Machinima is the making of original content from 3D computer games – it is a form of digital interactive user-generated content born out of the internet and now has impacts in creative and cultural sectors around the world. The term is a concatenation of ‘machine’, ‘animation’ and ‘cinema’. It has not always been loved by games developers, having some early origins in the modding and hacking communities, as well as the ‘demoscene’ (playing games back in the 1990s was about showing off the power of the hardware, rather than a recreational pastime). Since then, however, machinima has grown up BIG. With a community estimated to be in the millions, Machinima.com became the third internet company to list on the stock market in 2013 (Nasdaq) and various individual games communities have themselves generated massive numbers of followers who dedicate their creative talent to generating fanvids from their content. Online, highly successful internet ‘TV’ series have emerged some of which now have more followers than traditional TV stations. Feature length films have been pre-visualised using machinima techniques that are now being used in main production (eg., Minecraft© the movie, forthcoming). The creative sector has showcased machinima works since 2006 in digital arts galleries and film festivals from London to Sydney and many places in between (eg., Atopic, Paris; Bitfilm, Germany; Animatu, Portugal) including online (eg., Machinima Expo), and tens of thousands of machinima works have been created and distributed through an increasingly complex ecology of technologies and new (social) media.
Machinima is inherently a convergence of technology, digital social practice and culture. Importantly, it has been described as ‘the visual cultural phenomenon of the 21st century’ (Peter Greenaway, 2010). It is also uniquely used to provide insight into social ‘virtual’ actions that take place within online 3D environments such as Second Life© and is embedded within social media networks, which are central to digital access of this form of content. Its growth in popularity has impacted games developers significantly because it challenges the ways in which they view their intellectual property and the role of their customers (games players) in the creation of commercial value, effectively testing the boundaries between authorship and ownership.
The aim of this project is to generate a comprehensive framework for understanding the ways in which machinima adds to cultural values in creative and cultural sectors. As a form of highly creative content blending of artistic and film-making skills with gameplay and computer technologies competences, it has attracted a wide range of participants from home-based enthusiasts, to amateur film-makers, to established digital artists in film, animation and arts sectors. Increasing activity within the community of machinima practitioners (‘machinimators’) has impacted on our understanding of a role of computer games beyond gaming, digital interactive performance and social participation genres, and influenced developments in creative and cultural industries and new media platforms. Despite its now massive following and popularity primarily among gamers, machinima remains a largely internet-based phenomenon which few outside the online communities and digital arts scenes have heard about albeit that many will have first hand experience of it. Therefore, the specific objectives of this project are to:
- Identify a taxonomy of the types of cultural value produced by the machinima community, including both on and offline contexts
- Evaluate the impacts of machinima and machinimating on the cultural sector, exploring the ways in which the creative and cultural industries sustain and destroy value generated by machinimators formally and informally
- Assess the ways in which the creative industries are adapting to meet the challenges of machinima user-generators, including their use of new types of creative skills resulting from its rapid evolution
- Explore the issues of ownership and authorship that arise from the making of machinima including the tensions and interrelationships between the creative and cultural industries arising from the creative practices of machinimators
- Assess the implications of the machinima phenomenon for other digital participatory creative cultural genres
- Provide an evidence base of artefacts and critical analysis of the machinima genre for an unfamiliar audience
The project will address the pertinent issues that have emerged in the context of the massive growth and uptake of machinima, building on previous research into digital creative practice of performance-based media reported in the literature. It will engage key stakeholders from the breadth of creative and cultural industries, as well as the community of machinima practice. The breadth of opinion proposed for inclusion in this study is a key aspect of its contribution to understanding the impacts of machinima and the project will provide an important ‘state of the art’ dataset and point of reference for future researchers into online digital culture, as well as insight into the immediate and future ways that machinima is impacting on the shifts in our cultural values, particularly towards a visual culture that is not possible through evaluation of social media alone.
As the project evolves, our website will be updated and become a key focus for participating in and reporting on the research – we very much welcome contributions to discussions as we develop the research. Please do visit machinima.dmu.ac.uk, contact Dr Tracy Harwood, the project’s lead researcher (email@example.com) or Mike Uwins, Research Assistant (Michael.Uwins@dmu.ac.uk).