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 the humor in 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.

Conference Recap: AEJMC

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication met for their annual national conference in Chicago last week. It was my first time attending the conference, and I was thankful to receive feedback on my two presentations, connect/reconnect with friends and colleagues, and spend some time exploring Chicago.

On the morning of August 10, I participated in a panel titled “Streaming Content (and Relationship) to Life” alongside Dr. Jacob Groshek (Boston), Dr. Sarah Erickson (Trinity), Dr. Rebecca Nee (San Diego State), and Dr. Kelty Logan (Colorado-Boulder). The panel discussed streaming television from a variety of perspectives including second screening, emotion and binge-watching, advertising on Hulu, and political connections with streaming content. I presented preliminary research on the globalization efforts of Netflix and how these efforts affect local media industries. I received useful feedback on my preliminary ideas from the panel’s moderator Tiernan Cahill (Boston), and I am going to continue developing this paper over the next year. Continue to look for future updates on this topic.

After presenting my preliminary work on Netflix and globalization in the morning, I presented my paper on Netflix, niche markets, and transmedia storytelling in a poster session for the Entertainment Studies division of the conference that afternoon. I had some great conversations about my paper during the poster session and met with other people doing similar work. In particular, I was glad to meet Stephen Warren, a Ph.D. student at UMassAmherst who is working on operationalizing binge-watching. Binge-watching has traditionally been tracked by the number of episodes of a single show watched in one sitting. This definition brings a range of issues (differences in episode length; exclusion of sports, movies, etc.; and differences in marathoning/binging—for more on this, I’d suggest reading Dr. Lisa Perks book on media marathoning) for academics (especially quantitative scholars). Stephen’s work provides great momentum on academic understanding of binge-watching.

Outside of the conference, I was also able to explore the city some with friends and my fiancé. I was thankful that Amanda was able to come to Chicago with me for a few days to show me some great parts of the city and to spend time together before she went back to Wichita for the year to finish her undergrad degree while I continued the Ph.D. program at Iowa. Since we got engaged on Navy Pier, Chicago has become an important city for a our relationship. Some highlights that we’d suggest checking out: the Chicago Music Exchange (if you’re a musician), the architecture boat tour (at night), and the “Stop Telling Women To Smile” mural.

Conference Presentation: Identity and Labels in Grandfamilies

Dr. Jessica Freeman and I were awarded top paper in the Aging and Communication division of the National Communication Association. We will be presenting our paper, “Grandma or Mommy: Familial Labeling as Constructs of Identity in Grandfamilies,” in November at the NCA National Convention in Dallas, TX. I will post a link to the full paper after it is published. Here is the abstract:

Grandfamilies, or families in which the grandparent(s) act as a primary caregiver to their grandchildren, face unique challenges related to identity and family structure. One area of identity that grandfamilies must navigate is the assignment of labels-specifically whether to go by traditional grandparent labels such as “grandma” and “grandpa,” or to assume parental labels such as “mom” and “dad.” Though a small body of literature has examined labeling in the context of foster and adoptive families, no known research has addressed the issue of labeling in grandfamilies and the meaning surrounding those labels. Through application of identity theory, the current exploratory qualitative study aimed to understand how grandfamilies apply familial labels as a construct of identity and how these labels are negotiated between the grandchild, the grandparent, and in some cases, the birth parents. Twenty in-depth interviews were conducted with grandparents who identified as the primary caregiver to at least one grandchild, with questions focusing on the labels grandparent caregivers assumed and how the labels were determined. Data were analyzed applying grounded theory and Boyatzis’ techniques of inductive thematic analysis. Results indicated that grandparent caregivers applied varying familial labels, depending on the unique context of their family structure. Factors in that decision included the grandchild’s age upon placement in the grandparent’s home, as well as the biological parents’ frequency of participation in the grandchild’s life. Further, data analysis revealed three emergent themes and six subthemes: Identity Duality (Grief, Opportunity); Labeling Strategies (Correction, Submission); and Labeling Conflicts (Internal, External).

Conference Presentation: Transmedia Storytelling and Niche Markets

As part of my ongoing research on Netflix, I wrote a paper looking at the relationship between Netflix’s transmedia shows and marketing to niche audiences. My paper, “Appealing to Niche Markets: A Typology of Transmedia Storytelling for Digital Television” was accepted to the 2017 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Chicago August 9-12. After developing the paper a little more after the conference, I will be submitting the paper for publication. I’ll have a summary of the major points of the article posted to my site after publication. For now, here’s the abstract:

Traditional television networks have a limited amount of time available to broadcast content, so programming decisions are based on maximizing potential market reach instead of in appealing to small markets. Digital television’s broadcast time is solely limited by server space and regulation of broadband data transference, so their technological infrastructure affords more opportunities to appeal to smaller markets. These affordances can be seen through the types of programming digital television services produce. This paper proposes a typology of transmedia stories used by digital television services like Netflix and Hulu to appeal to niche markets to grow their business. Five types of transmedia stories were theorized to appeal to varying levels of niche markets: serialized continuations, augmented continuations, world building universes, cross-platform personalities, and adaptations. This typology provides a better understanding of the production practices of digital television networks, an area of research that has received little attention to date.