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Tinkering in Game Worlds

  • Michael Nitsche

…plus d’informations

  • Michael Nitsche
    Georgia Institute of Technology

Couverture de remixer,                Numéro 23, printemps 2014, Intermédialités

Corps de l’article

Video games have largely concentrated on their connection to design and art. “Game design” has grown into an academic field of study as well as an established commercial job description. In parallel, video games have garnered larger cultural acceptance and the discussion of “games as art” has spawned numerous lively debates as well as publications and events. Yet, located right next to art and design and strangely bypassed by much of the scholarly debate is the practice of creative implementation: craft. Not only does craft offer its own perspective toward gaming, craft itself is evolving. More and more, digital components affect existing practices, and a resurgence of “maker” cultures explores new digital production practices. This ranges from fab labs that focus on personal fabrication facilitated through novel tools, [1] to approaches that connect new “making” practices back to craft traditions. [2]

Even before the new technologies reframed the definition of digital production, the existing definitions of craft were far and wide. The statement made by the Executive Director of the United Kingdom’s Crafts Council, Rosy Greenless, for the Victoria and Albert Museum provides a working definition of contemporary craft in our case:

Contemporary craft is about making things. It is an intellectual and physical activity where the maker explores the infinite possibilities of materials and processes to produce unique objects. To see craft is to enter a world of wonderful things which can be challenging, beautiful, sometimes useful, tactile, extraordinary; and to understand and enjoy the energy and care which has gone into their making. [3]

Greenless’ definition combines key concepts that shape the argument in this essay, which looks at machinima as example for a practice of digital crafting that utilizes game engines towards the creation of linear computer animation pieces. A first key component is the “making things” quality of craft. The deliverable of craftwork remains a thing that can be encountered as an object and that has material components to its making process. This essay will argue that this thing can be physical as well as digital. A second component is the combination of “intellectual and physical activity” that leads to a “thinking through craft,” [4] whereby the physical activity of the crafter can be understood as part of an embodied thinking and engagement process. Finally, Greenless points to a particular “understanding” and “enjoyment” of crafted objects, which indicates, as will be shown, a challenge to media literacy.

This essay will draw on a past example for media tinkering—radio—to set up a reference case for machinima’s media-making condition. Machinima, as a digital art form, is outlined and briefly contextualized in this essay through an analysis of Mike Munson’s short film The Tyrant (2006), produced with the help of the video games Half Life 2 (Valve Corporation, 2004) and Counter-Strike: Source (Valve Corporation, 2004), as well as other tools and media sources. Machinima is here analyzed as an example for a material remixing culture. The conclusion will re-connect the digital making of machinima to Greenless’ notion of craft, and restate a focus on process in media analysis and literacy.

Media makers now and then

Early radio enthusiasts like Hugo Gernsback or Hiram Percy Maxim envisioned and propagated a “radio for all”—a technology for everyone—as reflected in Gernsback’s celebration of the amateur: “Long live the Wireless! Long live the Amateur!!” [5] This was similarly emphasized when Maxim founded the American Radio Relay League in 1914, which to this day caters to amateur radio enthusiasts and has reached new heights in terms of licenses granted in the 2010s. The connection between game hackers and these early radio enthusiasts has been rightfully drawn before as a historical reference to the evolution of fandom culture [6] as well as for the subculture of machinima. [7] Gernsback was a pioneer, a tinkerer and entrepreneur in selling affordable radio equipment, which he distributed from a company he founded when he was eighteen years old. He was a vocal advocate for radio as the new interactive medium, promising parents that with this new technology “[…] it is so easy to keep your boy at home. He doesn’t want much, just something to dabble, to tinker, to experiment with and to keep his inborn insatiable curiosity satisfied.” [8] More than a hundred years later, we could read his daring and somewhat distorted statement also as a reference to video games—albeit a misguided one, based on gender and social stereotypes.

Gernsback was an important reference for the world of video games beyond such preaching of male technological empowerment. He also coined the term “science fiction” and published various magazines that pushed and popularized the emerging format. His role for the emergence of the genre was so important that a set of science fiction’s most acclaimed prizes, the Hugo Awards, are named after him. Gernsback’s work managed to cover both the technological tinkering as well as the content creation. Not only did he support amateur makers to push the current technology, he also helped to shape the new genre of science fiction. It is this dualism that helps to establish the two cornerstones of tinkering as explorative making and media materials that managed to form a whole genre, and it is through the person of Gernsback that we start to sense the connection between them continuing in the age of media convergence.

When art entered the age of mechanical reproduction, it also entered the domain of exponentially increased re-production, re-distribution, and re-use, whether it is through print collages, found film assemblages, or—as in the case of this argument—video games being used to create short films. Media like these have always been material and have always included skill-based production methods; what has changed is that digital interactive media such as video games also provide the tools necessary to modify those media.

