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New Media Resistance: Machinima and the Avant-Garde

Elijah Horwatt (Cineaction 73/74 2008)



“Somewhere between the video game and the CD-ROM there could be another way of making films….” - Jean-Luc Godard1

It was Jean Cocteau who suggested that the cinema as a pluralistic and egalitarian medium could never come into fruition “until the materials are as cheap as pencil and paper.” The string of technological advances in digital video technology and editing software for the personal computer have steadily brought the cost of filmmaking closer to Cocteau’s utopian vision and no group has adopted these new technologies with the enthusiasm and resourcefulness as avant-garde filmmakers and video artists. It appeared that the avant-garde was continuing a trajectory towards the use of increasingly affordable tools and means of production during the single-channel video art revolution of the 1970s. Since then however, the possibilities of many new “expanded cinema” technologies has facilitated a movement away from the thrifty art-making tools Cocteau once championed. The latest developments in new media technology do not share the economy that video offered 20 years ago2 . Much of virtual reality, augmented reality and experimental screening spaces are raising the cost of new media works and narrowing the number of people who may use these new tools. These exciting new technologies surely hold promise for the future of experimental cinema, but they have also drawn attention away from cheaper apparatuses more readily available to financially strapped independent artists.

The success of video art, measured by four decades of innovative work, seems in part attributable to the possibility of camcorders getting into the hands of a diverse group of artists. However the focus of the new media movement has ceased to be the democratizing technological forces that were once central to the avant-garde. Was video, as a cheap apparatus for making folk art, abandoned for the more sophisticated, expensive and more intriguing tools of new media? Indeed, part of the fascination with video art as a medium stemmed from the ability of marginalized people to make art works which radically challenged hegemonic visual discourses in new ways3 .  Though multi-channel installation works called for enormous allocations of money, single-channel works were an important stream of video art making which offered the most access to (frequently) insolvent artists. It would be fair to say that the video art movement as we know it is predicated in part on its accessibility to people who could not afford to obtain any other cinematic apparatus. The question is, what new technologies will further create spaces for the disenfranchised to be involved in cinematic discourse? I will posit that machinima has such democratizing properties. In this sense, I hope to draw parallels to a younger generation of outsider filmmakers, or folk artists, who are engaging with video game culture much the same way video artists once critiqued television. They have aligned themselves in some unusual ways with the video art/avant-garde film movement in their technological ingenuity and their appropriation of extant mass media images all within the expressly cheap confines of the PC or Video game consul.

The word machinima (ma-SHIN-i-ma) is a contraction of machine and cinema first coined by the “The Strange Company” film collective; a group of gamers devoted to their own unique version of détournement also known as emergent gameplay or metagaming. These terms refer to playing games in ways contrary to the designer’s original intentions. Traditional narrative machinima is created by scripting a story, recording game play within a real time 3D environment (either through the POV of an avatar or through a commonly offered in-game camera feature), using actors to create voice-overs and finally editing the game play and voices to reflect the script. Other techniques of machinima making include improvisation or reprogramming (also known as modding) which render scripting, and often voice over, unnecessary. When completed, machinima looks like 3D animation made through the use of a video game platform (either a consul or a PC) and an editing program, however machinima is unlike animation because the 3D engine that controls the images exists within the parameters of a video game.  The algorithms of the game detail the behavior of avatars, weather, and environmental boundaries, even providing a sophisticated platform designed to emulate real world Newtonian physics.

Various features have been offered by a diversity of games to give machinimators a wide range of environments and avatars to choose from. Some games and demo programs like SimLife, The Movies, Unreal Tournament and now Machinimator allow for the construction of nearly any environment and avatar imaginable.  In this sense, machinima does not need to exist in the confines of what would be described as a game—because there ceases to be objectives or goals to playing.

While machinima is often technically in breach of copyright law with its appropriation of video game images, many companies have turned a blind eye because of the free publicity it gives their games or have created regulations to allow for machinima production. Microsoft was so excited about the use of the Halo game in the hit machinima show Red Vs. Blue (produced by Rooster Teeth Productions) that they created a special machinima license4 and a new controller command in the sequel Halo 3 which allows players to lower their weapon, a feature “designed solely to make it easier for Rooster Teeth to do dialogue”5   as it has no other practical purpose for the game.

