Tag Archives: transmedia

CM Punk and Transmedia

CM Punk
CM Punk

In dealing with a contract renewal negotiation, CM Punk brought the world of transmedia storytelling to professional wrestling.

Before I dive into this, I need to explain some wrestling terminology. A “work” is something that’s scripted — Wrestler A hates Wrestler B in the ring, but backstage they’re friends and they travel together, for example. When a story is is worked, it’s all fictional.

A “shoot” is the opposite — it’s very real, bringing backstage politics to the ring. Wrestler A shoots on Wrestler B in the ring, and that’s because they’re real tension (or “heat”) between them outside of the ring.

Over time, promoters realized that audiences really liked shoots, in much the same way that they like performers in love comedy shows to crack up (called “breaking”) during rehearsed skits. So, something evolved called a “worked shoot,” in which real tensions are amplified or enhanced in order to tell a better story in the ring.  Often times, a worked shoot becomes a pure work, as tensions are resolved outside the ring but the story continues inside of it.

Earlier this year, CM Punk mentioned that his contract was expiring on July 17th, and he wasn’t considering renewing. As far as could be determined, this was all shoot, and seemed consistent with previous interviews and Twitter messages from him. He threatened to beat John Cena (then the WWE Champion) and take the belt with him off of television at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. That seemed to be a work, and it was likely that something would happen that allow the belt to remain in the WWE’s hands. There was some great shoot and worked shoot mic work leading up to the PPV which I recommend watching if you like wresting, but from a pure storytelling perspective it wasn’t anything new — just quality work by two professionals at the top of their game. Punk has a number of interviews, including one with GQ magazine, in which he’s pretty clear about leaving the company. The Money in the Back match comes, and John Cena and CM Punk wrestle.

And Punk wins. And leaves with the belt. And then things get interesting.

First, he posts pictures of his celebration on Twitter, making it very clear that there isn’t going to be a sudden reversal or tidy wrap-up, at least not right away. Traditionally on WWE, the next night’s live Raw broadcast deals with the fallout from the previous night. Everyone expected Punk to show up and be involved somehow. And yet, at the time of Raw’s airing, Punk was still in Chicago at a Cubs game, and posted pictures of the belt from the game. On television, the focus was on making a new belt and the repercussions on the character of Vince McMahon, who is fired as CEO and replaced with his son-in-law, Triple H. (Side note: One CNBC reporter speculated that the SEC may have to investigate the firing, and for a few days it appears the WWE was actually playing along with the investigation. They ultimately admitted that Vince was only fired as Chairman, a title that the SEC doesn’t have any authority over.) Punk still has the title.

Then, Comic-Con. CM Punk crashes the WWE/Mattel panel that has Triple H, and continues the storyline. The video is all amateur — there were no WWE cameras there, and it appears to all be unscripted. Again, except for a few mentions on Raw and on WWE.com, none of this is happening on any official WWE outlet. On July 25th, Punk returns to Raw at the very end of the show, and the story takes on its normal proportions — it’s largely on television and WWE.com again. So, from a transmedia perspective, we’re really looking at the time period from the evening of July 17th to the evening of July 25th.

From a television perspective, the story is simple — CM Punk leaves, a short tournament is held, a new belt awarded to John Cena, and then CM Punk returns to challenge that. You can follow along without any of the external media and get it. But by following Punk on Twitter and the incident at Comic-Con, you get a lot more texture and nuance for the story — there’s a second story unconnected to official WWE media that accentuates and enhances the core story. The fact that WWE is notoriously protective of keeping their story on their own media adds to this — they went outside of their comfort zone and let Punk tell his story as well.

And, from everything I’ve been able to tell (although I have nothing definitive), Punk wasn’t even a contractor with WWE during this time. It appears his contract legitimately expired on the 17th, and that he was resigned close to his appearance on Raw.1


To me, this shows that we’re in a world where you don’t have to keep a stranglehold on your narrative. Side narratives can exist in alternative channels that layer into the core narrative in intriguing ways. Further, “creative control” seems to be more resilient and more fluid than previously believed. On the one hand, there’s nothing really that groundbreaking about what happened during that week in July, but the fact that a venerable entertainment company like the WWE tried it and, more specifically, let a contractor run with it says volumes.

So, thank you, CM Punk. You have made me seriously reconsider the boundries of storytelling.

  1. I have since learned that in a recent interview, Punk admits to resigning his contract the day of the 17th, so he was a paid contractor that entire time. However, a lot of my core point stands.

These Words Are Broken – We Need New Ones

As I dive more and more into transmedia and video game design, something has been bothering me. It started building my head when I was on the “Narrative Design” track at GDC Online, and has been growing ever since. In a nutshell, the problem is this:

“Writing” is only a small portion of what writers actually do these days.

Sure, I could get semantic on this point – technically what writers do nowadays is typing instead of writing manuscripts out by hand – but even the more liberal interpretation is becoming awkward. The idea of the professional who does nothing but sit at a typewriter or computer, churn out a manuscript or Word document, send it in, get paid, and move on to the next one is increasingly inaccurate. Now freelance writers need to know skills like blogging and marketing and networking, and that’s aside from other non-writing skills like research and editing that have been part of the craft for over a century now. It’s not uncommon for writers to have to learn things like HTML or audio recording or how to be interviewed in order to supplement their careers. But even then, while there might be a decreasing percentage of sitting at the computer and typing out stuff for people to read, it’s still a significant percentage for the purely prose writer.

Continue reading These Words Are Broken – We Need New Ones

Wrestling with Soap Operas

Back on the train of transmedia thoughts from ARGfest.