The video game world of Half Life 2 is built around classic science fiction lore: an oppressive alien force enslaving the human race, mysterious conspiracies, futuristic gravity weapons, and dystopian future cityscapes. It also features a lonely hero with a PhD in Theoretical Physics, who reawakens to deal with the world-threatening disaster and engage with the enemy, all guns blazing. At the same time, Half Life 2 is built around a particular technology. The same company that designed the content for the game also developed its underlying game engine, Source. Indeed, the credits at the end of the game do not differentiate between engine coders and content creators, but list all team members equally as co-creators of Half Life 2. Like other game engines, Source features its particular range of technical limitations and capabilities to render and manage a virtual game world. This game engine is the basis for any action that can happen in the game environment. It takes care of the image rendering, the sound, the possible interaction design: in short, every aspect that the player can encounter when playing the game Half Life 2 as well as any other game or media component that uses Source. The physics capabilities of Source, for example, were a defining aspect that affected not only the technical performance, but also the gameplay design, and even the marketing. Through the underlying engine and numerous connected tools, Half Life 2 is not unlike the radio equipment Gernsback sold a century earlier. The game ships with features and supports extra tools that allow players to create their own content, modify the underlying game, affect the engine’s operations, and use it to create moving images and animations, as well as make additional tools. Providing the engine allows the game to operate like a production tool in itself. When one purchases the game Half Life 2, they receive the machine that generates the main content, while also gaining access to the tools for its manipulation. In many ways, Half Life 2 presents a combination of Gernsback’s interests: it is a medium for science fiction in the story that it tells, and it provides the futuristic media technology for that telling. Most importantly, it provides this technological access to content manipulation “for all.” Every player of the game gains this access, whether they use these tools or not. This concept of a game engine as a creative tool is at the heart of machinima.

Views of machinima

One particular digital art form that emerged out of this dual character of video games is machinima. Machinima was initially defined as “animated filmmaking within a real-time virtual 3D environment” [9] or as a way of making films by “taking a viewpoint on a virtual world.” [10] Those definitions were largely practical, set up by machinima producers themselves. Its borderline status between film and game media led to views of machinima as “a form of cinematic expression that documents life within virtual spaces, and draws connections between virtuality and reality.” [11] Other approaches have looked at machinima as a form of “digital performance that controls procedurally animated moving images” [12] or defined machinima along technological lines in different production formats. [13] One challenge that such academic scholarship encountered was that the practical use of the term machinima has changed since its inception. [14] For example, Machinima.com—once the defining portal of the community—emerged into a broad YouTube channel about gaming culture. Thus, a short review of the selected critical components of machinima is needed.

The first instances of machinima were so-called demo recordings. These were log files of actions tracked within the game engine. They were originally used to document remarkable performances in games such as Quake (id Software, 1996). Notable performances were seen as outstanding player achievements, like playing through the whole game in the fastest possible way or documentations of strategies developed by cooperating player groups/“clans” who played the game together.

The game engine recorded the different game states and actions into demo files—literally identified by their file extension as “.dem” files in the seminal Quake game. Players swapped these recordings, loaded the .dem log files into their own installation of the Quake game, and experienced a recreation of the events as the engine operated as a playback device of the recorded actions. In these early days of demo recordings in Quake, the image was literally created anew anytime a viewer started the demo playback because the game engines re-enacted the events based on the shared .dem file. Consequently, tools of this era of machinima dealt with the modifications not of images (like a editing suite) but of the recorded data in the log file. David Wright’s Keygrip tools for Quake allowed a modification of the .dem files and eventually allowed new camera operations in the playback, called “re-camming,” that would become a fundamental tool for machinima artists who wanted to improve the cinematic visualization of the in-game events. At the same time, Wright stood out as an accomplished Quake player himself and an expert in modifying the game engine. For example, he invented the influential Quake modification Rocket Arena. Gernsback would have welcomed him as creator and conqueror of virtual worlds.

Machinima producers were largely experienced players who used the expressive features of 3D engines such as Source, the game content components, and their gameplay to create their own content in the form of game-driven animations. Players recorded their play activities and shared those recordings to show off their mastery of the game, as well as to document particular glitches or exploits in the game. This telling “about” the game content evolved into the use of the game as a platform for narrative storytelling and personal expression. In 1996, a group of players, members of the Quake clan “The Rangers”, produced what is widely discussed as the first player-produced narrative machinima, Diary of a Camper (Matthew Van Sickler). The visuals are limited by the affordances of that game engine. For example, the texture quality is low, there is no cut, lighting is most basic, and there is only text chat and no voiced dialogue. But Diary of a Camper presents a step away from play as limited by the game’s setting, articulating an emergent form of play that uses the game’s world as a stage, and the game engine as a production tool.