Early machinima was gamer oriented, giving practical advice about how to advance to new levels, discover secrets within the game or to reveal strategies and techniques for more successful game play. When films began to imitate the grammar and language of narrative cinema, the films produced were predictably violent, action oriented works exploiting chauvinistic representations and absurd caricatures of masculinity. It is a marvel that anything but the impetus to create a more cinematic spectacle of gratuitous violence has become a dominant facet of the technique, but as I will illustrate, machinima has evolved to become a multifarious technique with its own distinct genres and tendencies.

Machinima’s comic possibilities were exploited with the breakout machinima film Male Restroom Etiquette (Zarathustra Studios, 2006) which has received nearly 5 million hits on YouTube and is in the top 100 most viewed films on the site. The film is a sardonic poke at masculinity and gamer culture that has been widely attributed to a boom in the interest in making and watching machinima. Red Vs. Blue, a popular machinima show which ran 100 episodes and five seasons, uses absurdist humor to explore the lives of two groups of cynical soldiers engaged in a war without meaning or purpose. The characters pontificate in the appropriated style of Samuel Beckett about the pathos of their task and the triviality of their existence as soldiers. The show has subsequently been used by Microsoft to promote their game consul Xbox. Perhaps the most widely distributed machinima is the famous South Park Episode Make Love Not Warcraft which follows the South Park characters’ avatars in the Warcraft game. 

An experimental machinima contingency began to develop with the creation of both The Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences6 , an organization devoted to promoting the use of machinima and heading the Machinima film festival,and which provide forums, articles and a film archive for machinima lovers. Machinima is a nascent technological breakthrough which, like video art and avant-garde films before it, radically redefines the means of production associated with traditional narrative filmmaking. The techniques employed to create many machinima films resemble avant-garde film practices; the films have a collage aesthetic, they appropriate both the images of another medium as well as the discursive and narrative strategies of video game culture, they are acts of détournement or media resistance often entrenched in radical politics and they are made on a shoe-string budget. For all these reasons, the process of machinima captured the attention of avant-garde artists and a number of open minded outsiders to begin exploring machinima’s abstract and non-narrative potential.

While machinima resembles found-footage filmmaking in its appropriation of extant images and sounds, there are some notable differences. Instead of full fledged cinematic appropriations, machinima employs digitally appropriated environments, avatars, background stories and even pre-rendered sequences. Unlike traditional found footage films, the content within the 3D environment is highly malleable and needs to be created. While the films are often engaged in a critique of video games the same way video art was engaged with television, this critique is not a necessary attribute of machinima. Though there is a bifurcation between machinima art as a critique of video games and as a cheap platform for cinematic expression, the avant-garde community has employed the technique to serve both ends. This is not necessarily the case with mainstream machinima, evinced in the words of machinima pioneer Hugh Hancock7 when he said “Machinima seems to be the only way that someone like me is going to get to produce stories on the scale I want without having to spend 35 years working my way up in the TV or film industry.”8

Despite a strong community of experimental and avant-garde filmmakers, Hancock’s sentiment seems to ring true for most mainstream machinima. Though the technique and technology help artists work outside of Hollywood modes of production, those involved are often attempting to work within the aesthetic and narrative constructions of contemporary Hollywood cinema. Critic Leo Berkeley reiterates these issues when he writes “In an era where the narrative possibilities of interactive, hypertextual and virtual environments are opening up but have only been tentatively explored, machinima most commonly makes use of the increasingly sophisticated interactive features of recent 3D computer games to produce texts that are predominantly traditional linear narratives. It is a strangely hybrid form, looking both forwards and backwards, cutting edge and conservative at the same time.”9 However Berkeley also cites critics Bolter and Grusin, who suggest that new media forms do not simply emerge and replace old forms—they often borrow the discursive techniques of contemporary and old media forms before innovation can occur10 . Right now a tug-of-war over the future of machinima is playing out across the internet with some, like Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech member Michael Nitsche proposing that machinima explore non-narrative possibilities11 . Most machinima theorists and pioneers are ambivalent about the move toward experimental machinima. Though many are fascinated with new possibilities they are still keen publicists and know that machinima has a brighter (and more profitable) future in its narrative form. The three most well known books on machinima, Machinima (Morris, Kelland, and Lloyd 2005) 3-D Game Based Filmmaking: The Art of Machinima (Marino 2004) and Machinima for Dummies (Hancock and Ingram, 2007) all focus on the narrative aspects of machinima filmmaking with little or no discussion about potential non-narrative films.

