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A Podcast Interview with Digital Strategist, ARGNet Owner & Senior Editor Michael Andersen

A Podcast Interview with Digital Strategist, ARGNet Owner & Senior Editor Michael Andersen

Michael is both a recognized and respected member of the transmedia community;  an enthusiastic game player and writer/Senior Editor of ARGNet;  and Digital Strategist at Digitas Health. He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business where he received his undergraduate degree, and Case Western Reserve University School of Law where he received his juris doctorate.  Michael’s broad understanding of the challenges facing today’s storytellers and their delivery methods make him both a general as well as a specialized ‘jack of all trades’ and valued member of the community.  His background and interests give him a ‘trifecta’s edge to understanding how our world is changing.

In my informal interview with Michael, we spoke broadly about the industry particularly the topic of transmedia for about 2 hours after which i condensed our conversation down using Garageband to 17 minutes. (Let me tell you how hard THAT was) In our conversation, we discussed the concept of business ‘silo’s, monetization models wrt transmedia projects and their inherent challenges along with some really interesting ARG projects and super cool companies that you should know about. Recording the entire conversation and then condensing may not have been the best way to conduct an interview but as those who personally know Michael… he is both knowledgeable AND generous with his time. (He is a fellow educator)

Finally and..Oh yes. I’m not a professional interviewer per say but I’m crazily curious about people and enjoy sharing interesting expertise especially as a vehicle for education. So just take it as it is and… enjoy!

Michael Andersen – Thoughts on Transmedia (from a marketing perspective) and summary of the current landscape – projects to view etc.  17 min.


Please listen in M4A  format: (8.1 megs) 17 min

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Please listen to MP3 format:

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Further to the podcast, I was able to attend ARGfest this year where Michael was officiating and found the event to be both mind-boggling and eye-opening. While my podcast concentrates on Michael Andersen’s marketing strategic background, he is still heralded for his work as ARGNet owner and editor. I would be remiss in omitting his valuable contributions.

 

Q. For the people out there who are not familiar with the world of ARGs, would you explain what that is and how it has become your passion?

 

Alternate reality games are stories that play out across different real world and/or online platforms, where the players are granted agency over the progression of the narrative. Player’s don’t necessarily effect the outcome of the story, but the story acts as if that’s the case.
It’s like that moment in a horror movie where one of the hapless teenagers is looking around the old abandoned house, and you just know there’s a monster around the corner and you just want to stand up in your seat and shout “don’t be an idiot, get back to the group and leave!” If you do that in a crowded theater, you’ll get a couple of side glances and that will be the end of it. But with alternate reality games? That teenager will hear you, and might even respond. You don’t assume the main role in the story, but you and your fellow players step into the role of confidante, researcher, and personal assistant all rolled into one.
 
ARGNet has been covering the alternate reality gaming and transmedia storytelling spaces for over 10 years, so there’s a lot of history to dig through. There are also a number of books that give a birds-eye view of the genre, like Henry JenkinsConvergence Culture and Spreadable Media, Frank Rose‘s The Art of Immersion, and Andrea PhillipsCreator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling. I’m also a big fan of MovieViral, which has focused exclusively on film virals since Cloverfield came out.
 
Running ARGNet has provided me with a platform to highlight the things that get me excited — it is the primary way I can support and encourage projects by helping them reach a wider audience or at least providing a record of what made the project so special, from someone who didn’t actually make the project.
beesHow did I discover ARG’s? That happened during my undergraduate while I was studying marketing and communications. It was during the time of the Presidential debate that  I noticed someone carrying a sign with a picture of a bee on it. I thought to myself: “what’s going on here?” What i discovered the next day was that these people were bee keepers – fans of a game called:  “I LOVE BEES“. This was a ARG game for Halo 2. What it involved was people going around answering payphones getting little snips of a story. I really like radio drama so i was intrigued by what i discovered was a 6 hour drama promoting bees…and it was a *really good story*!  After that I went off to Japan to teach english and during that time, I started digging into the whole ARG scene. That’s really how I was hooked!

 

 

Q. Which is your favourite ARG experience and why? Which one would you recommend?

 

I think my favorite ARG experience was playing Maddison Atkins, since that game served as my introduction to a group of veterans of lonelygirl15, one of the first alternate reality games on YouTube. It’s one of the most generous communities I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with, and that loose network of fans have gone on to do incredible things, both within the transmedia space and outside of it.
In terms of who are some of the ‘heroes’ I ‘chase’ in the world transmedia or otherwise, there are more than a few people in the transmedia community who scare me, both for the risks they’ve taken and the intelligence they bring to the table. Right now, though? I look up to the team at Rooster Teeth. Over the last decade, they took the online audience they built up through their machinima series Red vs Blue and turned it into something bigger. They’ve done for their community what I hope to see done more for ARGs and transmedia storytelling in the future.

