Conference Presentation: Nostalgia, Transmedia Storytelling, and Kingdom Hearts

There are few stories I enjoy more in the world than the Kingdom Hearts franchise. The games have always been fun, the stories have grown increasingly complex, and I really appreciate how much Square Enix and Disney mess with fans by seemingly releasing each game on a new video game system (the games have now been released on PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and iOS/Android). When Square Enix and Disney released Kingdom Hearts 2.8 earlier this year, I was struck by the strangeness of releasing a feature length film on a PlayStation 4 disc. In my paper, “Selling Nostalgia: Selling Nostalgia: Transmedia Storytelling in Video Game-Inspired Films,” I theorize that this distribution model nostalgically connects the movie and video game to consumers both temporally and spatially (sensorially) through this release method. This distribution model both encourages consumption of the film and provides an alternate release format for Square Enix to fund their films, which have historically struggled financially. This paper was recently accepted to the game studies division of the Popular Culture Association’s National Conference in Indianapolis March 2018.

Here’s the full abstract:

In the early 2000s, production company Square Enix began producing films set within the universes of their video game series. After the commercial failure of their first film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Square Enix moved their attention from producing stand-alone stories to transmedia films that directly connect to the narratives and characters of their video games. In early 2017, Square Enix released its latest movie, Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover, as part of the Kingdom Hearts 2.8—a video game for PlayStation 4 that includes the movie, a new game, and an HD rerelease of an old entry in the larger transmedia story. Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover showcases Square Enix’s continual experimentation with distribution strategies of transmedia storytelling through the film’s release solely through the PlayStation 4 hardware. This paper theorizes that the commercial success of video game-inspired transmedia films inherently lies in a film’s ability to evoke nostalgic re-engagement with the larger transmedia story present in the video game. Through the narrative that connects Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover to pre-existing stories and the Proustian sensory nostalgia sparked by watching the movie through the PlayStation 4 platform, Square Enix encourages consumption of the transmedia film and offers a new economic model for the release of video game-inspired films via the ontological blurring of film and video games through the film’s delivery technology.

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