connie Veugen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2016040101
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Although, the term itself was coined more than ten years ago by Henry Jenkins, transmedia storytelling still needs to be researched as the terminology has proven to be multi-interpretable. Transmedia storytelling involving computer games is even less-well researched. This article will look into both issues. First it will take a critical look at transmedia storytelling to show the difference between it and other terms such as convergence, cross-media storytelling and radical intertextuality. Next, the article will look at the role of games in transmedia storytelling, focusing on the Assassin's Creed Desmond Saga to determine if games can be used as a narrative element in transmedia storytelling or if games are only a more active way to take part in the storyworld.
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As theorists and practitioners have noticed, in the past decade a new type of narrative has emerged, one that is multimedial, non-linear, game-like, participatory, and immersive as Frank Rose states in his book The Art of Immersion (2011). Rose’s term for this new type of storytelling is “deep media” (2011, p. 3). In The Art of Immersion, Rose discusses the diverse aspects of deep media using recent examples such as the Alternate Reality Campaign1Why So Serious? that preceded the 2008 Batman movie The Dark Knight; the fan twitter accounts for the popular TV-series Mad Men (2007 – 2015), which forced the television company to set up their own official accounts; as well as the often cited TV-series Lost (2004 – 2010). These examples are typically recognized as instances of “transmedia storytelling,” a term popularized by Henry Jenkins in 2003. According to Jenkins, in its ideal form each medium in transmedia storytelling “does what it does best-so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics, and its world might be explored and experienced through game play” (2003).

What Jenkin’s definition seems to suggest is that games occupy a separate position in transmedia storytelling. Whereas the story is expanded in the more traditional narrative media such as novels, comics, television, and films, games are not used to “expand” the narrative, but can be used to immerse the player in the story world. In his book, Rose also examines some games such as Myst (1983), Grand Theft Auto III (2001) and IV (2004), Black & White (2001), and the Fable series (2004, 2008, 2010). Whereas media texts are always part of a larger transmedia narrative in the other examples Rose gives, games are treated as special cases, separate from other media texts. Even when it is clear that a game is part of a larger narrative, such as the game Enter the Matrix (2003) which connects the first film The Matrix (1999) with both the second film The Matrix Reloaded (2003) as well as with the animated film The Final Flight of the Osiris (2003), its story is still considered secondary, thus confirming the deviant status of games2.

The aim of this paper is to address the status of video games as part of transmedia storytelling. To do this, I will first explore transmedia storytelling itself, as it is still a multi-interpretable term. Using theories by Henry Jenkins and Christy Dena, among others, I will discuss the elements that distinguish transmedia storytelling from other types of multiple media narratives, such as franchises and cross-media storytelling3. Then, I will examine the so-called Desmond Saga, a set of media texts that are part of the Assassin's Creed franchise (2007 – present). Using close reading and textual analysis methodologies, I will examine these media texts in relation to each other, and in relation to the overall narrative and the narrative’s storyworld, to understand whether games just present a narrative’s storyworld as a playable experience as Jenkins suggests, or if they can be an indispensable part of the transmedia narrative.

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