Though transmedia storytelling, defined by Henry Jenkins as “process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” (Jenkins) feels like a modern invention, it actually finds its roots in the origins of storytelling techniques. According to Rachel Mcdonald and Jackie Parker, “Before printing presses, stories existed in oral tradition, in which storytellers used different voices, gestures, and movements to convey meaning. Stories also existed on stage before they appeared in print. For much of human history, the populace was illiterate. They depended on stained glass, sculpture, oral tradition, and acting out such things like the Stations of the Cross to learn the stories of the Bible” (Mcdonald and Parker 27). What is occurring today is essentially a transmedia renaissance, with storytellers drawing on modern innovations such as cinema and the internet to enhance their tales. Both Capybara Games’ “Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery” and Bryan Lee O'Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” make extensive use of transmedia storytelling in the production of their narratives. The Scott Pilgrim graphic novels led to the creation of a film and video game, as well as an animated short, all of which either expanded or reinterpreted the original fiction in some way. In contrast to this straightforward approach, “Sworcery" relies on its audience to create their own transmedia experience through the game’s use of twitter integration. Despite these approaches to transmedia storytelling, both works differ from Jenkins’ model by largely relying on the audience’s prior knowledge of other media properties rather than focusing exclusively on filling out their own. By examining this technique, I propose an expansion to the existing context for analyzing such works, transmedia allusion, which serves to associate them to unrelated media properties by ideologically hailing to the other’s audience. This process can be seen throughout the entirety of Scott Pilgrim’s own transmedia works, which use references to other video games, movies, and music as a way of attracting those specific audiences through association. A similar method of hailing can be seen in “Sworcery”, which uses art that is meant to be evocative of older games while also directly borrowing imagery from Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda” series. These transmedia allusions effectively appeal to their target audience’s nostalgia for other fictional universes, and in doing so position themselves as having the same ideological identity.
Beginning as a simple graphic novel series, Bryan Lee O'Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” books rapidly grew in popularity. Soon after the first book was released in 2004, publisher Oni Press immediately began courting Hollywood producers for a film adaptation and signed director Edgar Wright onto the project soon after (Winning). Although many years passed before the “Scott Pilgrim VS the World” went into production, the script was being developed alongside O’Malley’s own writing of the graphic novels, leading to some significant differences. According to the author, “They had finished the final shooting draft of the movie before I had started the sixth book. They sort of knew what they were doing, I mean they had my notes for the sixth book, and I kind of incorporated experiences I had during the shoot of the film into the sixth book” (Winning). By its very nature as a two hour film instead of a 6 part graphic novel series, “Scott Pilgrim VS the World” became an adaptation of the original source material rather than a direct translation onto the screen. By drawing audiences into O’Malley’s world while still withholding some story elements, Wright’s film invites interested viewers to seek out the original material if they wish to experience the complete “Scott Pilgrim” universe. Alongside the film, Universal Studios also commissioned an animated short to both expand on the relationships between Scott, Kim, and Lisa Miller in a way that is not seen in the movie, while simultaneously serving as an advertisement for the film. “Scott Pilgrim VS the Animation” acts as a bridge between the comic and the movie, featuring an art style that closely approximates O’Malley’s own as well as voice acting by the official cast of the film. According to Jenkins’ model, this animated short would be categorized as “synergy” since it “[provides] backstory which enhanced the viewer’s experience of the film even as they also help to publicize the forthcoming release (thus blurring the line between marketing and entertainment)” (Jenkins). Viewing “Scott Pilgrim VS the Animation” is not required for the audience to enjoy the film, however seeking out this supplemental material can enhance their understanding of certain relationships that were glossed over in the interest of time. Oni Press’ film deal also included the rights for creation of a video game based on the Scott Pilgrim franchise. The game was released alongside the film in the summer of 2010, and again featured a plot that differed from both the graphic novel and the film, focusing primarily on Scott’s battles rather than the complex character relationships of O’Malley’s original work. Like many transmedia works, the game’s narrative expects that interested players will seek out the remaining story material on their own, driving them towards purchases of the books and film.