When talking about new media, there is a tendency to romanticize burgeoning technologies which appear to democratize the medium as the savior du jour of avant-garde/experimental cinema. Critic David Ross invokes Bertolt Brecht’s seminal media essay “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication” and reminds us that we often herald new forms of media because of our own utopian expectations of what it will carry. In Brecht’s words, “these people who have a high opinion of radio have it because they see in it something for which ‘something’ can be invented. They would see themselves justified.”12 So rather than simply herald the many possibilities of machinima, I will cite examples of why machinima is worthy of study.

The numerous machinima films which détourn video games may seem like a specialized if not superfluous form of media resistance.  However the preponderance of personal video game consuls has become so widespread that it has begun to have a ubiquity in the lives of many people, approaching that of television fifty years ago. Over 117 million Americans are counted as “active gamers” by the Nielsen Active Gamer Study of 2005 which surveyed American gamers who played more than one hour per week. Among its findings it was discovered that “although teenagers continue to comprise the largest percentage (40%) of Active Gamers, more than 15 million of these gamers (almost 8%) are now 45 years or older, with the average age of a gamer at 30 years-old.  While women make up nearly two-thirds of all online gamers, men still outnumber women in the overall video game universe by more than two-to-one.”13 In 2003, the industry made 28 billion in revenues and has had a growth rate of 20% since 2002. While machinima appears at first glance to be an example of fan fiction, many works produced with the technique are radical critiques of video games, attempting to redefine the politics and ideology of video game culture rather than praise it. In this way, machinima appears to be a striking example of a grass-roots media resistance movement engaging critically with culture and production. Gamers love to cite statistics comparing the Halo series, which made 170 million dollars on the day of release to blockbuster films like Spider-Man 2 which only made 40 million on its first day.14 The preponderance of these comparisons, (especially in machinima films about machinima filmmaking) solidifies the machinimators desire to link gaming as a cultural artifact worthy of academic study on equal footing with cinema. 

One way of situating machinima in relationship to new media is to consider its privileged position in the critique of video game culture with the tools of the medium and the insights of those closest to it. Critic and theorist McKenzie Wark has devoted a number of theoretical tracts to gaming culture15 and has become an important figure among the machinima intelligentsia as evinced by his interview on the machinima talk show This Spartan Life. The show, which nods ironically in its title to the national public radio show This American Life, has become the Johnny Carson Show of machinimators all the world over. The show follows a host who interviews significant media theoreticians, avant-garde artists and open source programmers inside the violent Halo 3 game. The game has attracted Criterion Collection creator and Voyager Company founder Bob Stein and avant-garde found footage filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh to come onto the show and discuss issues surrounding new media, the future of digital information and the process of machinima itself. The dramatic tension of the show is centered around the fact that interviews are suddenly over if the guest’s avatar is killed by another player. The creators have had to enlist professional gamers to act as bodyguards to prevent the rising number of individuals bent on disrupting the show by killing all of the guests. The show subverts the Halo 3 game by turning it into a place where people who are separated geographically can come together in a digital world to hold talks and even debate serious issues as opposed to using it as a playground for gratuitous violence.

Machinima and the Avant-Garde

The most surprising development in the machinima world so far was the use of the technique by avant-garde filmmakers Peggy Ahwesh and Phil Solomon. Ahwesh’s She Puppet (2001) destabilizes the programmed expectations of how one is “supposed” to play the game Tomb Raider; chipping away at the violent and sexist representation of “Lara Croft” the sexually idealized protagonist of the game. Ahwesh describes Croft as “a collection of cones and cylinders -- not a human at all-- most worthy as a repository for our post-feminist fantasies of adventure, sex and violence without consequence. The limited inventory of her gestures and the militaristic rigor of the game strategies created for her by the programmers is a repetition compulsion of sorts, offering some kind of cyberagency and cyberprowess for the player.”16
In She Puppet, Lara Croft shoots at non-existent enemies and is subject to numerous moments of what Ahwesh calls “ecstatic death.”’ In some sense, Ahwesh is giving Croft the radical subjectivity imbued by feminism—allowing the character to act in ways, we perceive, she has not been designed to. Awesh’s construction of Croft doesn’t adhere to the oppressive regulations of the game, even though she works within the programmed algorithms. Jonanthan Miller called this use of the avatar an “image of liberation that points the way to a wholly human ideal.”17 Ahwesh also forces the viewer to consider the male dominated world of gaming in which men use an idealized female body as their avatar—creating a kind of transsexual space for game play.

