Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

Welcome to Machinima World

In the introduction of Henry Lowood’s article Warcraft Adventures: Texts, Replay, and Machinima in a Game Based World (2009), the reader finds herself in the midst of the fierce final battle of the “Video Game Olympics,” in San Francisco in 2004. This battle between a Korean and a Dutch contestant takes place in the real time strategy game “Warcraft III” under the eyes of only a few spectators at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Many more, however, watched via Webcasts all over the world. Through replays, fans of the game had the opportunity to watch the brilliant final move that lead to victory and brought the “medal” to the Netherlands. The description of the final sequence of events makes sense only to those who have played role playing games themselves, but for the fan community the battle turned into one of those “remember when” legendary stories. Recorded stories about and within gameplay, in game terminology called machinima, are defined as the “art of making animated movies in a 3D virtual environment in real time” (Marino, 2004, p. 2). Machinima serve many purposes. In some instances, players learn from each other by observing different recorded strategies of successful defeating a particularly difficult villain, but in many cases machinima are actually used to extend the storyline.

Lowood points to an example of the narrative aspect of machinima, the award winning World of Warcraft movie called Edge of Remorse. He calls the film “an intricately composed piece of visual storytelling,” (409) that makes use of a variety of filmmaking skills as well as concepts of montage, flashback, and sound effects that are prevalent in “real” film making. According to Lowood, about ten percent of all machinima projects in World of Warcraft drive the story line further in a linear structure (409). While there are other forms of machinima, Lowood focuses mainly on two aspects of machinima. First, he describes the role of projects that center on extending the story line and thus add to the libraries of existing texts. Second, he elaborates on archival community plays that concentrate on the mode of performance and create historical accounts of competitions, tactics and strategies of game play. After the introduction of those two different forms of machinima, Lowood moves into a description of the history of Warcraft, a strategic role playing game that he uses as an example. While his elaboration provides interesting aspects of the history and development of role playing games, I would like to focus on the two distinctive forms of machinima that he concentrates on: machinima as “textual production” and machinima as “performance space.”

While for some players the story line takes a back seat in the game, others are eager to explore the narration in depth. They even have an interest in taking an existing text, re-working and re-mixing it, and expanding the story through the creation of machinima. Over the years the World of Warcraft franchise has produced a vast story world with linear story lines implemented by the developers within the game on the one hand and stories created and shared by fans through other online sources (websites, YouTube, etc.) Even though players perform within a given structured text, there is plenty of room for players to elaborate on those texts in form of fan fiction or machinima. Those narratives add to the library of texts already existent.

“Historical archives,” (418) according to Lowood, are based on the performance skill of certain players. Those players record their gameplay as a demonstration of strategies, tactics and approaches towards certain tasks within the game as an example for a large audience of player communities. This particular form of machinima testifies success of failure of an operation and serves as a learning tool for those players who face the same or similar tasks. Lowood points to the fact that the archival production of machinima preceded the textual production that extends the storyline. In the beginning, the focus was on replays that answered questions about the fastest way to advance a character’s level, or the most efficient approach to succeed in a battleground. Clearly, the interest in watching videos that enhance the gameplay are deeply embedded in the desire to compete with other players, other factions or other guilds. In fact, many guilds require players to watch a historical archive of machinima about a certain task before they are allowed to participate. The sources of World of Warcraft replays are vast; videos can be found on YouTube, fan created websites, and the leading site for “World of Warcraft” movies: http://www.warcraftmovies.com.

While “historical archives” are in line with the intentions of the developers and might even serve as marketing tools, there exists a hidden conflict in the creation of “textual productions.” Creators of machinima can take the narrative in almost any direction by using the in-game context as well as using external tools like Modelviewer or Cambot. Lowood points to machinima artist Tristan Pope who, in his film Not Just Another Love Story, used existing and self-created content to depict sexual imagery. The ability of some machinima video artists to use the game content way beyond the intention of the game designers and authors of the text might lead to conflict. The aspect of authorship, however, is not unique to the game context. Rather, it leads to a general question about the appropriation of existing texts for re-mixing and re-modeling. Lev Manovich, in his article What Comes After Remix?, points to the fact that we live in a “remix culture,” (2007) and machinima is only one aspect of a new approach towards existing texts; the debate about authorship needs to be discussed further in the future.

Lowood raises many interesting points in his article. To broaden the discussion (also drawing on the “Nitsche” article,) I would like to pose three, very different questions:
From your point of view, does the creation of machinima fall into the context of traditional film-making as an art form? If not, can it at least be seen as video art?
Do you think that game-based moviemaking can move beyond a self-reflexive game culture and be interesting to a wider audience? Why or why not?
What kind of problems do you see with the appropriation and re-use of existing texts in a game context and in other fields like music, art, design, etc?

Thanks for your posts Carter and Erin. Good prep work!

Sun, November 22 2009 » Futurecinema_2009