Unlike the more traditional approach to transmedia storytelling taken with “Scott Pilgrim”, Capybara Games’ “Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery” placed the creation of its additional elements in the hands of its players. As Mcdonald and Parker describe, “many publishers are now creating stories with transmedia elements in mind from the beginning” (Mcdonald and Parker 31). “Sworcery” certainly follows this trend, primarily through its use of Twitter integration. Every line of text in the game is written in such a way that it can meet the requirements of Twitter’s character limits, and the developers included a button that the player can press to immediately tweet whatever line they are reading at that time. The result was an interesting variation on what designers can accomplish with transmedia storytelling, where rather than tell several interconnected stories through a variety of media forms, they allowed their audience to tell the game’s story amongst themselves. Jenkins would classify this approach in a manner similar to the creation of fan-fiction, where the game “provides a set of roles and goals which readers can assume as they enact aspects of the story through their everyday life” (Jenkins). The game itself was released at a time when Twitter began receiving a much greater amount of academic attention. According to Shirley Williams’ study of twitter-focused academic papers, “The first Twitter-focused papers published appeared in 2007, when a total of three papers were identified in this study, this number did not increase significantly in 2008 and 2009 where eight and 36 papers respectively were identified. There was a significant increase with 210 identified in 2010 and 320 in 2011 (Williams, Terras and Warwick 392). It is no coincidence that the development and release of “Sworcery” came at the same time as this growing interest in the importance of studying Twitter as a social media service. Capybara game’s experiment in letting their players create the game’s transmedia universe was a success, and nearly three years later the #sworcery topic on twitter is still being actively populated with game-related messages.
Although both “Scott Pilgrim” and “Sworcery” used techniques of transmedia storytelling to expand on their original material, they also relied heavily on the integration of elements from other preexisting fictional universes. Since Jenkins’ model focuses only on the expansion of properties through transmedia elements, we must expand on it by proposing a new lens with which to view this technique, the transmedia allusion. The goal of this practice is essentially the manipulation of a target audience in an effort to make them perceive a work in a specific way through ideological interpolation. By incorporating elements of other people’s works, artists can appeal to that particular audience’s ideology through a process known as hailing. Louis Althusser defined how this method functions, stating that “ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’” (Althusser). In the case of the transmedia allusion, this “greeting” takes the form of any sort of reference to another artist’s property, whether explicitly stated or merely alluded to. This technique is frequently seen in all forms of media, and in video games most commonly appears through the use of retro-inspired graphics to appeal to the audience’s nostalgia for the games of their youth.
The “Scott Pilgrim” franchise is rife with transmedia allusions in all of its various forms. O’Malley very intentionally references video games throughout his original graphic novel, and these allusions appear in a number of varying ways. Some of the most explicit references appear in the names of various bands throughout the series, with Scott’s own bands “Sonic & Knuckles,” “Kid Chameleon,” “Sex Bob-omb,” and “Shatterband” referring to the Sonic the Hedgehog, Kid Chameleon, Super Mario, and Shatterhand video games respectively. The other two bands that appear, “The Clash at Demonhead” and “Crash and the Boys” are also references to video games named Clash at Demonhead and Crash 'N' The Boys: Street Challenge for the Nintendo entertainment system. The games referenced through these bands range from some of the biggest franchises of the medium to obscure games that would only be recognized by the discerning reader. By making such a broad range of ideological hailing, O’Malley ensures that a large audience can be interpolated into the book’s ideology, and feel a deeper connection to the material based on how many of the hails they recognize. This ideological interpolation through transmedia allusions fits in directly with the tagline from the rear cover of the graphic novel’s first volume “This is Scott Pilgrim. This is your life” (O'Malley). The book states its goal of providing material that its audience can relate to, and does so by presenting references to the works of others. Similar techniques of hailing appear in the film adaptation, and the director, Edgar Wright, was chosen specifically for his expertise in creating films