Reception strategies of transmedial audiences: playfulness, fiction, and the apparatus in interactive soap Lonelygirl15


Session Title:

  • Transformative Creativity - Participatory Practices I

Presentation Title:

  • Reception strategies of transmedial audiences: playfulness, fiction, and the apparatus in interactive soap Lonelygirl15




  • This paper will consider the dynamics of participation and social negotiation in the reception of the transmedial text offered by the interactive soap Lonelygirl15, and the role performed by playful mood and play-like activity in the transmedial apparatus, as a way to connect the classical definition of audience to the next generation of ‘wreaders'(Iser). Lonelygirl15 combines the episodic structure of soaps with the iconicity of YouTube ‘self-biographic’ videos, the participatory structure of social networks, and the ambiguity between fiction and reality characteristic of alternate reality games. While forums, fan fiction, and gaming present direct calls for participation, novel reception strategies aroused by transmedia storytelling raise the question of how an audience can be ‘active’ without necessarily participating – through just being a ‘leecher’. Playful mood can be seen as a necessary preliminary to participation: by setting the tone of the interaction, it allows contributions by the users, it opens up to spontaneous and creative activity, and it generates a playful environment that leaves space to fictionalization, even in the absence of gameplay, play activity or clear play goals. Lonelygirl15 story line and plot advancements are written/designed by a team but also socially negotiated online, featuring a seamless intersection of user generated content (video clips with new episodes, discussion, written plot suggestions) and designed content, with the online social media to act as a container and a leveller in the balance between fiction and reality. While the cinematic, explicitly ‘fictional’ object is made more realistic by its insertion in the ‘real’ environment of everyday interactions, like those happening on YouTube, MySpace, and the forums of ‘real’ people in a web page, the reality of social interchange is, on the other hand, slightly fictionalized by the playful mood and the presence of play and play-like activities, allowing non-diegetic actions to amalgamate without clash with diegetic events. Such a process is especially evident in the relationship between audience response to Lonelygirl15 alternate reality game and the web series: the behaviour of the game oriented community, united by common game goals such as solving puzzles and finding new plot points, is very similar to that of the non-gaming audience, also focusing on creative interpretation and detective-like investigation, and adopting the ARG’s rules of mild role playing as a habit. The similarity in behaviour and the common psychological attitude of the two groups indicate the advantages of considering the alternate reality games audience, the web audience and the film/television audience as a future single reality, and suggests a future convergence between media audiences and game audiences. To consider the growing importance of social media in the mediascape and their possible function as a framework connecting together different aspects of a transmedial story in the individual experience can give new depth to Jenkins’ notion of ‘social convergence’ as a communal and dialectic activity that decodes the messages and sometimes recodes them into new stories.