Machinima is the making of original content using 3D computer games engines and gameplay recorded in real time. Machinima creators (machinimators) now draw on a multiplicity of computer video games but this type of co-created and participatory content was originally popularised by the growth in fantasy and simulated role-play environments such as World of Warcraft©, Halo©, Grand Theft Auto© and The Sims©. It originates from the demoscene, whereby computer ‘geeks’ seek to promote the technical capabilities of their computers through demonstrations of gameplay in online fora.
The first machinima film is widely recognized as being Diary of a Camper, recorded and produced in 1996 by a group of gamers calling themselves The Rangers. Since then, machinimators have created and distributed tens of thousands of fan vids, parodies, satires, reenactments and original content through online fora in an increasingly complex ecology of technologies and new media. Its influence has been widespread, impacting digital arts, film, new media platforms and even politics through the user-generated co-created and produced content, some of which has been used as pre-production visualisation for big budget films that have subsequently been realised in mainstream environments such as Hollywood (eg., The Lord of the Rings and Resident Evil).
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. In turn, this is resulting in shifts in thinking about the format and framing of end-user license agreements. Content has now spilled out from the internet into digital arts festivals and galleries (eg., Atopic, France; Animatu, Portugal; Bitfilm, Germany; Phoenix Square, Leicester UK): machinima is inherently a convergence of technology, digital social practice and culture. Importantly, some commentators have described it as ‘the visual cultural phenomenon of the 21st century’ (Greenaway, 2010).
Machinima is also uniquely used to provide insight into social ‘virtual’ actions that take place within online 3D environments such as Second Life©, through recordings and productions. It is embedded within social media networks, which are central to digital access of this form of content and, in early 2013, Machinima.com, a prominent community forum, became one of few social networking platforms to list on the US stock market (Nasdaq). This compares the multitude of games developer community sites and gamer-owned and managed fora. The listing was based on an impressive record of growth – in 2011, Machinima.com reported more than 2.5 billion downloads of machinima films through its various online channels and more than 45 million unique monthly users of the platforms. More recently, as a main search facility for online digital creative content, the stability and growth of the community using Machinima.com is considered to be a health indicator of media platforms such as YouTube (much UGC posted to this site is machinima and computer gameplay, ie., ‘let’s play’, recordings).
This project has focused on the character of cultural value through new media, digital access and co-production. It addresses 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 has engaged key stakeholders from the breadth of creative and cultural industries, as well as the community of machinima practice, through the research design (see Appendix 1). The breadth of opinion included in this study is a key aspect of its contribution to understanding the impact of machinima, which has not previously been investigated. This research therefore provides an important ‘state of the art’ dataset and point of reference for future researchers, 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 cannot be addressed through evaluation of social media alone.
The project evaluated the co-participation and convergent practices of a range of creative and cultural industries stakeholders, including user-generators, formal and informal networks of professional and amateur, institutional, commercial and not-for-profit participants. Machinima is a phenomenon that encompasses all these stakeholders in a complex ecology of technologies. Indeed, its emergence and growth as an important digital culture is now influencing the development of new media platforms and technologies which, in turn, are impacting on cultural values. This project seeks to shed light on both the inherent complexities of the phenomenon, types of cultural values that have emerged and the ways in which it is changing views of cultural values and will contribute to a broader understanding of cultural values in digital creativity.
The PI has been a participant observer within the machinima community since 2006, having directed the first European machinima digital arts festival in 2007. The project has drawn on the resultant unique objective insight into the focal phenomenon, its growth and emergence as a digital arts genre and its impacts on creative and cultural sectors both globally and within the UK, including the ways in which new types of social media platform have evolved to support its dissemination. Building on the extensive networks established by the PI since 2006, the research is situated across multiple disciplines and a broad range of academic, creative and cultural interests.