There is little doubt that there has been a huge amount of convergence within both media content and technology of late: not only does my phone make calls but it also plays music and video.
But, at the same time, there is also a huge amount of divergence: you can play Sonic the Hedgehog on mobile, PS3, Xbox 360, PC and more – not forgetting the myriad of other non-game Sonics, from cartoons to fan-created works on YouTube. How do content creators make sense of an event horizon that is both shrinking and growing at the same time?
In film studies, there is a useful term that can help us to understand this situation better: ‘diegesis’. As a concept, diegesis originates from classical Greek theatre and has been adopted by film studies to refer to the narrative space a film might occupy – not just what happens on-screen that we see and hear, but also what happens to the characters but is not shown.
Let me give an example: in the film Cloverfield, we are introduced to a number of characters before the monster attacks the city, and they have clearly been written with lives that extend back before the events the film covers. These relationships are central to the narrative and are referred to directly in conversation in the film, but there is also a small portion of ‘pre-recorded’ footage on the camera that narrates events.
The monster is also central to unfolding events in the film, but as an audience we only glimpse a fraction of the conflict we know is occurring. The film does not show us everything that we know has happened and is currently happening. It is the ‘narrative space’ of the film – its diegesis – that contains the past of the characters, the conflict with the monster and much more. Our understanding of this diegesis is what makes the film’s story what it is. Diegesis is the totality of events, wherever and whenever it happens.
What I propose is that we start to see all of our creations as part of an inclusive, diegetic media world. The diegetic world is one that refers to all we see, as well as all additional information that makes the world coherent and sensible: it contains all that the audience needs to understand the story. I’d like to take this idea further: as well as containing all essential story elements, diegetic media brings together all creative content on all platforms to create a world that is more than just one experience. It enables the players to experience our creations in a variety of ways and a variety of forms.
This idea can be illustrated in embryonic form in The Matrix. Whilst opinion on the films and games may be mixed, the Wachowski brothers’ approach to the concept of The Matrix is very interesting in relation to diegetic media.
The story starts, chronologically, with the short films The Second Renaissance, Parts I and II, which serves as backstory to the first film. The story then continues in the short film Final Flight of the Osiris, where the crew of the Osiris discover the Machine’s plan to drill to Zion and they get a message out into the Matrix.
This narrative is pushed along different lines by the game Enter the Matrix, where the player has to acquire the urgent message mentioned in Final Flight of the Osiris, and pass it on to the other film characters – which turns into the focus for Matrix Reloaded. Other comics, short films, websites and the MMO feed into and grow out of the story in terms of events and characters, but also in expanding the narrative space and enriching it with each additional element.
There is, of course, an obvious business model relating to the sales potential every time there is a new release: creating a market for each element that is part of the overall diegetic media world. There is also an aspect of cultural amplification whereby the audience is encouraged to feel part of something bigger. Being involved in a culturally located diegetic media event means they will be more willing to invest in it over time, lending longevity to the overall concept or narrative.
As games become ever more connected, we want the audiences to go further to explore deeper into the worlds we create, to take the ‘red pill’, to explore and come away wanting more.
Everything is Connected
Not only is technology changing, but so is the audience and their expectations of what they want and expect from their entertainment. They are morphing from audience into creators in their own right, ripping, re-mixing and modding where they see fit. Where there is an official canon of the original creators there are many layers below this, where other creators – be they official or non-official – all add to the diegetic media world. They fill in the gaps left by the original, adding new concepts and ideas, but all within the same, original diegetic universe/narrative.
I suggest that we should start to see the creation of a game not in purely game terms, but that we should see it from the start as part of a larger, coherent diegetic media product; as a narrative and interactive space that will engage its users over a period of time. Whilst the game aspect of the concept may be the crucial aspect of the project initially, we should also consider how other media can best assist us in telling our stories.