Ep 021 When the hero’s journey meets the collective journey in gamification with Jeff Gomez

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CEO, Starlight Runner Entertainment

Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner, is a leading expert in the fields of brand narrative, story world development, creative franchise design, and transmedia storytelling. He specializes in the expansion of entertainment properties, premium brands, and socio-political themes into highly successful multi-platform communications and international campaigns.

As a producer accredited by the Producers Guild of America, Jeff also develops the story worlds of films, TV shows, video games, toys, books, comics, apps, virtual reality projects, and theme park attractions. This deepens engagement and accelerates the development of participative communities, resulting in mass audience approval, brand loyalty, and increased revenues.

Jeff’s pop culture work has impacted such blockbuster properties as Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, James Cameron’s Avatar, Hasbro’s Transformers, Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man and Men in Black, Microsoft’s Halo, and Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Jeff has also developed highly successful transmedia campaigns and participative brand narratives for Coca-Cola (Happiness Factory), Pepperidge Farm (Goldfish) and Spartan Race. Other current clients include Electronic Arts, Sesame Workshop, Disney Parks & Resorts, and World Vision Canada.

Jeff’s proprietary transmedia methods have also been applied to educational and geopolitical causes, accelerating positive self-organized social movements and increasing resistance to crime, violence, and corruption. Through applications of his Collective Journey and transmedia population activation models, Jeff has helped optimize communications for large NGOs, and address crises in Mexico, Colombia, Australia, and the Middle East North Africa region.

No two days are the same with Jeff but the pattern is that they need to understand a large amount of information, so it starts by absorbing the news of the day. He then dedicates some time to email, including not only big personalities but also to people who want to learn more, like students and researchers. Next, it is time to review the material sent by his team, analyzing sometimes widely divergent from each other. He might also be teaching classes or meeting through Skype. Finally, he arrives home to also get into consuming some more information, this time perhaps around entertainment, he needs to be on top of everything around his clients!

The collective journey is one of Jeff’s specialties and it is almost opposed to the Hero’s journey. This is seen all the time and has been “commodified” by Hollywood, the hero tends to be a white male with very male traits. It includes some form of physical or psychological violence and the community is saved by the hero during the story. Social media has allowed the individuals all around the world to have a voice, there’s multiple values, stories, cultures and many more. And all that diversity is expecting to be represented now in storytelling. The collective journey takes all of these voices into account, there’s not even a need to polarize conflict between good and evil because the system that we exist in is flawed. There is a need to combine diverse ideas to heal the system. This idea is being represented on TV series like Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, The Walking Dead, these worlds have lots of different characters, not just the male who will save the day. They are all working toward a common goal which is fixing the broken system. Jeff started observing this when looking at the self-organization of recent movements like the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, which he found fascinating especially because there are no formal leaders.

One of the first applications of collective journey storytelling was precisely in education, in particular, a university in Australia. They were looking towards retaining minorities that included indigenous population and immigrants. They had tried several remedies and services but were failing. Jeff realized that there was a disconnect between the way the university was communicating and how these students understood the information, they didn’t get it! The indigenous students came from quite straightforward lives in their communities, however, the university is a complex and bureaucratic organization. The assumption of the university was that those that couldn’t navigate it were not either smart enough or even apt to be there. It was hard! The university wasn’t willing to change this, their assumption was that they had to adapt since that was “how the real world looks like.” Even things like the first time that the university reaches out to a student was in the form of a warning, “do better or you’ll be kicked out!” Jeff felt he was failing them both since he couldn’t get them together to communicate in a commonplace. This changed when he brought these students together and told them that no one (no hero) was going to help them, that they had to help each other out! They took a multi-platform (transmedia) approach, they started appearing in all the university’s platforms: social media, podcasts, newspaper, radio station, this way they would be represented and have a voice. Next, they found a way to get them to communicate with each other to manage a way to help each other. It seems that these indigenous people from Australia have a huge problem with failure, which is the reason they quickly dropped out after the first significant challenges. They found out that within this culture, the place where they went to seek advice when confronted with failure, was the bathroom! That’s where they consulted with family members who could provide guidance, hence the “bathroom confessions” was born on that campus! It consisted of putting papers in a box in the bathroom, with the problem and a way to contact you and other members of the community would read them and, if they could help, would reach out to provide that guidance. This made retention increase significantly, finally, it was a success!

The first thing Jeff does when approaching a problem in which he will use the collective journey, the first thing is to acknowledge that the default mentality most people will have is that of looking for the hero! Then they set up a listening mechanism, the “architecture for dialogue” to understand what the target audience has to say about the topic. Even if just this, authentic listening, a strong bond is already created. The next step is to empower them to tell these stories to their friends, their community. They call this superpositioning, this is fundamental. The third step is social self-organization, what does it take to get people to behave in concert to create change? The fourth step is the actual change making, in which they create the incentives for people to take action. The crowd now understands that even if they do something small, there can be a huge change if done by the crowd.

Since he was a child he loved the “worlds” where you could almost get lost in, so he would say that “Zelda, a breath of the wild” is his favorite game! The world is so realized, the characters so developed, there is so much to accomplish without killing anything! Jeff thinks gamification can always benefit from the story, without it it’s like offering the dog a biscuit! You don’t want it to need the biscuit to do the trick. So when you layer a compelling story over gamification, he thinks you can have something that can be compelling beyond the rules system. That way people can be engaged even without the points and rewards. In particular, with the collective journey, we can help ourselves collectively to achieve what the gamified system wishes us to accomplish. We don’t need to look at how we’re alike, but rather how our talents, aspirations, values, actually supercharge us to accomplish more together!

Jeff sees how archtypes persist even from the Hero’s Journey and can also be very helpful for a collective story. One of the best books he’s read about this is called “The Hero and the Outlaw” by Carol S. Pearson and Margaret Mark. He would also love to listen to Jade Raymond interviewed in Professor Game! A game executive who founded Electronic Arts’ Motive Studios and Ubisoft Toronto.

His final advice is that there was always a necessity of conflict in our pop culture, and coming from a violent neighborhood this is something he didn’t like, so he has found that there are lots of stories that pose alternatives if we realize that everybody now has a voice. Communication is back and forth, pervasive, no longer just a few people shape the story, now we can take many things into consideration and come up with decisions and actions for the greater good, that is what the collective journey is all about.

We can reach Jeff through his blog blog.collectivejourney.com and follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Gomez

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