Transmedia Puzzles

Transmedia is a word I only recently discovered after joining Twitter.  From what I understand, the word describes any single experience (usually a story) that spans across multiple media platforms.  Alternate Reality Games are usually good examples of transmedia experiences.  Today I’d like to think and talk about transmedia puzzles, or puzzle experiences that span across multiple platforms and formats rather than being self-contained.

A lot of puzzles stay within the confines of a sheet of paper, a set of instructions, or a webpage, no outside research or other technologies required.  But other puzzles, or series of puzzles that make up a cohesive experience, may guide the player to other platforms and devices for additional clues or next steps.

So maybe let’s take a look at all the different platforms and formats a puzzle experience might include!  As usual, definitions are always fuzzy and in flux.

Printed Material – Puzzle or clue transmitted via print.  Simple handouts, maps, photos, books, brochures, newspaper ads or clippings, journals, calendars, posters, currency, advertisements, mail, magazines, etc.  Maybe also includes things like inscriptions/engravings

Web Page – Puzzle or clue utilizing web format.  Might include audio/visual elements, black-on-black text, dynamic events, password protection, or information hidden in HTML.

Phone – A clue or puzzle element obtained by making a phonecall and either connecting with another person, or accessing a voice mail recording.  Can also include the mysterious ringing payphone which the player must answer.

Recording Media and Playback Devices – MP3s, USB drives, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, and cassette tapes (floppy disks?) used to transmit audio and visual clues.  Played via format-specific device, TVs, radio, phone, computer, car stereo,

Video Games – Not sure I have any real puzzle examples of this.  Maybe the Ready Player One contest?  Games are a lot of work to produce, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be used very often.

Performance – A clue or puzzle is conveyed to the player via spoken word or musical or theatrical performance.  A staple of Post Hunt, where at least one clue is always given via a stage performance.  Also includes encounters with actors/plants.


Of course there are other methods for conveying a clue that fall outside the traditional piece of paper or webpage, but I’m not sure they count as “media” platforms.  For example…

Consumable Items – Weird, and worth mentioning!  Not sure how exactly to define it except with examples, which include a Post Hunt puzzle that involved identifying the flavor of a fortune cookie, and an Amazing Raze puzzle that involved identifying a specific tea by taste or smell.

I still find myself wanting to talk about things like that though, because they really fit in with this general concept of a puzzle experience spanning multiple methods, formats, platforms, devices, etc.  So maybe “transmedia” isn’t the word I’m looking for to describe this concept?  Or maybe I should move in the other direction… if media are “tools used to store and deliver information or data,” and the information is “a certain flavor,” can I describe food as a media format?  Aw yeah semantics.

I think the other problem I’m having with “transmedia” here is that usually transmedia is meant to describe one cohesive experience that spans across several platforms, while I’m interested in any puzzle that includes any element that isn’t just a piece of a paper or a website, in any capacity.  I’ve discussed before that I really enjoy any puzzle or experience that takes me outside of the usual, expected realm.  It might just be the novelty that sets them apart from the dozens of other traditional puzzles I have on my to-play list, or maybe these non-traditional puzzle formats tend to tap into a different area of the puzzle-solving brain, one that I’m more comfortable using.

I think things can get really interesting when you keep taking things back another step in terms of context.  For example, maybe you want to give players a clue, and you decide to deliver it via audio.  Then you might take a step back and say you want players to hear the audio via car stereo.  One more step back, and players might have to searching a parking garage for a specific car that has the CD clue in the stereo.  Exciting!

Did I miss any media formats in my definitions?  Do you generally prefer a puzzle that is contained to just a piece of paper or web page, or would you rather play a puzzle that takes you on a journey from format to format?