Micro Essay 2: Machinima and Remix Culture

by Harris Frost

Machinima is just one of the many manifestations of remix culture. As is said in Episode 7 in the machinima talk show This Spartan Life, much of the original content created and distributed over new media is based on the practice of transforming, remixing or combining more traditional forms of media to create something new. And despite the seemingly scrappy nature of the practice (with it being produced by relatively small teams rather than large corporations), machinima works such as Red Vs. Blue regularly attract millions of viewers per video. The potential for the medium to attain such a level of success certainly heightens the tension between traditional and newer publishing practices, described in This Spartan Life as a “one to many model” vs. a “many to many model”. If machinima had no cultural impact whatsoever and was a merely a means of showing off one’s expertise at exploiting certain aspects of the game, something that Lowood identifies as merely one facet of machinima culture, it would be much more difficult to frame it as an example of remix culture’s steady rise to the mainstream.
Of course, on the surface, each individual machinima work appears to be simply a product of the manipulation of one specific media item, in This Spartan Life’s case, the Halo series. Some might doubt that this even is an example of a remix; does one remix a violin when playing a new piece of music on it? This however, betrays an excessively materialist conception of media. To understand the nature of Halo’s transformation into This Spartan Life one must look at the intended message of the games. First Person Shooters like Halo do not inherently lend themselves to creation the creation of player narratives, the game provides the player with a reason for all the elements of the gameplay through the in-game story and encourages the player to interact with the game in ways that roughly correspond to this in-game story. However, Lowood’s description of the narrative aspect of machinima as “the remediation of familiar narrative media (film, music videos, animation) in gameplay” is an apt description of the medium’s ability to re-interpret the idea of a game and apply it to other media, in the case of This Spartan Life, primarily talk shows.
Certainly, machinima is a somewhat subversive medium, something certainly evident in the case of this particular episode of TSL, which rails against SOPA and other proposed legislation that would restrict copyrighted content to the point of making machinimas targets for legal action. However, machinima is largely encouraged by the video game industry. As Lowood points out, game developers release their development tools with the aim of promoting fan-made films. This is not especially surprising, considering machinima videos, if popular, effectively provide free marketing for a game. However, it is an interesting example of how remixed works can exist in harmony with more traditional media and that the relationship between the mass media establishment and emerging new media practices are more complex than one might assume.

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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