Shared universes and collaborative multimedia imagineering

John Abbe introduced me to the Wikipedia entry on shared universes which led me to one on collaborative writing, which took me to another on collaborative fiction. These describe the kinds of multiple-creator universes I imagine could be especially useful in building realistic, sufficiently complex imagineering stories to inspire and catalyze people to actually live (together) into positive futures — perhaps creating those futures as they go, through a juicy participatory feedback loop between Evolving Story, on the one hand, and Evolving Life, on the other.

In the “shared universe” article, one sentence in particular resonated strongly with my multi-media version of this possibility that originally inspired the Story Field Conference: “In a process similar to brand licensing, the intellectual property owners of established fictional settings at times allow others to author new material, creation an expanded universe. Such franchises, generally based on television programs or film, allow for series of novels, video games, original sound recordings and other media.” It isn’t so much the centralized “franchising” approach that caught my attention, as the expansive vision of what kinds of media could be woven into such a shared universe to carry its memes into the culture. There are probably many possible ways to organize such an undertaking other than franchising, many of which have not been developed. That part is up to us….

I believe that fictional (novels, comics, games) and non-fictional (factual, journalistic) media could intermingle such that wiki-like factual links to things like ecotipping points or cob construction — or links to news stories and feature articles — could be part of fictional works. On the other hand, journalists who focus on positive possibilities or participate in imagineering efforts could link to fictional worlds when describing people who are working on realizing those worlds, in whole or part.

Recently I finished reading Robert Lynn Asprin‘s novelish book of collaboratively written short stories about Thieves’ World which includes a fascinating final chapter describing how the collaboration emerged and proceeded. Also in Googling “collaborative novels” I ran across aMillionPenguins.com, Penguin Books’ experiment in mass-participation wiki-novel writing — and its juicy critique. It seems there is far more experimentation out there than I imagined.

I hope some Story Field Conference participants are (or become) well versed in these possibilities and can help catalyze something(s) exciting and creative along these lines at the conference. It seems like this kind of an approach could have a particularly potent impact on our culture’s story field.

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