The Problem with Machinima

31 07 2008

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I make art using video games. Like a number of others, I spend more time playing games than creating them, so my artwork reflects this. Some of these works are performances, and can be experienced “in-game” or more likely, via a video of the performance posted on youtube. Additionallyt I produce a series of self portraits crafted using only the in-game avatar creation tools provided within Xbox 360 games. These self portraits are exhibited in custom-built gold leaf and wood frames, and hung on the galley wall, creating a connection between the blinking, idling avatar and the history of portraiture.

Frequently my work gets categorized as Machinima, a term coined to describe videos and other media produced within games or using software “game engines”. The popularity of Machinima is undeniable, as evidenced by the recent inclusion of machinima-specific tools as part of major game releases like Halo 3, The Sims, and many others. Machinima is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. It represents the biggest shift in decades in how we engage our entertainment.

But the term machinima does not really describe what I am doing. For one thing, the many categories of machinima presented online or at film festivals demonstrates a wide range of drama, comedy, talk shows, gameplay, and mash-ups that can be produced with machinima tools. But all of these categories are fundamentally new forms of pre-existing genres found in the world of video production and filmmaking. Rarely, if ever, is there a category for fine art. Where is the Machinima for dance and performance art and conceptual art? The artwork is out there. There are a growing number of visual artists working with games, but who don’t fit within the limited definitions provide by Machinima. These artists’ work is easily lost among the emphasis on the art of commercial games and indie game development.

So that might be the problem. Until this emerging genre of art production gets it’s own moniker, it will remain in the ghetto, the bastard stepchild of youtube cheat videos and the video game industry’s corporate event decoration budget.

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