Nine Inch Nails is one of my favourite bands. Top three, for sure. One of the things that Trent Reznor does very well is to reinvent his songs through remix albums. Each record would have a remix companion to give listeners greater insight into the songs and their artistic possibilities. When the Internet gained prominence, he band began releasing rough data from their records and let the fans remix songs. I’ve listened to some of what the fans produced. Much of it was, subjectively speaking, terrible. But every now and then, someone would create something so brilliant that their talent was undeniable.
A new form of this phenomenon is called machinima. In his article “V2N1: Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies”, Henry Lowood describes machinima as “making animated movies in real-time with the software that is used to develop and play computer game.” Essentially, remixing games to create a new work or art.
People have always been inspired by great works of art to produce great works of art. Why would it be so different for videogames? Why is using a game’s code to create something new such a controversy? Why is the web series This Spartan Life such a hard thing for many to swallow?
I believe part of it lies in the problem of ownership and authorship; though it certainly goes beyond that. The notion that the characters being used in works like This Spartan Life are so integral to the validity of the game that to use them in any other context would be to sully the game in some way; to lessen its validity. It is seen as a mockery of the source material. The videos take something away from Halo.
But much like the fans creating their own remixes of “The Great Destroyer”, works of machinima are odes and homages far more than they are mockeries. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then machinima takes flattery to an entirely new level. The sheer amount of work that goes into making a work of machinima is staggering, to say the least. Why would someone spend countless hours retooling and reworking a game into something new if they didn’t love the game in question?
Machinima is no different than remixing songs or rewriting Macbeth in a modern setting. As technology advances, the way we create art changes. Artists that painted were threatened by the photograph when it was invented. Then the photograph was threatened by film. We use what we have at our disposal to create. Pens and inks and pixels. Machinima is this generation’s version of the Muybridge Horse in Motion.
Lowood, Henry. “Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies.” iDMAa Journal 2.1 (2005):10-17.