a blog & design space

Machinima & filmmaking

Machinima as brand advertisement or clear self-expresion?

I discovered machinima several years ago through my obsessive game play of the Sims 2 and Sims 3. I’d watch the user-created movies in my spare time. Most of them were awful.  I did find a few that were great. When I found the truly fantastic ones – I was immediately hooked. Machinima is a hybrid story telling technique incorporating 3-D video game technology.

Think of it as Xtranormal on steroids.

Initially, this digital art form soley cropped up in gaming communities. If you weren’t familiar with the games used as a platform in machinima, it would be hard to understand the nuances of certain jokes, story context or even plot.

Games and (good) storytelling are indelibly mixed. Beyond the groups seeking mindless entertainment, there are those heavily invested in machinima as a story telling device. This method of consumption and telling stories beyond the game’s initial platform demonstrates how much gamers are invested in the characters and the universe they inhabit.

According to a recent article in AdAge,

Machinima is also a weapon for video game marketers, who turn to the company’s loyal followers to build and sustain buzz for new titles.

Yet, machinima actually goes further. Or, at least it can go further. It is maturing and steadily developing beyond the realm of gamers and internet nerds. It’s fast becoming a serious and professional animation resource for filmmakers and storytellers of all types.

Real-time animation (the advantage of working with machinima) affords directors the opportunity to produce high-quality movies at much faster rates.

The gamer ghetto

Yet, with all this frothy buzz about machinima, the Journal of Visual Culture devoted an in-depth academic treatment of machinima and its producers. There is tension between machinima as democratic film medium and the ghetto it currently inhabits.

Hugh Hancock, a long-time machinma artist, explains that rhetoric surrounding machinima creates a false wave of belief that filmmaking is open to anyone.

Enthusiasts believe that the opening equals democratized participation towards a larger group of would-be filmmakers. However, Hancock outlines the high barriers to entry in machinima by its story telling limitations, technical know-how and high-end equipment needed to produce a viable machinima film.

He mentions,

Obviously, all of these limitations skew the machinima world toward the traditional technophile demographic: white, male, middle class, age 14 to 45. There are prominent machinma creators who defy this, but the vast majority of machinima is produced by white males for the consumption of white males.

Just because there is access does not mean you are truly freeing yourself towards ample participation. The conclusion? Access doesn’t guarantee meaningful participation. Hancock discusses the exceptions of machinima breaking beyond its gamer roots. There’s no reason to remain tethered to the self-referential base of video game enthusiasts .

I could discuss Hancock’s article infinitely, but I suggest you read it for yourself if you are interested in understanding how ghettoization plays for this particular medium .

In another piece, Frank Dellario optimistically comments ,

“Newer games and better technology will continue to inspire a larger number of interesting films and projects, and public acceptance of the medium, which already exists, will grow even further still. The tipping point for this field is reliant on the animation and business worlds, when they fully explore and embrace this fast and cost-effective medium as the wonderful production tool that it is.

Machinima as part of film plot

Last October’s Chicago International Film Festival featured an exceptional piece by Dutch filmmaker David Verbeek. R U There highlighted three concepts on my fascination radar: the rise of esports, machinima as storytelling technique and using technology to foster duality in offline relationships.

Verbeek incorporated scenes from the world of Second Life that gave additional context to Jitze’s relationship with his inner desires to be at peace and his platonic relationship with the girl. Verbeek’s use of machinima to enhance the story (rather than a gimmicky add-on) gives the medium relevant credibility as a storytelling device.

There’s plenty more written about machinima as a viable commercial medium. I’m excited to see the ways digital arts culture will grow and change in parallel with machinima. Computer-generated content is nothing new, but it’s fledgling in it’s exposure to retelling the 21st century story.

I’ll be there to watch.