Stories have been told for centuries using words, numbers, sound, images and stones. I include “stones” in the list because, for millenia, they have conveyed incredibly powerful stories. The Hadrian Wall, built in northern England by the Romans around AD 122, for instance, was able to tell a very compelling story. In this case the essence of the narrative was: “We, the Romans, are powerful and we are here to stay.”
This narrative was completely unidirectional and didn’t mean to engage the listeners (the barbarians in this case) in any way. It was similar to the typical message delivered by mas media in most on the 20th century. But, other stone based stories were completely different.
I was born in a small town in northern Italy, not far from Turin, called Casale Monferrato. Next to my parent’s house there was a beautiful cathedral built in the year 1107 in the same place where, four hundreds years before, another church had been erected and where a thousand years earlier the Romans had built a temple dedicated to Jupiter.
The cathedral (or the Duomo as it is called in Italian) represents a fantastic analogy of what a transmedia story is.
The story the church was conveying through the cathedral was told using every one of the available media:
1. Stones: The walls columns, dome and floor.
2. Words: The sermon pronounced from the pulpit.
3. Numbers: The proportions of the structure, the hight and width of the naves.
4. Images : The paintings, mosaics and frescoes as well as the sculptures and the stained-glass windows.
5. Sound: The music played by the organ, the songs performed by the chorus and the pealing of the bells.
6. Experiential elements: The smell of the incense and the wax.
The cathedral was more than a story, it was a complete storyworld where the narrative of the catholic church would coexist with the fantasies, dreams, fears, and the desires of the people who visited it. Within its walls, they became more than simple parishioners, they became participants of its narrative.
The cathedral is the perfect example of a transmedia narrative and a good analogy to define what the scope and the mechanics are of this type of storytelling.