While Ahwesh is clearly engaged in a critique of video games in her machinima, Phil Solomon’s work in the medium has an entirely different purpose. This purpose relates to machinima’s prospects as a democratizing and economically viable form of new media. Solomon’s machinima films Untitled (for David Gatten) made with Mark LaPore in 2005 and Rehearsals for Retirement (2007) take place in the controversial Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game. In Untitled (for David Gatten) Solomon and LaPore use glitching, a process of finding program errors (freezing, data corruption, physical impossibilities within the algorithms of the game) and exposing them. The avatar in their machinima repeatedly attempts to cross the physical barrier in the game creating colorful trails of the game’s landscape. As these films are difficult to find, I rely on critic Michael Sicinski, who describes the images produced as an “unglued forest landscape, sending dripping, elongated textures and blotches of green hurtling towards the screen. But these blades of grass, even as they become mere paint-pixels, are shifted and rotated, sometimes becoming the shafts of trees, other times mere planar forms which intersect with one another and the figure himself. We are in a dense thicket of interpenetrating fields and illegible perspectives.”18 Rehearsals for Retirement utilizes more traditional cinematic techniques while continuing to use glitching. Sicinski again writes “In the opening sequence, we find ourselves reverse-tracking away from a wood-rail fence in a forest clearing. Patches of the ground beneath us fall away into fractal-like black holes; patchy blue-green mists form rotating, 3-D volumes of gas. The trunk of a tree becomes a waterfall in the distance. Like the middle section of Untitled, this is a space of indeterminate legibility, comprised of planes upon planes, yet the tracking shot also hints at a certain level of spatial control, a touchstone of the cinema of old.”19 While the images play with the barriers of game space, they are focused on the aesthetic results of glitching rather than its relationship to game play. Solomon sees the beautiful possibilities inherent in playing the game in different ways and forcing the program to produce images that aren’t ordinarily part of the game. 

Avant-garde machinimator Eddo Stern has compiled what must be the largest and most sophisticated body of political machinima to date. His films, installations and performances grapple with torture, simulation, military games as well as a host of geopolitical disputes with machinima produced images. A prolific video artist, member of the now defunct downtown LA media collective C-Level and a former faculty member of USC’s Interactive Media Division, Stern has approached gaming culture in some fascinating ways. His work in the Hammer Museum’s “Fair Use: Appropriation in Recent Film and Video” exhibit explored the preponderance of video games dealing with terrorism after the September 11th Attacks. In Stern’s own words “After 9/11, there was an initial knee-jerk reaction to step away from reality in gaming…people didn’t want to belittle the situation. But that shock only lasted a short time. Then it was just, ‘Fuck it, let’s go kill them.’ ”20 Stern uses these images to explore the political and ideological messages of video games and how history and cultural experience are formed through game play.

Stern’s gaming “interventions” are as interested in shaping video game culture as they are in exploring it. His work amplifies the strange relationship between reality and simulation available to video game modifiers or modders in a variety of ways. The economic advantages of machinima are secondary to Stern; he is more interested in using the inherent language of video games as material to explore through machinima. The ideologies and politics of video games make up most of his work, which augment the subtexts of games until they are either absurd or monstrous. In the Tekken Torture Tournament (2001)performance, “32 willing participants received bracing but non-lethal electrical shocks in correspondence to the injuries sustained by their onscreen avatars. Players wore shocking arm straps wired through a hardware/software hack of the world’s most popular fighting Playstation game TEKKEN 3.”21 In Waco Resurrection the player’s avatar is a revivified David Koresh who walks through Waco surrounded by ethereal hellfire fighting the FBI and ATF. His film Deathstar which played at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2004 is an assemblage of digitally rendered homicidal fantasies concerning Osama bin Laden from online video games set to the music of The Passion of the Christ. The music, according to one critic “subverts the programmers' intent, insisting we view bin Laden as a Christ-like figure amidst all the maiming.”22 Vietnam Romance recreates scenes from iconic Vietnam War films using video game generated images and MIDI sound files that correspond to the songs which played over the cinematic scenes. He uses Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City to recreate scenes of Vietnamese prostitution in Full Metal Jacket (1987) with a MIDI version of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots are Made for Walkin’. Stern goes on to recreate the cinematic memory of Vietnam from the Huey attack scene from Apocalyse Now (1979) featuring Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries to the introduction scenes of M*A*S*H (1970)  with the song Suicide is Painless.

