Thoughts on analysing Machinima – part 1

I’m not a big fan of the notion that machinima will replace the art of animation. Machinima is something completely different, in my opinion. Like Henry Lowood says:

“It is important to recall that the origins of machinima lie not in content production, but in gameplay” (Lowood, 2006 in Video Games and Art)

It is something that has evolved from high-performance gameplay to brilliant meaningful content, but the essence is still gameplay. The ability to master a game so well that you can bend it and form it into your own mold of content, your own story, your own expression.

Dr. Lowood again:

“Depicting machinima as high-performance play stems from its emergence from inter-relationships of play, spectatorship, technical virtuosity and storytelling in computer games. Each of these factors played a role in defining the practices of machinima as practices of game performance.”(Lowood, 2006, Video Games and Art)

So how should we go about deconstructed machinima, finding it’s meaning, it’s aura – it’s true art?

I believe there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account. Among them are:

1) The cinematic effects
2) Play performance
3) Pop cultural references – remix culture – fan culture.

WoW: Super Mario Theme

1) The camera angle tells this story from a third-person view. We know the character is running from A to Z – there is a goal at the end. It moves in a horisontal narrative (gosh – can I say that?), making it clear that the character is running towards something at the end of the screen and we wait in anticipation for what comes next. It is also a format that we know well from Supermario, so we instantly recognise that the character is on a misson of some sort and that the goal lies somewhere beyond the computer screen on the right.

I’m not completely refreshed on my Bordwell and Thompson bible (which at some point I really need to do), so please excuse the casualness of this analysis. It’s just me practicing anyhoo…

2) I’d say with this movie, the manipulation of the actual game environment is more impressive than the actual gameplay performance. An impressive modding skill which gives the truest form of art by a diracker (director + hacker= diracker – which I first read about in Mark Marino’s article Machinima in Europe).

But how do I even begin to deconstruct this? This is what I’m asking. How well do I, myself have to know the game to appreciate the level of modding skill? And how should I even begin to deconstruct and identify the skills brought about in making this.

Deconstructing the gameplay is the closest I’ve come. And I’ll have to look at both World of Warcraft and Super Mario. And in some way come with a gameplay analysis of the blending of the two through the artistic technology of modding to become a spectator medium.

Puppet mastery (I’m stealing this from someone, but I can’t remember who!)also has to be taken into account.

So how do you measure gameplay skill?

It’s something I’ll be looking into more in the next couple of months, and the next blogpost will go into more detail.

3) Henry Jenkins, of course.
This machinima film works so well because of its popculture references to both World of Warcraft, Super Mario and computer games in general. The reconstruction or remix of known media to create something that’s enjoyable for a spectator is extremely important. I strongly believe that machinima cannot be properly discussed without taking this into account for it certainly is a medium that borrows from traditional media for a new storytelling process.

Personal note:
Ok – so this was supposed to be a well thought-out serious blogpost. I’ve been thinking about it for a while – and I figured, what’s my blog for if I cannot air my own thoughts and ideas as they’re being formed? I need the practice of writing about this – so be warned! You’ll be hassled with little tid-bits of unfinished thoughts for a while now.

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