Throughout the history of television, there have been a number of shows that have found unique ways to communicate to their faithful viewers. Whether it has been through novels, webisodes, or interactive “alternate reality” games, the concept of transmedia storytelling continues to evolve in news ways as technology becomes more accessible. Nothing has been quite so immersive, however, as the SyFy Channel’s upcoming TV series, Defiance.
Created by Farscape creator Rockne S. O’bannon, Defiance takes place in a post-apocalyptic future Earth, where an alien race known as the Votans found the planet while seeking out a new home after their solar system was destroyed. Though the aliens were initially peaceful, the people of Earth were not ready to welcome the Votans to the planet. After six years of living in space while settlement negotiations took place, war broke out between the aliens and humans. The conflict lasted for decades, and during the seemingly endless fighting, alien terraforming technology was accidentally released upon the world, drastically changing planet Earth as we know it. The world is now covered in dust and barely hospitable, and vicious creatures roam the wasteland. Humans and Votans have been forced to work together to survive, albeit divided into two separate factions who are still constantly at war.
The themes of prejudice and unity are both heavily prevalent in the story, and O’bannon promises that the show will be focused on character development and personal drama, rather than on the action, much like SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica. However, the war will still play an important role in the plot, and this is where Defiance sets itself apart from other TV shows.
Defiance is the first television series to use a massively multiplayer online game as a unique way for viewers to take part in the story. Developed by Trion Worlds, Inc., known for their popular action-oriented MMORPG Rift, the Defiance online shooter allows fans of the show to participate in crossover events that will have a direct impact on the show’s overarching plot. The game is set in San Francisco where an all-out war continues to be fought between the aliens and humans, and the outcome of each major battle will change the fate of the world in which both stories take place. However, for those not interested in the show, Trion Worlds has stated that they will also have separate storylines that may not crossover.
With the increasing popularity of gaming as a mainstream form of entertainment, using this form of transmedia immersion could become more popular over the next few years if it proves to be successful. Not only will Defiance bring in the usual SyFy audience, but gamers who find the MMO to be a fun and engaging experience may begin watching the show week-to-week to see how their actions have made an impact on the story when they otherwise would not have been interested.
It would be great to see this type of storytelling become more widely used in the future. There are several television properties that could have been even better with the addition of an online counterpart. Imagine tuning into LOST each week, knowing that you were responsible for a certain character living or dying because of the game you played every day the week before. Battlestar Galactica could have had a similar online game that put players in the shoes of survivors or Cylons on Caprica, with each major event dictating the resources available to each faction.
However, investing in creating both a massively multiplayer game and an FX-heavy TV show holds huge financial risk, as both outlets will have to meet certain expectations in order to survive. Delivering a solid TV show that is influenced by a clumsily executed game could have serious consequences on the overall experience. As for Defiance, Trion Worlds are confident that they will bring gamers an exciting online environment, detailed in Digital Spy’s interview with studio Vice President Nathan Richardson.
Defiance doesn’t air until April 2013, with the game launching just one week before the show. Until then, check out the official website for more information on Defiance, and watch the trailer below.