More recently, Stern has turned his eye towards Los Angeles with Landlord Vigilante (2006) where a cynical landlady who believes tenants are “defective human beings,” instigates an urban war on criminal elements in East LA. The story is based on Stern and collaborator Jessica Hutchins’ own exploitative landlady in Los Angeles. Stern, like Phil Solomon uses Grand Theft Auto and plays with the documentary properties of the game platform—which explores gang culture in a simulated Los Angeles.  Eddo’s game is ostensibly a revenge scenario allowing afflicted tenants to sublimate their violent desires towards their landlords into the gaming sphere. 


“Outsider” Experimental Machinima
Many artists have attempted to make experimental machinima outside of the highly contested grouping of artists we call the “avant-garde.” Referring to these individuals as “outsiders” seems ironic because they tend to be more invested in the form than their avant-garde counterparts, however they tend to be gamers, programmers, glitchers and modders who’ve developed an interest in non-narrative possibilities for machinima. Though this tendency is late breaking in the machinima community, it has developed a significant following. Digital curator Carl Goodman of the American Museum of Moving Images commented on machinimators in 2002 saying “What enables them to do all this is also what limits them in the end. At one extreme you have action movies and at the other you have the story that all young boys tell when they play with action figures.”23 Much has changed in the last six years. While the earliest entries into the machinima cannon betray just the kind of narrative and aesthetic preferences one might ascribe to the average gamer, machinimators have increasingly employed non-narrative strategies to films which reflect some prototypical avant-garde practices. Though this group is a fringe of the machinima movement, these experimental machinima films are often touted by pioneers and machinima communities as examples that lend a new kind of legitimacy to the technique.24  

Ozymandias (2001), a characteristically avant-garde machinima film was made by Strange Films and is based on the Percy Shelly poem of the same name. The film features a single poetic image which takes on the narrative exposition of Shelly’s text with a presentation of the poem at the end of the film.  The work captured the attention of New York Times arts columnist Matthew Mirapaul and critic Roger Ebert, both of whom remarked on the incredible new possibilities the medium had to offer. Friedrich Kirschner, a filmmaker with Moppi Productins works with creatively elastic demo engines to make some of the most respected works of experimental machinima, The Journey, Halla, Person 2184 and IX.  The films have oblique narratives which have startlingly original images and metaphoric properties. Using abstract humanoid figures, Kirschner creates cold multi-layered landscapes with overlapping images and a nightmarish futuristic perspective where advertising bombards the individual. His films obliquely grapple with the pervasive commercial images of the Society of the Spectacle and the increasing difficulty of individuality in a world that seeks to instate conformity.


Political Machinima

Most works of political machinima are left wing in nature save some pro-military war reenactments which recreate military operations in various historical theaters of war. A number of clans (social groups that play together via the internet) have developed around mutual political or personal affiliations. A notable example is the preponderance of gay gamer clans, also known as Gaymers25 .Left wing political machinima films have become more frequent and grabbed the attention of many new media scholars. Many critics were captivated by The French Democracy (2005)26 which detailed the events and situations which led up to the French suburb riots of October 2005. The film itself was made from the perspective of a young Parisian on the events that precipitated the riots in France—with recreations of the deaths which sparked the riots themselves. The filmmaker Alex Chan, a first generation French Buddhist, made the film "to correct what was being said in the media, especially in the United States, who linked what was happening, the riots, to terrorism and put the blame on the Muslim community.”27 The film detailed the violent response of three black youths to the many acts of harassment and bias faced by young immigrants around Paris.  The film was discussed by a slew of reporters after receiving a million hits in a month.28 Though Chan was an inexperienced machinima maker and the film itself has little merit stylistically or technically, the film is emblematic of the instant exposure machinima can offer those without a traditional filmmaking apparatus.

