Transmedia Entertainment & Marketing

IBCoM: CM2052

When narratives are not just simple stories, but also experiences.

On the National Film Board of Canada’s website three projects with three different narratives grabbed our attention. These three projects (Waterlife, This Land and Ying Yia) have been analyzed from a simple narrative and semiotic perspective and we found unique aspects in all of them.

The first project we looked at was Waterlife, a beautiful project which captures emotions already from the point of entry (by entering the website) due to its visuals and the sound played. It tells the story of fresh drinking water and of its last supply. It emphases on the geographical setting of the Great lake and that no matter where we live, we all get affected by it, in this very moment and forever. The project takes the visitor on a journey through the Great Lake and the lives of 35 million people, but also species, which are depending on it. However, the website is only a supportive medium, a spin-off, to a documentary which has another point of entry to the project (Nfb, n.d.). The project has a clear universal synthesis structure since the audience is able to take in the message the projects wants to transmit by e.g using visuals, music, voiceovers, layout and other feel elements which also creates a sensitive atmosphere (Kapoor, 2012). By using music and explanations of problems via a voiceover, the project makes you feel caring about the water we have on earth. Iconic elements, such as the logotype (Scolari, 2009), creates an emotional connection with the audience by showing a Ying and Yang alike logo with a healthy and a dead fish, which also further explain that there is no beginning or end in this story. All elements in the story share the same mood of wanting us think about our water supply, and access to further recourses and to the ‘Waterlife community’ is offered, so there is a clear call to action in the project. Unique aspects of the project would be its beautiful and innovative design. It has a dark background, white texts and crystal clear details. For each issue described on the site there is also different backgrounds element with different layouts (still with the core design). This creates an extraordinary atmosphere which also is the strength of the project. On the other hand, a weakness of the project could be that it could loose interest for the person not very engaged in this topic. As Carson (2008) claim, creating a beautiful environment does not mean that people want to play with it. Another weakness is that you cannot turn off the sound. We would rate this project as quite successful. According to Mattingly (1998), the audience must be able to retell the narrative and care about the events for the story to be successful. Waterlife makes one be able to retell the story very easy but also care about the water. However, even if the site is beautiful it does not really have stickiness (a rabbit hole) if you are not interested in the theme. Apart from that, the world is beautiful visually created, has a clear call to action, deep information and is user-friendly.

To enter the project go to this website


Another project, This land, takes us through an expedition lead by the main character Dianne Whelan. She tells us her story of being the first women who ever took a hard and extensive military expedition through the Artic, a 2000 kilometres’ long way through the hardest terrain on earth. The project is a 35 minutes audio story, where Dianne tells her personal story, using lots of background sounds to create the ultimate experience to the listener. We can hear cracking ice, snowmobiles, helicopters and even the sound of a rope to give the audience the most realistic experience as possible (Nfb, n.d.). This way the audience could easily understand the context, what the project was about and the setting and world of the story. The project had a clear point of entry, starting with loud music and visuals, which make you being triggered to click on the button ‘begin’ to start the story/experience. Moreover, we can also find elements of archetypal figures in the project, as it tries to evoke emotions and a sense of active participation (Kapoor, 2012), such as clicking on the website to know more about the different travel locations, temperatures, duration of the daylight and how many kilometres that were travelled during different days. It is defiantly a multimodal project since it incorporates not only linguistics means but also other graphical elements such as good layout and pictures (Scholari, 2012). This Land stands out from all other projects because of its excellent use of sounds to engage the audience. Therefore it strength is that the story stimulate our sense in form of hearing. It defiantly creates a great atmosphere by feeling you are in the Artic as well as feeling the adventures mode which becomes a ‘rabbit hole’ (Kapoor, 2012) due to its unique experience. The weakness could be that the audio story is too long and might be too detailed which could lose interest of the audience. Even though it also exists a written version, it does not solve the problem and without sound you would also loose the strength of the project. As the project being an audio story, it is very innovative and clearly gives the audience something unique and tells the story in a stimulating way and could therefore be seen as successful. The way the sound is used, defiantly have penetration to the audience.

To enter the project, go to this website


The last interactive project we looked at was Ying Yia. It introduces us to a Chinese family who tell us their personal story on their immigration to Canada. The story includes five chapters, in which each chapter stands for a specific stage in the family’s life and explained from their own interpretations. Its point of entry is simple and good to the audience since the chapters starts automatically after two clicks and include changes is work, their current reality, their roots, language difficulties and contradicting values, which they are being in different Canadian settings, such as a supermarket (Nfb, n.d.).  The project has three main characters, the father, the mother and their daughter, which guide us through their personal experiences of immigrating to Canada. Moreover, the stories are underlined with facts and research quotations from all immigrants to Canada, showing that a high percentage of immigrants face same issues as for this Chinese family which makes it a representative story for the country. Through this way of telling the story, we have another example of a good universal synthetic structure since the context and message becomes clear using a real life example to the audience. Furthermore, as the other projects, it uses lots of visuals and music to grab ones attention and make us relate and feel the atmosphere in the story. However, the stickiness might not work as good as intended since it sometimes felt a bit boring, you never really get hooked in and there was no clear call to action. The strength of this project is using different interpretation to the storyline. Each chapter has its own ‘stage’ or topic, and each family member explains what this means to them. This creates implicit readers since the narrative is told from different points of view, which makes the text being a multipath (Scholari, 2012). The weakness of this project, except for it mentioned above, is the navigation; you cannot navigate properly trough each chapter without having to start all over again and you cannot pause the sound. This becomes a problem if you want to listen to one particular story. The weaknesses of this project are too big to be a success story. If it does not have stickiness and is not user-friendly, we do not consider it being very well done. It was an interesting and good idea by presenting different views in the story, but the execution of the story was not attractive. It is really important that a narrative is engaging (Kieran, 2001), and in this case it was not so engaging either.

