Critical Approaches Scholar Spotlight Words

What we’re reading: Don Quixote, Transmedia, and Convergence

The terms transmedia and convergence began as a way for people to try to manage the complex ways in which the media landscape was changing. While these terms might be new additions to our nerd lexicon, the concepts are hardly new.

Art: Anyone who has studied, worked in, or followed the changes in media over the last generation has been introduced to the concepts transmedia and convergence. The terms have been most clearly defined by Henry Jenkins, but have taken on a life of their own as they have travelled from author to author and critic to critic.

These terms – transmedia and convergence – began as a way for people to try to manage the complex ways in which the media landscape was changing. Gone are the days where content was crafted for a single medium. You can watch movies on your phone and listen to the radio on your computer (without the radio waves!). Transmedia stories flow from medium to medium seemingly without boundaries.

Jenkins’ work acted like a starter gun for people who studied media and has become central to my own research, but the article I have chosen to look at reflects the need for greater complexity – for more than just trying to understand how content flows across media.

In 2014, Carlos Scolari, in his article “Don Quixote of La Mancha: Transmedia Storytelling in the Grey Zone,” made the case that “When researchers, students, and professionals hear about transmedia storytelling, they immediately think of Star Trek, The Matrix, Star Wars, or Lost, but transmedia storytelling is not a new phenomenon: age-old narratives like the story of Christianity, which goes far beyond the Bible, demonstrate that transmedia storytelling has been present for many centuries.”

Scolari’s argument is simple: content flowing across media has been with us as far back as there have been media. Telling a story translated into writing a story down, turned into scripting a story for radio, became filming it for the moving pictures… Yes, there are original stories as well, but there is also always time for a retelling or re-envisioning of a Shakespeare play or, for instance, the story of Don Quixote. Even before digital media, Scolari presents numerous different incarnations of Quixote undermining the idea that transmedia storytelling is new while also building out dimensions of how it is constructed. New versions play on varying degrees of addition, omission, transposition, and permutation.

Ultimately Scolari challenges us to think less about the medium and more about the worlds that are created through them. He finds it more interesting how different media and media connections invite different types of stories. His work inspires those of us who continue to explore these worlds and they ways in which we relate to them. If you get a chance, you should check out what he has to say.

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