Exploring the Many Worlds of Transmedia

President Bartlet and Kevin McCallister Tweet for Transmedia

President Bartlet and Kevin McCallister Tweet for Transmedia

By on Dec 5, 2013 in Featured |

Much of transmedia campaigns rely on the willingness of the audience to participate, which is generally influenced by the level of immersion in the campaign.  In alternate reality games (ARGs), the level of immersion is high because if there are no interested players, the game will not be very successful.  In transmedia campaigns like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, although audience participation is not necessary for the story, viewers are encouraged to ask the characters questions and interact with them through various social media means in order to add a level of realness and to more fully immerse the viewers.  For many, interactivity does not end with the end of an ARG or the end of an Internet show.  There can be groups of fans who decide that whatever text they were engaged in has more to offer.  This is where Twitter shines.  From December 10-15, 2010, the Geek Squad did a live-tweet session of the movie Home Alone.  The television show, The West Wing, ended in 2006.  There are over 30 Twitter accounts for different characters from the show that tweet and interact with each other.  Although the West Wing accounts are a better example of a completely immersive transmedia, the Home Alone accounts have their own strength and are still an excellent example of how levels of immersion can vary in transmedia, and thus influence the success of the campaign.

The television show, The West Wing, followed President Josiah (Jed) Bartlet and his staff through his years in the White House.  Although there are over 30 Twitter accounts for various characters from various periods on the show, the most prolific Tweeters are Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff (@joshualyman); his wife and former secretary, Donna Moss (@donatella_moss); and President Bartlet (@pres_bartlet).  These accounts are run by anonymous people.  This is one of the main strengths of The West Wing accounts: they maintain the reality of the characters.  The writers of these accounts do not publicize their own names or identities.  In an interview with the magazine Entertainment Weekly, “Josh Lyman,” discussed his inspiration for creating the account and commitment to the character of Josh.  The account writer told Entertainment Weekly, “I am strict about breaking character and the “realness” of the simulacra: Sometimes Josh is Josh, warts and all” (Li).  At the same time, Donna and Josh, husband and wife, have Twitter conversations about watching television shows together, adding a level of reality.  They act not only like a married couple, but they also maintain the personality of the characters that viewers saw on the show.  Moreover, during the recent government shutdown, President Bartlet tweeted a link to a West Wing wiki page that described the government shutdown that occurred during his “presidency.”


These accounts maintain the characters’ personalities for realness, but they also use real life events to connect to readers.  This emphasis on maintaining the “realness” of the account reflects a general principal of transmedia campaigns (specifically ARGs), “this is not a game.”  The characters who worked in the West Wing are still the same people; they have the same flaws and personality traits that affect how they see the world.  This sense of “realness” is what makes these accounts successful: fans of the show can immerse themselves in these tweets and feel like they are still watching and a part of the show that they admired for many years.

Not only do the West Wing accounts maintain a sense of reality through character personalities, but they also limit who tweets as a character.  In a search for the Twitter of the character who becomes president at the end of the series, Matt Santos, there were at least two accounts attributed to the president.  However, only one account (@pres_santos) interacted with the other accounts.  This is indicative of how even though the writers of the other accounts do not communicate much outside of Twitter, they have decided which account is the “real” account of President Santos.  Much how Twitter “verifies” accounts of famous people, this interaction between characters verifies President Santos’ account, telling readers which accounts are the ones that are a part of the story.  By limiting who tweets as a character, the West Wing accounts tell a stronger and tighter story that makes a reader’s immersion that much easier.

The Geek Squad, computer help experts, live-tweeted the movie Home Alone in honor of its twentieth anniversary.  They created Twitter accounts for all the characters in the movie and tweeted as them over a period of five days.  It was collated in a Twitter list created by @HomeAlone_GS.  This is a major strength of the campaign; the information is easily accessible.  It is a creative idea, much like the West Wing accounts, but it is not executed as nicely as the West Wing accounts.  Although the Twitter accounts maintain the “realness” of the characters throughout the live-tweeting session, they reveal at the end of the movie period who played which characters, essentially shattering the illusion.  Moreover, the tweets do not take place in real time with the movie.  The plot of the movie takes place over a series of days, but the majority of the tweets took place during one day.


In many ways, however, these accounts do not serve the same purpose as the West Wing accounts.  While those accounts are attempting to extrapolate the personalities and lives of West Wing characters beyond the show, the Home Alone tweets are really more of a supplement for a viewer to use while watching the movie.  They do not attempt to give further insight into the characters; instead, many of the tweets are simply lines from the movie.  This does not necessarily make the Home Alone tweets bad, but it does not make them as immersive as the West Wing accounts.  People do not read the Home Alone tweets to garner a deeper understanding of the characters from the movie, but they may read the West Wing tweets to better understand the subtleties of Donna and Josh’s relationship.  This is the major difference between these two campaigns.  Although both can be considered transmedia, they vary in degrees of immersion, one of the principals of transmedia.  In some ways, the West Wing accounts are similar to the immersion of an ARG – they want you to believe that these are the actual accounts of the actual people who used to work for President Bartlet.  In that sense, the Home Alone accounts are more like a movie promotional tie-in.  Although these accounts do not appear to be associated with the production studio or actors of Home Alone, they do not ask the reader to participate or believe that these are real people.  Instead, they are actors reenacting a classic holiday movie.

The difference in level of immersion between these campaigns is reflected in their Twitter reach.  The West Wing accounts have collectively amassed close to 200,000 followers and 583 subscribers on a collated list of characters on Josh Lyman’s Twitter.  In contrast, the Home Alone Twitter list has 280 subscribers and the fourteen Twitter accounts have about 600 followers combined.  It seems clear that there is a correlation between the level of immersion and the success of the transmedia campaign.

Both the West Wing accounts and Home Alone accounts are good examples of how Twitter is useful for transmedia.  These two examples illustrate how the level of immersion in a transmedia campaign is important, because the higher the level of immersion, the more successful the campaign.


Works Cited

Li, Shirley. “‘Josh Lyman’ Talks the Twitter After-life of ‘The West Wing'” EW.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/10/04/josh-lyman-twitter-west-wing/>.