Not long ago we were spectators, passive consumers of mass media. Now, on YouTube and blogs and Facebook and Twitter, we are media. And while we watch more television than ever before, how we watch it is changing in ways we have barely slowed down to register. No longer content in our traditional role as couch potatoes, we approach television shows, movies, even advertising as invitations to participate-as experiences to immerse ourselves in at will. Wired contributing editor Frank Rose introduces us to the people who are reshaping media for a two-way world-people like Will Wright (The Sims), James Cameron (Avatar), Damon Lindelof (Lost), and dozens of others whose ideas are changing how we play, how we chill, and even how we think. The Art of Immersion is an eye-opening look at the shifting shape of entertainment today.
"Starred Review. Wired contributing editor Rose takes a broad and deep look at how electronic media are changing storytelling, inviting an immersion that drills down beneath surface information and encourages a deeper level of emotional involvement... Completely fascinating." "The definitive book on transmedia-what it really is, where it came from and how it is changing our culture. A must read for anyone now in the business of telling stories, which almost certainly includes you-whatever it is you do." -- Matt Mason, author of The Pirate's Dilemma "Frank Rose has written an important, engaging, and provocative book, asking us to consider the changes the Internet has wrought with regard to narrative as we have known it, and making it impossible to ever watch a movie or a TV show in quite the same way." -- Peter Biskind, author of Down and Dirty Pictures and Star "Himself a master of good old-fashioned narrative, Frank Rose has given us the definitive guide to the complex, exciting and sometimes scary future of storytelling." -- Steven Levy, author of Hackers
Rose's new book, The Art of Immersion, provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look into the conception, creation, and promotion of many products of popular media from Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight to Xbox's Halo; from George Lucas' Star Wars suite to the Nine Inch Nails' album Year Zero; from ABC's Lost to Evan Williams' sites Blogger and Twitter.
Yet for all of its contemporary pop culture references and social media anecdotes, The Art of Immersion feels quite dated. His thesis ("A new type of narrative is emerging--one that's sold through many media at once in a way that's non-linear, that's participatory and often gamelike, and that's designed above all to be immersive.") is obvious to even the most technologically un-savvy reader. Nearly everyone, from Topeka, Kansas to Tokyo, Japan has understood that intuitively (if not explicitly) for 10 years.
I enjoyed reading the first few chapters in which Rose discusses the transformation of media and the creation of increasingly immersive worlds through the advancement of the technology, content and delivery method of newer forms of media. Rose outlines a rough sketch from the invention of the printing press and moveable type to the advent of the motion picture to the seductive glow of the living room television to the immersive and participatory "deep media" of the Internet. Yet as I continued to read, I kept waiting for the book to "start".
Each new chapter felt like a slight regurgitation of the one before it; each felt like an introduction to the theme, yet the book never fully developed the theme. True to his subtile, Rose answered How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way we Tell Stories. But each chapter begs the questions: WHY? What effect does this have on our culture? Are there any positive or negative consequences? What can we expect for the future of media? Etc. Rose's point that media has changed to be more immersive is obvious and could have been articulated clearly in an introduction. I hoped he would go deeper.
The Art of Immersion is interesting at points and offers its readers great tidbits about their favorite television shows, films, music, and websites. But it left this reader wanting more.
The Internet is teaching us new ways of storytelling2011/2/15
"The Internet is trying very, very hard to tell us." That quote is from Elan Lee, one of the early pioneers of Alternate Reality Games. Lee created I Love Bees to promote the Xbox game Halo 2, and was part of the 42 Entertainment team (along with Alex Lieu and Susan Bonds) behind Year Zero, which engaged thousands of Nine Inch Nails fans in the creation of a story around the album of the same name.
The quote above quote appears in Frank Rose's new book, The Art of Immersion, due out in February 2011. Rose, a long time contributing editor at Wired, where he's covered everything from the fall of the music industry to the impact of digital technology on television, offers an assessment of where story-telling is going in an age when narratives are no longer linear and more often than not are told, or at least informed, by the participation of a consumer community.
Rose labels this "deep media." Story-telling that offers an immersive experience. It refers to everything from the online audiences that gathered on their own to decipher the convoluted plot line of Lost, to the MadMen fans who hijacked the show's characters in the form of Twitter personas, playing Don and Betty true to their `60s personas.
To his credit, Rose doesn't simply regurgitate examples of current entertainment and gaming industry campaigns like Avatar or Grand Theft Auto. He frames the challenges and emerging formulas in light of all the story telling changes that have come before, from the serialized novels of Dickens, to the early breakthroughs created by D.W. Griffith that gave film its own identity as a medium, to the trans-media narratives about which Henry Jenkins writes so intelligently.
Multiple themes emerge in Rose's book. The first is that conventional entertainment doesn't work they way it used to. We know that just from looking at the numbers. Box office sales, DVD sales, music sales have all plummeted in recent years.