This kind of political pseudo-documentary style was copied by Joshua Garrison in his rendering of the Virginia Tech Massacre with the Halo 3 game engine. This controversial work is a thoughtful political invective against violence, using the engine to recreate the events of the massacre punctuated by title cards explaining details of the massacre and the systemic failings that contributed to the killer’s success.

An Unfair War (2006) made by Thuyen Nguyen is an austere five minute short exploring the personal effects of war. A Middle-Eastern man is sitting at his computer in an empty house with the sound of gunfire blasts in the background. He’s writing a letter (the words he types appear at the bottom of the screen) about how his family has fled the country and the peril they face on their journey. He has stayed behind to document the events that occur. Though never explicit, the man is clearly an Iraqi citizen living among a rival sect. His ambivalence about the war is iterated in lines like “I do not care if I am ‘defended’ or ‘liberated.’ I just want my life back” and “whoever wins this war will claim a once-beautiful country which has been reduced to nothing.” The gunfire crescendos until it is deafening. The man pauses and the screen fades to black with the sound of a blast. The film ends with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?” The pathos of the subject seems to communicate the ambivalent attitudes towards “liberation” articulated by many Iraqis—what good is freedom if survival is impossible? This work seems to echo The French Democracy with a filmmaker attempting to speak for those who cannot. In this way machinima allows people to bear witness to events with tools they otherwise couldn’t afford.

The Tyrant (2006), a machinima mash-up film made by Mike Munson with the Half-Life 2 game engine utilizes a special “skin builder” which allows players to design the faces of their avatars. Munson designed a George W. Bush avatar and employs the same techniques many political mash-up filmmakers have—re-editing speeches by political figures so that there is coalescence between what they say and what they actually do. The speech made by the avatar is a cut up version of Bush speeches constructed into a single cohesive monologue.  This process has been referred to by the artist and writer Jonathan McIntosh as “identity correction.”

The Machinima “Documentary”

Some machinima filmmakers have taken to documenting the world within a game by incorporating an outsider perspective and looking at the video game world through the eyes of an anthropologist. These films have a mockumentary quality to them, incorporating humor and absurdity though remaining loyal to the spirit of the games they investigate.  In Jim Munroe’s machinima film My Trip to Liberty City (2004), we are taken on a tour of the landscape of the Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City (GTA: LC ) world. Munroe describes the city over clips of his avatar’s exploration. After his avatar is called upon to carry out an illicit job by a crime lord, Munroe decides instead to explore the city. His running monologue over the film is more befitting of a family slide show of vacation photos that the absurd violence of the game’s narrative, which clashes with his own curiosity about the world of the city. Realizing that his thuggish character may be misleading those around him, Munroe decides to “change skins” and be the Canadian tourist he feels more adequately represents himself. After changing into a heavy set balding man with a camera around his neck, Munroe explores the city on foot because, in his words, “ I never feel like getting into a car is the best way to see a city. The best way is to walk around and get to know it. For instance here if found this little nook in an alley and sure enough there’s a stairwell there that leads up to this beautiful rooftop; something I never would have found in a car.”  Munroe’s exploration of the digital space of GTA: LC has the same outsider perspective and proposed audience as other machinima “documentaries.” It does not use the lingua franca of gamer-made machinima films, nor does it have the insider humor of shows like Red Vs Blue. Instead, My Trip to Liberty City has some elements in common with the work of video artist Mike Hoolboom, who refers to his work in the 1990s as “‘documentaries of the imaginary.’”29   In this sense, the imaginary space of a game is explored with the appropriated discourses of a documentary. 

Machinimator Douglas Gayeton purports to have “found” the video diaries of Molotov Alva, a man who supposedly evaporated from real life and reappeared in the popular computer world Second Life. These films claim to be “dispatches” from the Second Life world, from a man who has left reality and entered simulation forever.  The film has become the object of much discussion after its purchase by HBO for broadcast in 2008 and has been entered into the Academy Award’s short film competition for 2007.


Machinima and New Media Resistance
            The most striking aspect of machinima may come from its origins and development outside of the formal avant-garde community.  It has developed through the ingenuity of hackers, modders, gamers and cinephiles. Not all new media is employed as a means of a bottom-up media critique—it is most often the province of artworks rooted in the visual discourse of the medium being critiqued. However machinima is unique because of the origins of the technique, developed by individuals who wanted to engage with hegemonic visual discourses of video games because it was the visual language they were most familiar with and they had important things to say about the culture as a whole.

