Machinima, Art, and Brody Condon

In “The Xbox Auteurs”, after posing the question of whether machinima can be “art,” Clive Thompson mentions a piece by Brody Condon composed entirely of footage of player characters committing suicide in various game scenarios. The piece is “Suicide Solution” (2004), which Condon describes as an “in-game performance.” You can find an excerpt from “Suicide Solution” and documentation of a lot of other really interesting work with gaming, machinima, and digital imaging on his website, tmpspace.

In “The Xbox Auteurs,” Thompson is trying to create an analogy between independent, “auteur” filmmaking practices and machinima. The analogy falls flat, however, when you realize how beholden machinima filmmakers are to the prefabricated and limited game scenario. Even the most low-budget filmmaker has a huge variety of options in terms of crafting a film narrative compared to the machinima “auteur.” As Thompson observes, until the character-based, dialogue-heavy machinima project “Red vs. Blue” became popular, Halo characters couldn’t even lower their weapons.

The question of whether machinima can be “art” is a loaded one, and Thompson doesn’t do a particularly good job of framing it in the article–“serious emotional depth” is not the sole qualification for artistic merit. Nevertheless, it’s a question worth asking. I would argue that machinima is art, to the extent that any use of any technology can be art. But as an artform, machinima is distincly different from cinema. It’s not just showing us a mediated “reality,” it’s showing us a doubly mediated vision of an already mediated game world.

Getting back to Brody Condon, I think his characterization of his work as “in-game performance” is more accurate than Thompson’s comparison of machinima to indie filmmaking. No matter what kind of story one tries to tell, machinima can’t help but at some point become a commentary on “world” it represents–and, consequentially, the world outside that one. To me, the most interesting thing about machinima is its ability to represent a counter-narrative to the imposed narrative of the game–for instance, Thompson’s jokey example of the innocent Canadian tourist wandering around Grand Theft Auto, or Condon’s ¬†intentional “suicides.” Machinima is not simply telling a story, it’s telling us what it means to be “in-game.”

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