that rely on transmedia allusion. According to the New York Times, “The emotional yearning stirred up in certain young men — and sometimes women — by the cultural artifacts of their not-too-distant childhoods is a phenomenon that Mr. Wright is fluent in” (Itzkoff). Before “Scott Pilgrim VS the World,” Wright found great success creating films that navigated their own narratives while making specific homages to the classics of their genres. In his adaptation of the graphic novel, the director continued O’Malley’s tendency for video game references while also incorporating transmedia allusions of his own, resulting in “[a] film [that] pushes those influences even further: dialogue and actions are embellished with sound effects spelled out on screen — a ’60s-“Batman”-style “SMAK” to convey a punch to the face or a stream of “DDDDDD” to signify a strumming bass guitar — as well as noises and musical cues sampled from old Nintendo software. Scott’s nightly outings to mundane bars and rock clubs culminate in fantastical showdowns meant to evoke the frenetic pugilism of video games like Street Fighter II” (Itzkoff). On that same note, Ubisoft’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game” takes O’Malley’s references one step further by borrowing the gameplay and art style of the types of video games that the author alludes to. The game is designed to be incredibly reminiscent of games such as Nintendo’s “River City Ransom” in order to attract fans of that genre to the property. Justin Cyr, one of the game’s animators, refers to this use of visual aesthetic as an ideological interpolator, stating that “"We all grew up with [the original Nintendo] and Genesis and all the old systems, there's a certain nostalgia to these retro-looking games” (Gaylord).
“Sworcery” also makes use of transmedia allusions to a Nintendo property, “The Legend of Zelda,” primarily through its visual aesthetics and narrative. In “Sworcery” the player’s quest in to seek out the three pieces of the trigon trifecta, which are simple equilateral triangles of different colors. This object is meant to serve as a direct reference to the three pieces of the triforce which usually serves as the ultimate goal in Nintendo’s franchise. The effectiveness of this ideological interpolation is apparent when examining the transmedia expansion of “Sworcery,” such as WP Van Overbruggen’s “Legends” (Van Overbruggen) which depicts the protagonists from both games hand-in-hand. Like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game,” Capybara Games employed a pixelated aesthetic when creating the games art, making it reminiscent of classic video games despite the fact that each piece of art contains far more detail than would have been possible on an old game console. Besides merely attracting a larger audience by appealing to another work’s fan-base, these transmedia allusions also serve to associate “Sworcery” with games that are often seen as part of the video game canon, essentially granting itself legitimacy through association.
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” series and Capybara Games’ “Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery” each represent a different take on transmedia storytelling. O’Malley’s graphic novels take the more traditional route by expanding and reinterpreting their source material through film, animation, and games, while “Sworcery” instead leaves its transmedia presence entirely up to its fans. What makes these properties interesting is their use of other works through transmedia allusion to both attract the audiences of the others through ideological hailing as well as position themselves within the same area of importance as their inspirations. Through this technique, we begin to see the development of a network of interconnected transmedia narratives that grows larger with each new reference.
Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)." 1970. Marxists Internet Archive. Philosophical Essay. 2 December 2013.
Capybara Games. "Superbrother: Sword and Sworcery." Toronto: Capybara Games, 24 March 2011. Video Game.
Gaylord, Chris. "Retro revival trend fueled by new, but old-looking, video games." Christian Science Monitor 8 November 2010. Article.
Itzkoff, Dave. "Cult Director Courts the Mass, Keeps the Crazy." 5 August 2010. The New York Times. Online Article. 1 December 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/movies/08wright.html?pagewanted=print>.
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O'Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. Portland: Oni Press, 2004. Graphic Novel.
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Williams, Shirley A., Melissa M. Terras and Claire Warwick. "What do people study when they study Twitter? Classifying Twitter related academic papers." Journal of Documentation 69.3 (2013): 384-410. Academic Journal.
Winning, Josh. "Q&A: Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley." 2 June 2010. TotalFilm. Interview. 1 December 2013. <www.totalfilm.com/news/q-a-scott-pilgrim-creator-bryan-lee-o-malley>.