The term media resistance has been most closely allied with activist documentary, video and avant-garde art, however it is increasingly the domain of amateur content creators on the Internet. I would attribute this development not only to a steady reduction in the cost of recording equipment and editing software, but also to the proliferation of extant media materials on the Internet whether they be in the form of digital video files or images produced from game engines. A critical analysis often appears at the root of appropriated and reconfigured images—observable by how the artist relates to the source material and the various modifications they execute.  Many found footage filmmakers and video artists describe the process of appropriating materials and manipulating them as a form of retribution or resistance. Nam June Paik once said that “Television has been attacking us all our lives, now we can attack it back.”30 Now millions of gamers are going to have their turn. 


1 Jean Luc-Godard and Yousseff Ishaghpour, “Part I Interview,” Cinema, (Berg 2005, 3-112.): 38-39

2 For an in depth explanation of how video became more economical for artists during the late 1970s please see  Catherine Elwes. Video Art, A Guided Tour. (I.B. Tauris & Co: London, 2005): 19.

3 These critiques are evinced in the work of Sadie Benning, Dara Birnbaum, and Candice Breitz.

4 The license stipulates that derivative works may be made from Microsoft’s Xbox consul if they are for personal and non-commercial use. For details of the license visit

5 Thompson, Clive. “The X-Box Auteurs” New York Times Magazine August 7th, 2005.  (

6 The Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences should also be understood as an example of machinimators attempting to identify themselves with the Hollywood film organization The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Visit  

7 Hancock is also the man responsible for coining the word “machinima” and actually misspelling the contraction which should be “machinema.” He is currently on the board of directors of The Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences.

8 Mirapaul, Matthew. “Arts Online: Computer Games as the Tools for Digital Filmmakers.” New York Times, July 22nd, 2002. 

9 Berkeley, Leo. “Situation Machinima in the New Mediascape. Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society. Vol. 4, No. 2, 2006, pp: 65-80

10 Bolter, J.D. & Grusin, R. Remediation: Understanding New Media. (The MIT Press, Cambridge MA & London, 1999). Op. Cit. Berely, Leo. “Situation Machinima in the New Mediascape.

11 Michael Nitsche explores these issues often in his Free Pixel blog, specifically in the post “What Makes Machinima Good?” @

12 Ross, David. “Truth or Consequences: American Television and Video Art.” Video Culture: A Critical Investigation. Ed. John Hanhardt. (Peregrine Smith Books: Layton, 1986): 172.

13 Takahashi, Dean. “Nielson Entertainment Releases Study on Gamers.” San Francisco Mercury News, October 5th, 2006. (

14 Flew, Terry. New Media: An Introduction. (Oxford University Press, New York: 2005): 101

15 His most famous work in this area is Gamer Theory.

16 Ahwesh, Peggy. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” Film Comment 37.4, p. 77.

17 Miller, Jonathan. “Peggy Awesh” on Eight Forty Eight heard on Chicago Public Radio. (

18 Sicinski, Michael. “Phil Solomon Visits San Andreas and Escapes, Not Unscathed: Notes on Two Recent Works” CinemaScope Magazine Issue 30, 2007.

19 Ibid.

20 Willis, Holly. The Military Games People Play. LA Weekly. March 30th, 2005.  (


22 Temple, Kevin. “Sensational Stern: Installations Show How Violence Amuses” Now Magazine. Vol. 23, #43, 2004. (

23 Mirapaul, Matthew. “Arts Online: Computer Games as the Tools for Digital Filmmakers.”

24, the distribution portal of the “Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences” names three experimental / non-narrative machinima films in their “best machinima” category.  Any comprehensive search for the top 10 machinima films tends to name several iconic experimental machinima films, most frequently those by Friedrich Kirschner.

25 See the blog made exclusively for Gaymers:

26 This film may be viewed at

27 Diderich, Joelle. “French film about riots draws applause.” Associated Press. Dec. 14th, 2005. (

28 Business Week, “France: Thousands of Young Spielbergs.” December 19th, 2005. 

29 Elwes, Catherine. Video Art, A Guided Tour. ( I.B. Tauris & Co: London, 2005.): 187

30 Ibid: 5


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