The next presentation/discussion I participated in was “Can Transmedia Save The Soap Opera?” by Brooke Thompson. The talk covered a lot about soap operas, what little bit soap operas have done in experimenting in the transmedia space, and what more transmedia could do to keep this style of storytelling alive. But what interested me more the look at how soap opera writers need to write to a variety of audiences all at once, and what writers in other media can learn from that.

Ultimately, soap operas are written for three kinds of groups: people who watch very infrequently (once, maybe twice a year), people who watch somewhat infrequently (a couple of times a month, say), and people who watch religiously. I think Brooke broke it down to “when my kid is sick,” “when I’m skipping class,” and “every day” watchers. One of the things that Brooke found interesting was that the writers on soap operas worked to engage each of these fans simultaneously: providing a compelling story for casual watchers while rewarding hardcore fans with nuances of story that made sense only by knowing the story to a intricate level of detail. During the panel, I pointed out that professional wrestling also works on this multi-tiered writing style, although I admit it’s more heavy-handed – the recaps to catch up casual watchers are excessively repeated, and sometimes depth of history between wrestlers is ignored or downplayed, but the multi-tiered writing style is still prevalent in professional wrestling. I didn’t think about it at the time, but established comic book series do the same thing – trying to engage new fans while also dropping bits of lore for fans who have been following a series for years.

Russell and I keyed on quickly on how this can be adapted to video games. MMOs also have the similar distinctions between hardcore fanatics and more casual players, and content that can be pitched to these multiple groups would be interesting to see in that space. It’s also something that the classic World of Darkness did to good effect: each new book added new content to the world, but would often contain easter eggs of content that reward fans who have read many of the other books. But either way, it’s the same balance – when you have a lengthy backstory and history, you have to consider the balance between casual audiences and fanatical audiences. In interactive fiction, the biggest resource your audience spends on you is time, so you have to reward both small and large investments of time in your product.

Do you, my loyal readers, have some concrete examples of multi-tiered writing?

The Case of the Accidental Brunette

I got some interesting commentary and thoughts on yesterday’s post about the stereotype of the hot brunette, so rather than moving on to my next set of thoughts, I wanted to kick around some of the ideas that these comments sparked in my head today.

Andrea herself was very supportive (go follow her on Twitter, because she’s awesome), but only had a minor quibble: that the sexism is a by-product, rather than an intentional problem. This I absolutely agree with, which is why I changed direction halfway through my post and focused on the lazy stereotypes rather than the –isms. I don’t believe that the writers of these fictions are being intentionally sexist or any –ist, but it is one consequence of lazy stereotyping.

Jenn mentioned the stereotype of the ass-kicking woman over the woman that needs rescuing, and I think it’s a valid point. Andrea mentions in her presentation that when ARGs starting hitting the scene, it was around 2001 when shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were making the rounds. That in itself is starting to become a stereotype, but that’s less of a concern. How such characters are usually portrayed in interactive fiction is that, while they are kicking ass, they can’t kick enough ass without your help, which unfortunately puts them back into the role of needing to be rescued in some form or fashion.

Continue reading The Case of the Accidental Brunette

The Problem of the Hot Brunette

On my talk with other RPG publishers last Tuesday, the concept of the gender dynamic of players came up. The panel was asked if they felt that female gamers are as prevalent as male games (or something to that extent). I was the only one to say “no.”1

I hasten to clarify that I am pretty much surrounded by female gamers. My wife Michelle is an avid gamer, and not only runs one of the D&D games I’m in, but is also the Master Storyteller for the Camarilla fan club. In my ICONS game “Needs Must,” three out of the five players are women, and I can’t remember the last time I was in a regular game where there wasn’t a woman at the table. But while I do agree that women have really increased in numbers as explicit gamers in more “hardcore” areas like tabletop RPGs and console video games, I still feel that many games have a strong masculine voice to them – women may be playing more, but the percentage of women writing games is still disproportionally low.

This was in the back of my head when I went to ARGfest. The first presentation was Andrea Phillips doing her talk “ARGs and Women: Moving Beyond the Hot Brunette.” We heard the abbreviated version (the link is to her longer talk at SXSW), but it covered a lot of the same ground I started to touch on in my own discussion, through the lens of an overused ARG trope: the sexy, smart, perhaps sassy brunette that needs your help. It was interesting to see a fairly different media and community running into the same problem. During the talk, Russell wrote the words “intercom girlfriend” in his own notebook, and I knew we were on the same page.

Continue reading The Problem of the Hot Brunette

  1. Interestingly, Gareth pointed out that White Wolf has done its share of getting women into gaming through Vampire, which made my comment just a bit ironic. But I had been hassling him about using buzzwords, so fair is fair.

Transmedia Thoughts to Come

Between the digitalbookworld talk I had with very smart people last Tuesday and spending a couple of days talking to equally smart people at ARGfest, I have a lot of thoughts about transmedia, games, writing, and how they all intersect swimming around in my head. So, over the next few days I’ll likely be making posts about some of the stuff I’m thinking about, once I get it all sorted out in my head. I’ll put them all in their own category for easy reference (“Transmedia Thoughts”).

But what is “transmedia”? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure – like many buzzwords, I’ve seen it used a lot of different ways by a lot of different people. It seems the intersection revolves around telling a story (interactive or otherwise, but mostly interactive) that is conveyed through more than one media. The scale of the story is where the questioning comes in, and sometimes transmedia is applied to a whole world rather than a specific story, but since there isn’t even a common definition of role-playing games, I’m not going to worry overmuch about it. The key to a lot of my thoughts are the use of multiple media in a cohesive experience and the application of interactivity in that experience. Since that’s a lot of what I do on a daily basis, I have a lot of interest in the topic, and therefore a lot of thoughts to share.