In his essay Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies, Lowood introduces us to players as performer: players who utilize “computer games as platforms for creating their own games, narratives, texts, and performances.” This performative aspect of play, he argues, has become a popular mode of participation in game culture. I’d like to talk about this distinction between player and performer and how the blurring of these definitions can be applied to other cultural objects.
Focusing particularly on machinima, movies made from the software of computer games, Lowood takes us through the history of this “metamorphosis” from player to performer. Essentially then, this transformation represents a shift from consumer to creator. Rather than simply absorbing the game as it was developed, users come to construct their own unique creations. While this shift is positive in that it empowers those who have access to computer games to produce their own content, I worry about calling it a “metamorphosis”. Doesn’t this terminology reinforce the idea that one can either be a performer or a player, a creator or a consumer, as if there are two distinct categories of people: those with valuable creative ideas and those who pay for them? Rather than suggesting this as a complete transformation from one to the other, I prefer the terminology used elsewhere in the essay of a “blurring of the line between producer and consumer”. I prefer this more ambiguous space to the image metamorphosis conjures up of the player as under-evolved, wriggling caterpillar and the performer as beautiful creative butterfly. A blurred line allows for crossing and overlapping that metamorphosis does not, and the implication of evolution from player up to performer only legitimizes creators over consumers.
In any case, this blurring Lowood describes is extremely interesting in that it shows how a cultural object such as a video game can be reimagined with new meaning. Within the constraints of the game system, whether it be Doom, Quake, or The Sims, there are new perspectives to be explored. It shows us that a system that was designed with one purpose in mind can be utilized in a variety of different ways, and that we get pleasure not only from viewing a machinima video, but also in understanding how one system was explored, examined, exploited and turned into something else. Machinima like “This Spartan Life Episode 7” demonstrate how this vehicle can be used not only to travel in-game, but also to tell a story, how that camera angle works well for narrative as well as combat purposes. I’d like to think that reinterpretations like this can help us realize that so-called finished products including everything from computer games to book series to musical scores can and should be open to reimagining by not only those who are considered game developers, authors, musicians, but also those we might arbitrarily write-off as only players, readers, listeners.
Lowood, Henry. “Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies.”
“This Spartan Life: Episode 7”
By Nathalie Parmentier