Trans-Experiential Ideas

I’ve recently been working on some ideas that started out as a ‘traditional’ ARG’s. Once we evolved the ideas it became evident that while ARG’s have been great as a proof-of-concept and for using as case studies, they can really be expanded into something bigger.

So I started to think of these ideas as trans-experiential ideas.

So it’s not the stickiest name, but every time I refer to ARG’s I find people’s minds just go straight to dungeons and dragons. Trans-experiential ideas are ideas that engage people in a narrative (like an ARG), at various layers of engagement, and then fulfill the product-experiences (usually handled by experiential agencies) for everyone depending on their level of interaction and engagement.

In the process of working with the creative teams on these ideas, I’ve put together a framework of guidelines for trans-experiential ideas. So I’m sharing them, hopefully to get some more suggestions and any comments.

Create a multi-level narrative. While as in traditional ARG’s there needs to be a deep and involving experience (archaeological storytelling), the narrative of a trans-experiential idea needs to also work for people who are only briefly exposed to the idea. They need to understand the concept quickly, and the product connection and demonstration must be obvious and immediate.

Keep it platformless. Experiential ideas have traditionally existed, obviously, in the real world. What ARG’s showed us is that we can tell really rich stories and give people rich experiences by engaging them across multiple platforms. What a great trans-experiential idea needs to do is engage people across all platforms, but still keep the idea accessible and effective through just one (so someone simply visiting the website will still get the idea just as much as someone receiving bluetooth content).

Use the hive mind. Let the audience discover, engage, and experience collectively. At the same time you may have to allow for different time-frames, so the narrative should always be in place. The key here is that people discovering and experiencing together will organically create communities (it’s the same logic as team building exercises, without the cringe-factor). Another element of this guideline relates to reward. Yochai Benkler talked about “commons-based peer production” in his Coase’s Penguin paper, and in essence the same idea applies here. People working together to achieve a common goal will change their behaviour markedly as soon as some form of reward is introduced (outside the reward of simply participating and discovering).

There are no rules. Rules are constricting. Kids playing in a playground have no rules, they play purely for the joy of playing. Rules create an instant barrier to participation, and unless your idea is just amazingly compelling, asking people to understand a set of rules before (or even during) participation is just not going to float.

Interpretation is dynamic (so be flexible). We all like to think our ideas are highly refined works of art. The narrative we have created is flawless and exquisitely crafted. But that’s not really true. The experience is open to interpretation, and if the participants think your idea is one thing, you need to make it that. Be prepared to adapt, fork, and completely rethink what you’re doing. As long as your end result is a positive experience, everything else is open for change.

This is a first draft of sorts (not that I’m promising to ever make a second draft or a final copy (if they still exist)). But I would love to hear any feedback, criticism, praise, wonder, daze, or even just a quick comment.

Postscript: In putting together some reference material I remembered David Cronenburg’s Existenz. After going back and watching some clips, it’s staggering how spot on he got it. I love the line “You have to play the game, to find out why you’re playing the game”. Go and watch it if you haven’t, it’s a staggering view of where we might be headed, made even better by the fact it’s almost a decade old.

- November 2008