Micro Essay: Can Machinima be both an Effective Art Form and Political Platform?

By Lauren Hannough-Bergmans

In his article “Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies,” Henry Lowood discusses machinima, as a way for players to create their own narratives based on game constructs. The video “This Spartan Life: Episode 7” is an example of machinima which demonstrates the creative possibilities of the videogame resource pool, but whose graphics and erratic movement detract from the legitimacy its topic. The question becomes, can machinima maintain its identity as a creative outlet while promoting a political agenda? Ultimately, Lowood’s article establishes that machinima is a multi-faceted tool that is based entirely in the creative genius of players. However, “This Spartan Life: Episode 7” fails in its attempt to unify the independently fascinating worlds of videogame play and political discussion.

Lowood emphasizes machinima’s rightful place alongside traditionally accepted creative outlets. Lowood describes machinima as “the making of animated movies in real time through the use of computer game technology” (Lowood, 1). Machinima is the creation of scenarios that deviate from and play outside of the narratives of game structure. Although the content of these films is based in existing gameplay, machinima is an art form in its own right. Lowood, establishes machinima as “the emergence of unexpected content in a postmodern environment that values playful experiments […] alongside more traditionally startling and original forms of creative expression” (Lowood, 2). Essentially, machinima sets itself apart from the artistic norm because any number of people can produce machinima based on one game, and the results can be entirely different. Overall, machinima uses “game technology to create a new narrative, even artistic medium” (Lowood, 5). Machinima is a creative force which has the potential to become a widely-consumed cultural product as its popularity grows.

The video “This Spartan Life: Episode 7” demonstrates machinima that unifies game play and the serious issue of internet freedom. This example of machinima is problematic because it tries to do too much in one segment. It introduces the viewer to the basic constructs of the game and sets up an interview scenario. However, there seems to be a disquieting disconnect between the issue and the setting. The dialogue between Damian and Tiffiny Cheng is interesting, as it discusses the Stop Online Piracy Act (S.O.P.A) a bill originating from the United States, which hoped to combat web-based copyright infringement, and Protect IP Act (P.I.P.A), which involves the protection of intellectual property. Although their discussion is interesting, it is exceptionally difficult to follow because the on-screen characters incessantly traipse about, planes crash into walls, and cut scenes occur. Cheng’s presence, as the co-founder of an organization that aims to educate people about their rights and freedoms on the internet, suggests that the goal of this episode is to educate viewers on these subjects. Despite this pursuit, the form proves distracting. This instance of machinima fails because the use of gameplay is a visual barrier whose constant and sometimes random movement confuses the viewer instead of helping educate them.

In his article, Henry Lowood is an advocate for machinima and presents it as a flourishing form of creative expression. The video “This Spartan Life: Episode 7” attempts to use machinima as an animated political platform to discuss internet freedom and falls short. Therefore, machinima should be regarded as a continually developing art whose forays into political life should consider form and content.

Works Cited

Lowood, Henry. “Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies.” iDMAa Journal 2.1    (2005):10-17.

“This Spartan Life: Episode 7”

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