Tim Kring, a long-time television writer and producer, is best known as the creator of the NBC show “Heroes.” But he’s rapidly expanding his media universe — last week at Comic-Con he launched a new book project, “Shift,” which will debut in August from Crown Books.
He has also created a new transmedia project called “Conspiracy For Good” (CFG), which describes itself as “a movie where YOU can be the hero and impact the outcome of the story for the better.” Participants travel through a blurred narrative that mixes media, interactive storytelling and a learn-as-we-go collective approach to fight a greedy corporation and benefit good organizations.
CFG is being partially supported by Nokia and its Ovi mobile platform. Plus, the fictional story includes chances for players to do real good in the world. For instance, there is a collaboration with the Pearson Foundation and Room to Read, where each time an online visitor reads a book to a child, the corresponding book will be donated to five libraries set up in Zambia. Nokia and Room to Read will also fund a year of education for 50 girls in Zambia.
The first live meeting of participants in “Conspiracy For Good” occurred on July 17 in London. I connected with Kring to explore this new genre he calls “social benefit storytelling,” and what its implications are for entertainment and social good.
What is “Conspiracy For Good” (CFG) and how can people participate or experience it?
Tim Kring: The “Conspiracy For Good” is a global movement for change driven by a story, which the audience becomes a part of and every participant has the ability to impact the outcome of this story. The story will be played out on websites, mobile devices, at live meet-up events in London, and ultimately in a village in eastern Zambia where CFG will be responsible for building a library, stocking it with books and providing 50 scholarships for school girls.
This U.K.-based project of “Conspiracy For Good” is the pilot for game-changing entertainment — narrative mythology that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, compelling the audience to become a part of the story with real world outcomes.
To get into the “Conspiracy For Good” and join in the story, simply go to the web page and watch the featured video. A recap will point you to the current activities and detail how you can get involved. And if you’re in the London area, register online at the site and join us on the streets.
Anyone can follow along — comment, contribute, share, decipher, solve, connect and collaborate at the website. The site is the global hub for all things CFG: Watch videos, follow progress and events on the blog, and make an impact and interact with the characters of the story through the main websites.
“Conspiracy For Good” is called “a social benefit experience.” What does this mean and how can an entertaining story generate social benefits?
Kring: The “Conspiracy For Good” creates a new genre of entertainment which combines rich narrative, philanthropy and commerce. We call this genre “social benefit storytelling.” The “Conspiracy For Good” aims to become a movement. Individuals are now being “tapped on the shoulder” and asked to join this movement to continue to make the work of the “Conspiracy For Good” a reality with global impact. By participating, members of CFG have the opportunity to affect real word change from the environment to education to the economy by applying their unique abilities, talents, networks and passion as an active part of the story.
The entire gameplay centers around causes, and direct action…on the streets in London, where participants will be involved in book drives, toy drives, cleaning the Thames, etc. By creating a secret society for good, and providing a forum for people to connect with one another, the hope is that there will be a tremendous amount of user-generated interest in new and worthy causes.
“Conspiracy For Good” says it integrates “interactive theater, mobile and alternate reality gaming (ARG), music and physical participation.” Is there one component that excites you most? And will this multi-screen experience include movie theaters or television?
Kring: I am very intrigued by the mobile aspect. It has just exploded over the last few years as smartphones are reaching a wider demographic. I love the idea that a mobile phone can be both a content consumption device and a content creation device. In other words, an audience can use their mobile phone to receive story and create video and text and geo-tagging themselves. For a storyteller, this really piques my interest.
“Heroes” was a fictional story about people trying to save the world. “Conspiracy For Good” seems to be a real-life extension of this narrative. What elements and lessons from “Heroes” were applied to the development of “Conspiracy For Good”?
Kring: You are right that I came up with this idea when I saw how connected and committed the “Heroes” audience was to the underlying core message behind “Heroes” — interconnectivity and global consciousness. So, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to not just talk about “saving the world” in fiction, but to attempt to do it in the real world. In many ways this is the logical extension of what was known as the “360 Platform” that NBC.com and “Heroes” built around the show. The attempt there was to build a broad, connected universe around the show that created multiple extensions of the story that could cross all platforms.
We learned a tremendous amount doing this. One of the key things was just how motivated the audience can be to create content on its own. So in many ways, CFG takes that idea and makes it the ultimate goal — to create a self-sustaining movement for good that ends up having real-world implications and direct action.
You just announced that Room to Read and the Pearson Foundation will be beneficiaries of the “Conspiracy For Good” experience. Will there be additional organizations and how can participants support them?
Kring: Other organizations are invited to include their missions in the “Conspiracy For Good,” and participants are welcome to join those missions, too. The meeting place for missions and people is conspiracyforgood.com.
The experience includes live meet-ups in London. How will participants meeting other participants evolve the story? Will there be meet-ups in other cities?
Kring: London is the first of what we hope will be many cities around the world. When participants come together they will follow a clue trail of video drops that move the story forward. They will have to work together in teams to solve various clues in order to advance the story. They will find key props and sets and locations for the story, interacting with these and using their collective efforts to confront our bad guys and have justice prevail for our protagonist. Along the way they will interact with actors in character, creating a sense of a truly pervasive experience.
Here’s a video giving the back story on “Conspiracy for Good”:
Blackwell Briggs is a fictional greedy corporation in the energy industry that distributes false information. Is it inspired by any real-life company or event?
Kring: We’ve all become very familiar with corporate greed of all stripes. Blackwell Briggs is an attempt to draw from that sense of familiarity without necessarily conjuring up any one corporation in particular. The corporation seems to be involved in almost everything controversial. So, in many ways, they are a “catch all” for corporate greed. By showcasing a fictional, evil corporation, we also celebrate, by contrast, the admirable, real world companies that really do exist in the marketplace today.
What does success look like for “Conspiracy For Good”?
Kring: Teams in five different countries have worked together to bring an idea to life, to do something that has never been done before. Designed as a proof of concept pilot that integrates narrative, cross-platform participation and philanthropy, the measure of success is that it has been built and deployed and proves viable on a story level, a participation and community level, providing a foundation for greater expansion.
Do you plan to join the Conspiracy For Good and contribute to the movement? Share your thoughts about this transmedia project in the comments below.
Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.