The Evolution of Storytelling Revisited


Discovering a 3 part Elan Lee interview, part of the WorkBook Project, gives me a good excuse to revisit his TEDxSeattle talk on the evolution of storytelling, specifically as it relates to transmedia. Elan is one of the creators of The Beast, considered by many the very first Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

From Part I of the interview:

In the early stages of exploration, the identity of something new is not yet understood or established, so we use the language of the past to intellectually encompass the future. Even further, we use the symbols of the past to iterate what we think will be the future. 

We develop vast universes, profound characters, world changing events, the elements of which are constructed in the same way that we acquire narratives in our “real” lives – we see newspaper headlines, watch video clips, monitor facebook pages, and repost twitter feeds. There’s nothing about these activities that appear non-linear or disconnected, and yet, when we make up a story that is absorbed and distributed in these ways, it becomes somehow less easily understood, even though the behaviors stay the same.

 From Part II of the interview:

So we thought, what we really need is just kind of like, the glue between those properties. So we thought, what if we built a game that didn’t actually live on any platform, it just sorta lived everywhere. And characters could call you, and characters could send you email, and the characters that you saw in one game could hop out of that game into the real world for a while, and you’d play along with them. And then they’d hop into the next game, and that’s episode two. Episode three they’re gonna hop back out into the real world, play with you, and then episode four they jump into the next Xbox game. So we built that, and we called it The Beast, because we didn’t know what else to call it and we thought it would be cool.

From Part III of the interview:

“Storytelling is still one of the most fascinating things possible for people.  It’s essential that we adapt the way we tell stories to meet the expectations of society – figure out what it means to tell stories using the internet, your cell phone, email, etc –  the fundamental act of telling stories has, and will always work.”

Transmedia isn’t a revolution, it’s the slow and ongoing adaptation of storytelling to the possibilities created by contemporary forms of media, and, more critically, “community collaboration tools like the internet.” Now that the community can participate in the story world, and stories can be consumed in real time, creators can tweak the inputs (game mechanics, characters, pacing) as the universe unfolds. The personalized, participative, on-demand experience is empowering and emotionally rewarding in an all-encompassing way, because the boundaries of the story and real life are blurred to the point of irrelevance.


I’ve said it before, everything is a brand, everything is media, all that people remember is the story, and we are all storytellers.


Antonio Ortiz

Antonio Ortiz has always been an autodidact with an eclectic array of interests. Fascinated with technology, advertising and culture he has forged a career that combines them all. In 1991 Antonio developed one of the very first websites to market the arts. It was text based, only available to computer scientists, and increased attendance to the Rutgers Arts Center where he had truly begun his professional career. Since then Antonio has been an early adopter and innovator merging technology and marketing with his passion for art, culture and entertainment. For a more in-depth look at those passions, visit

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