Transmedia storytelling, One story, many forms: Le donjon de Naheulbeuk

As explained in Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide by Thomas Apperley, “in Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins uses The Matrix trilogy as an example of the transmedia storytelling”. Indeed, Jenkins define transmedia storytelling as “the art of world making” and explain how to “fully experience any fictional world, consumers must assume the role of hunters and gatherers, chasing down bits of the story across media channels”. For the given example,  Apperlay point out that the three films  from the Wachowski brothers present deliberated lacunes “that are filled in by other The Matrix products, The Animatrix collection of anime, The Matrix Comics, and the video game enter the Matrix.

To explore how transmedia gives accessibility to a wider audience, can enrich the story by underlying different aspects and convey different feelings I will base my reflection on Le donjon de Naheulbeuk from Pen of Chaos.

Originally, Naheulbeuk was a French Mp3 saga created in 2001 by John Lang (aka Pen of Chaos ou PoC) and freely available online. It tells the adventure of novice adventurers, stereotypical depictions of Dungeons and Dragon avatar. We follow the Ranger, the Dwarf, the Elf, the Thief, the Ogre, the Enchantress and the Barbarian nameless heroes referred to only by their profession, rather unskilled they also swear profusely and are unable to cooperate creating cheerful chaos and plethora of funny situations.

(download the original audio adventure here or listen to the first season:)

From the start, Naheulbeuk can be considered as transmedia as the story is based on tropes of Dungeons and Dragons game (and then in extent to more mainstream games as the Baldur’s gate saga and other RPG’s). The characters will then speak of level, learning skills or using table of encounters. Along with the use of the unusual or seemingly new media (purely and simply sounds) this bias toward video-game made it an underground geek culture phenomenon. Nonetheless, known through word of mouth a fan community quickly grew. Naheulbeuk accessibility was then small as it required an access to internet, be aware of its existence, not being hard of hearing and be willing to concentrate on it (which is difficult as it is easy to multi-task while listening to something and then focus on something else).

In 2005, Naheulbeuk is adapted as a comic book distributed in store (“La Fnac”, French equivalent of Archambault or Virgin) and then meet a larger audience. However, this new visibility comes with a cost, some cut from the original project. Indeed, in order to be published for a younger audience (under publicist constraint?) strong language and sexual innuendos are banned. Furthermore, if Comic book as a media prevent the need of oral description of the surrounding of the character (the Enchantress keeping a map of the adventurer peregrinations and describing the room in the audio adventure) and gives the story a visual identity, it also change the tone given by the author voicing, which was close to a theater play, what is harder to convey via text. Eventhough dialogues are mainly the same, the reader or listener will then not live the same experience.

In 2009 a freely distributed board game has been created (available to download here ) and continuing in a transmedia exploration, an animated 3D series and a video game are in progress. The animated series might reconcile both the author voice intonation and the visual identity adopted in the comic book but present stronger budget limits. However the use of crow funding allows to partially escape publishers pressure.  In case of a diffusion on tv free channel, this would broaden even more Naheulbeuk’s visibility and accessibility.

Extract of the animated serie (full episode here ):

The video games would give the player more choices on the characters adventure as the player will be in charge of guiding the adventurers, choosing the leader and part of the interaction between the characters making the story his/her own via Jenkins’ enacted narrative. This would also be the occasion to freely explore Naheulbeuk’s dungeon.

presentation of the game:

Through this example, we can see how the media condition the story by leaving more or less space to the “user” imagination but also how publishing constraint has changed the original targeted audience and content. Furthermore, Naheulbeuk is made in French and as no translation seems to be planed it is interesting to see that transmedia story still face the language barrier as first accessibility problem and limit to globalization.

Written by: Lucas Brunet

Works cited and references:

Apperley, Thomas. “Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide.” IE ’07 Proceedings of the 4th Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment. Eds. Martin Gibbs and Yusuf Pisan. RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 2007.

Jenkins, Henry, 006 Convergence Culture : Where Old and New Media Collide. New York : New York University Press.


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