Fig. 1

Video still from Diary of a Camper (Matthew Van Sickler, 1996), https://archive.org/details/DiaryOfACamper (accessed on August 21, 2015).

Video still from Diary of a Camper (Matthew Van Sickler, 1996), https://archive.org/details/DiaryOfACamper (accessed on August 21, 2015).

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In this development, machinima realized elements of play as a form of cultural performance. [15] Yet, these performers were not only virtual actors. Machinima pioneers, like the The Rangers or The ILL Clan, were both amateur guerilla filmmakers and tinkerers of game technology. They modified their play to be performative and turned the game engine into a virtual film production studio. Machinima practices depend on cinematic techniques, such as camera control, rendering control, and lighting control. Consequently, machinima producers often have to modify the underlying technology itself, the existing content, and add more tools to their practice to achieve the desired results. [16] As machinima evolved, this led to a changing relationship to the underlying game technology and engine. Tellingly, the term “machinima” itself is a portmanteau term assembled out of “machine” and “cinema.” [17]

Quake was a predecessor to Half Life in terms of content as well as technology. Both games are experienced completely from the perspective of a main hero—hence the term “First Person Shooter” that describes their game genre. The lone hero is controlled by the player as he battles his way through futuristic worlds to defeat an enemy from a parallel universe. While the original storyline of Quake is minimal and communicated mainly at the beginning of the game to give context to the unfolding action spectacle, the more recent Half Life series prides itself on effective staging and story development. Narrativization emerges through better scripting options, improvements in artificial intelligence, better visualization (including facial animation in Half Life 2), and a maturing player culture—as seen in Diary of a Camper’s dramatized play-performances. Players stage scripted events not to win the game and document their progress, but to tell a story with the virtual world at their command. This turn toward narrative framing defined one evolutionary step in machinima realized by the players; a second development depended on technological advances.

Modern game engines, such as the aforementioned Source engine, still allow for demo recording and playback, and provide improved tools, such as more accessible playback options. However, the dominating machinima practice in the 2000s does not use in-game demo log files. Instead, it is based on screen captures of the images as they are rendered during gameplay on the screen. Tritin Films’ Quad God machinima (2000) produced in Quake III: Arena (id Software, 2000) pioneered that technique, which would have been futile in the era of dial-up modem connections. Through distribution on CDs, and with the availability of broadband Internet, the resulting larger video files could be swapped or shared on websites such as YouTube. Today, most machinima productions can be found on such video portals. As a result, the tools for machinima production also include post-production editing suites, image and sound manipulation, as well as special effects packages. Machinima’s technological tinkering with the underlying engine gradually faded into typical film production approaches that merely include game elements next to audio and video production tools. At the same time, game worlds have become reflections of an ever-increasingly complex gaming culture. They tell their own stories and achievements by continuously referencing existent cinematic, dramatic, and narrative traditions. In particular, the rise of game consoles that limit access to tinkering and manipulation exemplifies a growing divide between access to content versus access to technology. But to understand the particular culture of machinima, we need to recall the underlying tinkering that combined both access to technology as a production tool, and as well as access to the games’ malleable content.

Mike Munson’s machinima piece The Tyrant (V R Productions, 2006) is part of that tradition. The piece mainly uses the video game Half Life 2 and its modification, Garry’s Mod (Valve Corporation, 2006), as its production environment and film set onto which it builds its main story. Munson manipulated the game content and generated individual animation sequences, which he screen-captured and post-produced into a short video of 5 minutes and 39 seconds running time that was then distributed online. As will be discussed below, Munson also references numerous other media along the way, and the result can only be understood as part of evolving gaming cultures, of which machinima is but one.

Fig. 2

Video still from The Tyrant (Mike Munson, 2006), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRdAikxq3mw (accessed on August 21, 2015).

Video still from The Tyrant (Mike Munson, 2006), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRdAikxq3mw (accessed on August 21, 2015).

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The Tyrant

After the blood-colored titles flicker over a brooding background score, The Tyrant opens with a series of close-up shots of a virtual character. As he gets ready for a speech, we realize that his face looks eerily like that of former United States president George W. Bush, only slimmer. The soundtrack changes into a mashup of Bush’s sound bites re-arranged and cut together into a statement in which he outs himself as the main terrorist threat to the state and its citizens. This speech is presented in a televisual style, with close-ups, zooms, fades, and interruptions by camera flashes from an invisible press corps at a public press conference. The end of this chilling self-accusatory speech marks the start of the second part of the short film: A new subdued musical piece is the only sound we hear as masked soldiers stand next to the president/terrorist. The soldiers start shooting into what seems to be the virtual audience, hitting the camera as well as virtual civilians, and splattering blood everywhere, including on the main character. This second section is rendered in slow motion, emphasizing the impact of the bullets, the falling bodies, and the general destruction. We end with a camera pulling back and up from the courtyard, now littered with the bodies and blood of the victims lying at the feet of their virtual oppressors.

