Micro-Essay: Machinima and It’s Limitations

By: Sabrina Bellemare



Machinima is the use of a games computer graphics engine to create cinematic productions and other creative content. Commonly this is achieved through careful capturing, editing, and voice dubbing. This week our assigned viewing was This Spartan Life: Episode 7, and to my knowledge is a successful and quite popular example of the relatively new artform. Some Machinima, such as Red vs. Blue, which emerged from voice-dubbed Halo gameplay videos, has grown into widespread popularity, and for a time could even be viewed on netflix streaming.

My first encounter with machinima was many years ago, and took the form of short films uploaded to youtube creating using The Sims 2 game engine. They were poorly made, for the most part, but the possibilities for storytelling with a life simulator are endless, and I enjoyed seeing the creative ways people used typical gameplay and sim actions to create a cohesive, effective scene arc.

Henry Lowood says machinima is “high performance play:  as performance of technical exploits, as performance of game skills, and as public performance for an audience”. Claiming that the exercise of these three performances in tandem to create something of value helps drive all aspects of games and player experiences.  It requires a great deal of skill, creativity, and patience to create something unique despite the limitation that machinima presents. While machinima is not my personal passion, I can easily appreciate the artistry that goes into it, and that it is just another way that games relate to different forms of art.

While machinima can be a fairly limiting medium for storytelling, it is also an exceedingly convenient one for those who do not have the artistic talents, or financial backing to spread their stories otherwise. For highly visual people, who may not be so inclined to write, or read, but still enjoy storytelling, machinima is a great way to share stories and stoke the fires of creativity.

Using the graphical aesthetics of specific games will also have a greater impact on fans of those games, resulting in a more compelling experience, and a greater emotional investment in the story. the familiarity of game elements will fuel interest in many viewers, and allow them to explore their favorite games in a new way, in a new medium.

Sadly, the aesthetics of machina can also have the opposite effect. People who are not interested in video games may be immediately turned off a film or a series without really giving the content a chance. Oftentimes, the competition of ‘prettier’ animation, or live television is too great. This gap in quality is something I imagine will shrink as game engines become more sophisticated.

Part of what makes machinima a challenging new form of creation is its limitations. It’s part of the fun, finding ways to express your story with what you’re given. It’s what makes machinima all the more impressive.While I know very little about modding personally, I believe the challenge applies as well. Modding creatively allows player to refresh stale games, and have a new experience in a game that they love. Modding is in-game innovation ( Julian Kücklich). It is innovation and creation for it’s own sake.

Works Cited:

“This Spartan Life: Episode 7”

Lowood, Henry. “Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies.” iDMAa Journal. 2.1 (2013)

.Kücklich, Julian. “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry.” The Fibreculture Journal. 5. (2005).


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