All three stories depict three different narratives, each described differently and have its unique and thoughtful elements. However, we only found two of them be good enough to call successful. In the end, all three projects are enjoyable on its own terms and gives new learning to the audience, either in information, narrative world and structure or creative execution.

To enter the project, go to this website

/ Sandra & Soumaya

Reference list

Carson, D. (2008). Environmental storytelling: creating immersive 3D worlds using lessons learned from the theme park industry. Retrieved from Gamasutra

Kapoor, R. (2012, October). Seminar week 3, World building. PowerPoint uploaded on the course blog

Kieran, M.  (2001) In defence of the ethical evaluation of narrative art. The British Journal of Aesthetics, 41(1), 26-38.

Mattingly, C. (1998). Healing dramas and clinical plots: The narrative structure of experience. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press

National Film Board of Canada (NFB). (n.d. This land. Retrieved from

National Film Board of Canada (NFB). (n.d.). Waterlife. Retrieved from

National Film Board of Canada (NFB). (n.d.). Ying Jia corner store in la petite patrie. Retrieved from

Scolari, C., A. (2009). Transmedia storytelling: Implicit consumers, narrative worlds, and branding in contemporary media production. International Journal of Communication, 3. 586-606. doi: 1932-8036/20090586


6 comments on “When narratives are not just simple stories, but also experiences.

  1. Shelley Barendregt
    October 11, 2012

    Hi Sandra and Soumaya. I have not experienced these interactive projects myself, so it was nice to read about them in your post. You have explained them very well, I feel I understand every project clearly.
    I am particularly interested in the project called ‘This Land’. When I saw it takes 35 minutes, I was very curious how they made it engaging for so long. You explained how the audio aspect was one of the strengths of the project and how you could click on the website to get to know more about for example, the temperature. However, could you think of other ways to make it more engaging, to keep someone engaged with the project for 35 minutes?
    Furthermore, the project ‘Ying Yia’ was not rated as a big success by you. How would you make the project a success? I agree with you that the story itself has potential, so it is a pity that it was not executed very well. How could the NFB has done this better? Do you think that being able to navigate through the chapters, as you said, would be enough, or would you add more interactive elements?

  2. Lyza Sebaihi
    October 11, 2012

    Dear Soumaya and Sandra, I agree with Shelley since I saw some projects that were shorter but less interesting. Therefore I decided to take a look at that project and it is very interesting but I did not even have to view it because you guys explained it really well. Especially the fact that you feel you are out there with them the audio, the video the whole actually.
    In response to Shelley i believe that a video does not have to be short to be engaging it has to inviting towards the audience and I believe they succeeded there.
    Furthermore, the waterlife project is also very interesting and I believe that because they emphasize that effects it has- no matter where you live- it is engaging for the audience and that almost every project has to have that element in there (the effect on everyone) in order to be engaging and attractive and this can be done in several ways for instance the logo of this project is very sticky.

  3. Lisanne van Beurden
    October 11, 2012

    Hi Soumaya and Sandra,

    I also thought it was very interesting to read your post, as I did not use these projects in my assignment. You really explain the projects very well, like Shelly already said!
    Do you think that the project Ying Yia would have been more successful and less boring if the navigation would have been better? You mention that the navigation is a weakness and that you have to start all over again if you want to go through the chapters. I understand that this can be very annoying and would take a long time to see all the chapters. Maybe if this would been changed, the storyline would become a bit more fluent and therefore more interesting.
    I think that the project Waterlife sounds very nice to watch. It seems that they did a good job on the visuals, layout and music. Maybe the reason that you cannot turn off the sound is because they do not want you to. Perhaps they think it is necessary to listen to music to really interact with the project?
    Overall, I think you did a good job and I really liked your post.

    • Sofia Z Berkhout
      October 12, 2012

      I really like the way you guys described the narrative elements and think you did a very nice job of applying them to the projects.
      Funnily enough when i was doing the assignment the people around me kept complaining that the music was so annoying. However, I agree with Lisanne, i dont think the they want you to turn off the music. i think that music and sounds, especially in these interactive projects, really help to add to/ create a certain mood and atmosphere. This helps to really ‘immerse’ the viewer into the world they are trying to build. Also if it really is annoying, then users always have the option to mute/turn off their speakers.

  4. Thapasya Vijayaraghavan
    October 12, 2012

    Hey guys,
    I really like the way you have analyzed these beautiful interactive projects. I really like the project waterlife. It shows a very interesting topic in an attractive and modern manner. As said by sofia you have analyzed and connected the narrative elements in the projects in a very nice manner.
    The fact that you have analyzed every component of the interactive projects shows the depth with which you have looked at and dealt with these projects.
    Great Job guys.

  5. Jean Paul Levier
    October 12, 2012

    Sandra & Soumaya,

    I really enjoyed reading your piece. You did a great job in describing each project and the different worldbuilding and narrative elements that make up the story. I also wrote about waterlife and the yin-yang iconic logo stood out to me as well. I agree that these sounds help to create a mood and atmosphere, however when describing this project i also got annoyed by the music when i left the browser tab open. The good thing is that they allow you to switch it off, what sofia mentioned.

    Good job girls

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