Gambarato, math and media

Gambarato, math and media

In ‘Signs, Systems and Complexity of Transmedia Storytelling’, Renira Gambarato is not afraid to draw on algebra to help apply systems theory to transmedia storytelling. Her system exists as an extension to semiotics theory and she seeks to address how semiotics might apply to transmedia. Jenkins states that transmedia projects are 1) told across multiple media 2) each medium is able to stand by itself and 3) each medium does what it does best. It represents a fantastic new realm for semiotics theory as signs are able to take on multiple meanings simultaneously within the same project.

To explore this Gambarato uses the frame of a system. For her purposes a system is defined as:

System = (Composition, Environment, Structure)

Composition is the components that make up the system, Environment relates the setting in which the system resides and Structure refers to the relationship between not just the components in the system but also the Environment. How a system relates to its environment is crucial when using the definition for transmedia purposes as systems can either be open (users can substantially effect the project) or closed (users have nominal control on the narrative itself). Systems are also able to nest and create, super systems, systems and subsystems. This really interested me as I find it difficult sometimes to delineate a project from the environment it is embedded. Sometimes distinguishing projects from their surrounds seems arbitrary. Systems theory provides a fantastic way of dealing with this by simply adjusting the scale. Project difficult to define? Simply zoom in to the subsystems that comprise it. Need a broader view, come out instead and see the project within the super system. This method of making distinctions between different parts got me thinking about another mathematical theory related to systems theory. Fractals.

Stemming from chaos theory, fractals are iterative patterns that occur at different scales where each of the scales exhibits a similar pattern as the others. An example would be a mountain. Zoom in the mountain and you will see lots of little mountains; this process can be repeated down to the molecular level. Basically some things are made of lots of smaller versions of themselves. In terms of transmedia this would equate to a story being made up of lots of little tales. Each tale relates something and together the ‘super-story’ has a similar story but perhaps told in a complex manner. Just as you can’t discern the fractals of a mountain from a certain distance transmedia projects can also be seen as unified.

As interpreters of transmedia projects, audience does not see see isolated parts or systems. They see them in a relationship between themselves and in relation to the context of their knowledge. – Gambarato

As transmedia starts to explore different notions of scale and time we will see more of these fractal narratives being used. I can already think of forerunners such as The Animatrix, feature films comprised of related shorts. These shorts exist in a system that can be appreciated by itself or in the super system of The Matrix franchise. Trans-media, scalable systems of fractals.


Gambarato, R (2012). Signs, Systems and Complexity of Transmedia Storytelling. Estudos em Comunicao, 12, pp. 69-83.