Secondly, the command and control world of the author (or auteur in the film world) is over. As soon as the audience can step in, create content and direct, the old model crumbles.
Three, stories and games have become more inextricably linked than ever. A game may never be able to offer the full "sensory wallop" of a motion picture, but they certainly allow the viewer to insert himself directly into the experience. Given the desire to participate, games become a magical way to connect and influence.
And four, it's normal for there to be confusion and even resistance as a new definition of story telling develops and movie makers, publishers and ad agencies all struggle to figure it out.
One of my favorite quotes in the book, memorable to any film student of the 70s or 80s, is from Jean Luc Godard, the French New Wave director whose approach to story telling challenged Hollywood and even French convention. Asked if a story shouldn't have a beginning, middle and end, he answered, "Of course, just not necessarily in that order."
Today's question might be, "Shouldn't every story have an author?" The answer might be, "Of course, but why limit it to one."
Today, We are All Media - if we choose...2011/4/12
David H. Deans
For me, perhaps the most insightful take-away from reading "The Art of Immersion" is how the various forms of media are being impacted by an apparent loss of control. Chapter four is devoted to this topic. Frank Rose addresses this issue from both sides - challenges and opportunities.
The process of immersion can take many forms, but the one that seems to trouble the traditional media practitioners the most is when "ordinary people" choose to engage with a story and decide to participate in the development of the characters and/or the storyline.
These uninvited contributions demonstrate how the Internet, in particular, has enabled many people to rediscover that innate human quality that most of us have not embraced since childhood - the storyteller within.
Mr. Rose offers an example of how someone unaffiliated with the production or distribution of the "Mad Men" television series decided to create a Twitter account for Betty Draper (a fictional character) and assumed that persona for the purpose of sharing her innermost thoughts. Apparently, other people have assumed the persona of various characters from the show and tweet about their thoughts as well.
How did the AMC cable channel executives react to this amazing act of engagement from the show's audience? They contacted Twitter and requested that all these accounts were shut down. Once the show's fans discovered what had happened, that decision was quickly reversed - with a regretful AMC blessing.
Rose summarizes this legacy media disruption phenomenon with the following assessment. "In the command-and-control world, we know who's telling the story; it's the author. But digital media have created an authorship crisis. Once the audience is free to step out into the fiction and start directing events, the entire edifice of twentieth century mass-media begins to crumble."
I believe that this trend has already spilled over into non-fiction commercial communications. Where companies once relied upon the predictable monologue of the press release, today they must deal with free-spirited stakeholder commentary on their corporate blog posts. How do you control the dialogue once you've enabled that open interaction? Clearly, that's a question that more and more marketers are asking themselves.
Rose offers yet another prescient observation of what key changes will reshape the media sector in the foreseeable future. "There's nothing inherent in humans that makes them want to be passive consumers of entertainment, or the advertising that pays for it. The couch potato era, seemingly so significant at the time, turns out to be less an era than a blip - and a blip based on faulty assumptions at that."
Good, but not quite what I envisioned2011/3/22
I wanted a lot from this book, but didn't get quite enough to satisfy. I was surprised that Mr. Rose had a lot of discussion about various television shows, including 'Lost' and 'The Office', yet not even a mention of a true pioneering web show like 'The Guild'. And can we have a discussion of the digital generation without an in depth examination of The World of Warcraft phenomenon? It gets a one page mention.
I felt at several times that I was being told what was 'cool' in the digital universe. I had hoped for a more careful examination of the art of immersion, less a history lesson on how mainstream media tries to make money off the marriage of old technology and new.
I would, however, recommend this book on the strength of just one chapter, 'Control'. In it Mr. Rose examines piracy and controlling copyright in this digital age. I would go so far as to say that politicians should have to read this chapter before saying one damn word on digital piracy.
A much-needed bridge to/from Convergence Culture2011/2/26
Guy L. Gonzalez
The Art of Immersion is a much-needed bridge to/from Henry Jenkins' seminal Convergence Culture, as Frank Rose crafts an engaging, insightful overview of how storytelling has evolved in the digital age that's accessible to all, whether enthusiast or skeptic. Focusing primarily on the intersection of film, TV and gaming, there are plenty of takeaways and insights of interest to writers and publishers, too.
Unlike most transmedia advocates, myself included, Rose focuses on immersion and depth of story, rather than just the primacy of STORY itself, offering a variety of compelling examples. Among them, his contrast between Star Wars and Avatar is on point, and I enjoyed his emphasis on marketing and engagement vs. interruption advertising; it's a key aspect that gets overlooked in most discussions about transmedia.
The final three chapters delve into the science of immersion, with some really interesting info, though Rose's take on Twitter is surprisingly simplistic and disconnected from earlier references in the book. Particularly interesting is the Lanier-ish (You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Vintage)) cautionary tone he ends the book on, somewhat surprising coming from one of the Wired crew.
All in all, a great read, and highly recommended.
NOTE: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, W.W. Norton.