It's All IRL

What does IRL (in real life) actually mean to modern day audiences? From the de-fictionalisation of IP, to worldbuilding and second lives, Amplify's ECD Alex Wilson delves into the increasingly blurred lines between worlds.

Published by: Little Black Book
Written by: Alex, Wilson
Date: 03/04/2023

A simple yellow sign, duct taped above an office door with one word scrawled upon it; ‘BELIEVE’.

In 2020 that sign could only be found above fictional football manager Ted Lasso’s office.

In 2022 that same sign could be earned as a giant stadium flag in FIFA 23.

By 2023 it could be found above the door to the most famous office in the world. The Oval Office.

This was in relation to seven members of the cast visiting the White House to discuss mental health, something the show, now in its third and final season, does not shy away from. Although not in-character at the White House, the world of Ted Lasso has been slowly bleeding into our own for some time.

The character of Ted Lasso actually began in the early 2000s as a character Jason Sudikis created as part of a comedy troupe. In 2013 he returned as a skit for NBC, promoting their coverage of the Premier League. But it was the Apple+ show that centred on the titular character that made him a household name.

From there the worldbuilding grew, as he and other characters from the show became playable characters in FIFA 23 by bringing the fictional football club Richmond FC into the game, as well as NIKE releasing the official kit for the club that doesn’t exist, at least not in our world.

It’s this blurring of the lines and ‘de-fictionalisation’ of Ted Lasso and Richmond FC, that linked to a conversation I had in SXSW this year around the true meaning of IRL aka ‘In Real Life’ for those not submerged in industry speak.

Reaching new heights of use during lockdown, IRL was used as a term to distinguish what was happening as a real world experience vs a virtual one. ‘IRL events’ like attending a party, a sports event or conference all fall under the term. However, the phrase is being challenged, increasingly used to mean everything.

At the core of this blurring of the lines between fiction and reality, digital or analog, or ensuring IP can easily step from one reality to another is worldbuilding.

Ted Lasso is something that now exists on TV, in gaming, as wearable merch, as a physical destination at The Crown & Anchor pub with Airbnb, a club twitter account, as an edible biscuit and as a vessel to address mental health through its actors. All of these things co-exist across multiple destinations, everything, everywhere, all at once.

Characters that blur reality between our world and theirs are not a new phenomenon. Alan Partridge has books, podcasts, movies and TV shows to his name, yet he doesn’t technically ‘exist’. Even his creator has played an exaggerated version of himself not only in BBC’s The Trip, but also A Cock and Bull Story. Something Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are stepping into for their new Apple+ comedy series which sees them play themselves as they and their families move in together on McConaughey’s ranch.

Some even take on the role to such an extent that there is no longer a line to blur, Joaquin Phoenix for his project I’m Still Here, lived a version of himself for over two years that quit acting to become a hip-hop artist. He remained in character publicly for the duration of production of the mockumentary.

Blurring fantasy worlds or characters with our own allows these worlds to co-exist, whether it be performance, narrative or experience.

Gaming plays a key role in people's lives and social interactions, with Gen Z (and younger) being twice as likely to get together in virtual worlds whilst not necessarily playing the core game.

​Many online platforms allow for levels of creativity and co-creation that may not achieve anything tangible outside of the digital world, but the distinction doesn’t exist, it simply acts as tools and conduits for their creativity and expression. Innovation is seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives in ways older generations do not. We used to loiter in parks or community centres sharing a Gameboy with a copy of Tetris, today’s youth have replaced these with gaming lobbies and online communities.

Storytelling and experiences that transcend platforms are becoming more and more familiar. Zack Snyder’s upcoming Netflix project Rebel Moon is a multi-platform Sci-fi epic that will come to life through movies and comic books, with the intention to build an IP akin to Star Wars that would allow its narratives to live through gaming, episodic storytelling and experiences.

So as the lines continue to blur and overlap, we may need to find a new word to describe what’s going on outside of the digital and virtual space. Or when we stop to look at how we use the digital and virtual spaces of today, whether that’s through entertainment, utility, education, social, escapism, etc, maybe it’s time for us to stop making that distinction too.

To read the full article visit Little Black Book.