Pressing ‘Play’: Collective Transmedia Investigation in Making a Murderer
This paper compares the structural and aesthetic practices that seem to characterize Making a Murderer (2015), drawing parallels to similar elements of other works (for example Serial) and arguing for an emergent style of mediated narrative that is driven by participatory culture. One key element of this emergent style is how networks of texts appear around these works: other essays, blogs, articles, podcasts, reddit threads, websites and a vast array of social media conversations, where audiences collectively produce a nebulous form comprising the core text, contributions by amateurs and professionals, the sum of existing evidence and facts, as well as the sum of available misinformation. Another key element of the style is how the text emerges temporally and even in real time, or in simulated real-time, both in terms of legal cases, the lives of human actors, and audience contribution: these stories, in a sense, live and breathe.
A final element is the theme of social justice; this format expects, invites and/or simulates audience collaboration toward “cracking the case”, for example enlisting viewers to sift through large bodies of evidence, track patterns and solve puzzles, in such a way that, while gamelike, is motivated by an ethics of democracy and even collectivism. This is in the first instance an effort to right a social wrong—to set one person’s real life to rights—but the nature of the form dictates that this plays out within a larger scene of institutional corruption and collective social responsibility. We will compare this formal style and audience response to those of alternate reality games (ARGs), with which they share a number of similarities. Framing Making a Murderer as a transmedial form, we will show how it deploys emotional and logistical complexity to achieve an active experience of viewership, and reflect on what this may mean for the future of television and games alike.