Whenever someone mentions the word “video game” in a conversation about art, many common schemas spring to mind. Many consider video games art in and of themselves, though some may disagree. However, most neglect video games’ potential as a tool for creating art. We often think of artistic tools as the paintbrush or chisel or even the mouse or tablet, but rarely do we consider games viable tools. Isn’t that contrary to the notion of a “game?”
But video games, particularly more modern games with complex modification and engine manipulation tools freely available (see Garry’s Mod, the Elder Scrolls series, or the Unreal engine), provide a host of surprisingly useful functions for the creation of art. In fact, an entire community of video-game filmmakers exists, dedicated to creating movies in a virtual environment: machinima.
Machinima resides in a very particular niche: it isn’t quite animation, though the resultant film is indeed animated. Instead, the creator of machinima functions almost like the director of a live-action movie, dictating the actions of each actor, arranging lighting and camera angles, creating and setting scenes—only in an entirely virtual environment. Since the traditional need to render each frame is subverted, the costs and time demands are considerably lower than typical animation projects.
Machinima has typically been rooted strongly in gamer culture. Films like “How to Win at League of Legends,” for example, are clearly directed at their specific audience. They are sometimes considered to be holding back machinima as an art form, since those outside of this audience would find little to no value, artistic or entertainment, without the background knowledge. But some videos have become famous memes, achieving popularity well beyond this subset of society. Leeroy Jenkins became an internet phenomenon after a video of his shenanigans reached the web, but his influence has spread to Jeopardy and even military strategy. Meanwhile, the 2005 political machinima film “The French Democracy” achieved substantial mainstream media attention. The film insinuates that racism was responsible for the 2005 riots in France.
Films like “The French Democracy” epitomize what Friedrich Kirschner considers necessary for machinima to become its own form. According to him, machinima must “free itself from its connection to the computer games industry.” He believes that such diversification of the medium could result in a “fully-fledged new medium” in the vein of Adobe Flash.
With the rapid advancement of new media art technologies, it’s important we keep an open mind with respect to what is and isn’t art. To the layman, movies of people playing video games bear no artistic value. But this medium holds tremendous potential, allowing anyone with a $60 copy of a video game and basic video editing software to create incredibly powerful movies. “The French Democracy” took all of four days to make, and its results were reported all around the globe. Imagine what a concerted community’s efforts to could create.
Moltenbrey, Karen. “Making Machinima.” Computer Graphics World 28.11 (2005): 26. Web. 7 Feb. 2012.
Kirschner, Friedrich. “Machinima’s Promise.” Journal of Visual Culture 10.19 (2011): 19-24. Web. 7 Feb. 2012.