 

argfestQ.  While ARG’s are very unique and popular especially among a small but strong niche, let’s step back now and move out into the dominant sphere where all your professional work takes place. It is obvious that technology has both helped and hindered us. From the moment we wake up to the time we sleep, we are barraged by great amounts of information (as from a firehose) and given access to the world. How do you see ourselves changing to adapt to what is happening? Do you think we are adapting well?
 
 The information age is forcing us not to consume and hold information but rather to be experts at FINDING information.
Case in Point:
If you go back in history, what you will notice is that people have become less reliant upon holding large blocks of information. The evolution from oral tradition to information age has seen a staggering amount of new information supersede the actual amount we can possibly remember or care to remember. In a sense, we have become ‘seekers’ of information rather than sources. For example, I remember some parts of Shakespeare very briefly although not nearly enough to have a conversation. I won’t remember the information itself but i’ll remember the little bit of information required to DO the search. And that’s how I really go about consuming and expressing knowledge.
Moving forward, it’s not that important to remember facts and details. What WILL be important is how to find and access information. There are very few situations where people will say: “in 30 seconds, give me an answer”. What’s really important is knowing which tools to use in order to say, “in 30 minutes I’ll find you the answer”. Having resources at your disposal and knowing how to use it is key to success.  The person who knows “HOW” to find the information will generally be in demand more than the specialist… That’s why i love librarians. Librarians don’t know everything. What they do know is how the organizational systems of information work so that they can find the information and stand on the shoulders of giants.

Here is an interesting Link pointing to what I’ve described: IS GOOGLE KNOWLEDGE?

 

 

Q.  Speaking from your breadth of experiences (lawyer, business person, strategist, technologistist, professor, writer) if you had to identify some skills to live by in this time and age, what might they they be? 

 

A: This is a tough one…I think the most important attribute to develop is your curiosity…not necessarily digital skills.  After you develop expertise in a subject matter or with a tool, it’s tempting to rest on your laurels…but everything keeps changing at such a rapid pace, that you need to continually approach whatever you’re doing as if you’re new to the space. Learn what other people are doing, question conventions, and see how you can use tools for unexpected purposes. It’s also essential to develop a diverse network. The boon of social networks like Facebook and Twitter is the ability to identify like-minded individuals interested in sharing information about the cutting edge of their fields. However, these groups often tend to be insular, so unless you branch outside of *your group*, you run the risk of finding yourself in an echo chamber of ideas. …I work in advertising. If I focused all my attention on that subject, I’d miss out on all the innovations in design, architecture, video games, and interactive theater that could potentially inform my work.

In terms of viewing the world from a systems POV, there’s so much complexity running just under the surface of pretty much everything we consume and take for granted. Computers are a prime example: a few simple rules governing the hardware ratchet up through consecutive levels of programming and user interfaces to do anything from modeling cellular structures to sharing cat videos.

 

Q. Experiencing new things and “taking risks” is what this blog also celebrates. What is your most memorable ‘No Guts No Stories” moment?

 

japanIn between undergrad and law school, I spent a year teaching English to high schoolers in Japan. Now, with the exception of one or two day-trips up to Canada when I was younger, I never really left the United States. So the decision to move to Japan when I didn’t know the language or whether I’d be able to hack it in a new country was vaguely terrifying. However I really love teaching, and thought it was important to get outside of my cultural bubble. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but also needed the challenge.

 

The craziest moment was my first day in the city I’d call home for the next year. Two of my co-teachers came and picked me up at the train station, showed me my apartment, and took me to the local supermarket. They then pointed me in the direction of my apartment about a half-mile away, and left me to my own devices. Unfortunately, I am terrible at directions, and couldn’t seem to find the apartment. It was the middle of the summer, I had no cell phone, and no clue where I was.

 

Over the summer I had picked up some basic Japanese so I could read hiragana and katakana and recognize basic words like directions…so in broken Japanese and hand gestures, I explained my situation to random passerby, showed them the address I was trying to reach, and asked for help. Unfortunately, I lived on a side-street that didn’t have a road sign, and nobody knew where it was. So I went to a local gas station, and asked for help there. I am eternally grateful to those employees, because one of them drove me to the high school I’d be teaching to see if someone there could help (only to see everyone had left for the day) before taking me to the local fire department, where the firefighters pulled out a giant map of the city and pointed out where I lived. I’m still terrible with directions, but I’ve never since been in a situation where I’ve been so lost, in every sense of the word.

What a remarkable story. Thank you for sharing!

It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for participating in our blog and podcast.

 

You may contact Michael Andersen here:
Twitter: @mjandersen