Many traditional forms of expression at work here (including voice mashup, lip-synching, close-up shot, slow motion violence, and using the camera as a character) have already been established by cinema and will not be the focus of the current discussion. Instead, we will look into machinima-specific techniques that are not covered by film traditions. These machinima-specific elements emerge from the game, its technology, and its content.

The first element is the widespread technique of “reskinning.” Reskinning re-uses existing 3D models but replaces their original textures, their virtual “skins”, with new images, mapping a new outer surface onto an otherwise already defined 3D body. This creates a hybrid: the shape of the body is that of the formerly clearly-contextualized virtual character from the game world, but the outer surface, the “skin,” is a signifier for another thing or person.

In the case of The Tyrant, the underlying body for the main character is that of the G-Man, one of the most recognizable and dubious characters in recent video gaming. The surface texture on its face is that of the 43rd American President George W. Bush. Such texture swapping is done with widely available game and image manipulation tools. However, because the 3D model of the original virtual head is not adequately adjusted for this particular surface, the reskinning is not a perfect recreation of a virtual Bush-character. The hybrid itself is a recognizable mashup type: the shape of the head, the technology to animate this hybrid character, from its lips to the overall stance and performance, are all based on 3D models and their rigging provided by the game developer Valve. Additional tools were used for the fine-tuning of these effects but even these tools (Valve’s Faceposer and Garry’s Mod) are dependent on the core game engine.

Notably, the construction tools as well as the depicted body are game-typical and expressive precisely because of this hybridity and its connection to gaming. The newly created character is neither the real Bush nor the virtual G-Man of Half Life 2. He works as a newly formed character, a hybrid Bush/G-Man, identifiable through likeness as well as the obvious differences that define him. An experienced player would read him as a kind of character mashup, a new figure that draws its particular references from politics as well as gaming.

The media assemblage does not end with the main character model. The scene also includes textures, models, and multiple characters that were originally created for the Half Life 2 game by its original developer Valve. This includes the character models and animations of the virtual killers as well as their victims. Even the soundtrack of The Tyrant is built out of mashups and video game tracks. The piece begins with Akira Yamaoka’s “Room of Angel” playing over the opening titles. This choice is itself a video game reference as it is taken from the survival horror game Silent Hill 4: The Room (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo / Team Silent, 2004). The music of the title sequence fades to Xzibit’s “State of the Union” (released on the album “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, Sony Music, 2004). Xzibit’s track is a voice mashup of Bush sound bites that are taken out of context, laid over a slowly developing melody, and combined to a chilling speech of terror.

The speech and the following scripted actions in The Tyrant show the hybrid Bush/G-Man character commanding the evil military forces of the fictional Half Life 2 game world. Their soldiers are the henchmen for an oppressive police state, an alien occupying force, dehumanized in their behavior and appearance behind gas masks. In the game they are by default the main hero’s enemy, and in The Tyrant they also act as merciless killers. They are the acting force of the terror announced by Bush/G-Man and the killings they inflict are depicted in a slow motion sequence that emphasizes each shot, hit, and death. As described above, the first victim is the camera itself. As it falls to the ground the picture gets grainier and disrupted the moment it captures a blood-splattered female character collapsing next to it.

Once again, the machinima builds on gaming conventions. First, the shot uses the visual tradition of the first-person perspective, which is the single viewpoint that players encounter when playing Half Life 2. The game is part of the “first-person shooter” genre and its virtual world is experienced solely from a first-person viewpoint. Players never leave the view of the main character when playing Half Life 2. This camera perspective is the first victim of the shooting in The Tyrant. Thus, the attack is presented not only as a virtual slaughter of virtual bodies but also as an attack on the players themselves. Players of Half Life 2 are only too familiar with being virtually shot by these killers. The inclusion of elements such as film’s granularity and image disturbance (most likely added in post-production by Munson) works to combine the reference to gaming with a reference to the cinematic materiality of camera and film stock. Neither is a given in a game environment, and are here consciously applied to emphasize this bonding of in-game perspective and film’s materiality. Acoustically, this sequence is accompanied and contrasted by a different Yamaoka soundtrack: “Promise (Reprise)” from the survival horror game classic Silent Hill 2 (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo / Team Silent, 2001). This closes the musical bracketing by referring once again to the survival-horror genre.

Visually, the slaughter sequence in The Tyrant resembles well-known cinematic violence as found, for example, in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). It applies plenty of blood, slow motion, and destruction. But the references are not precise re-enactments. Throughout, the scene’s aesthetics depend heavily on the technology provided by the game engine. The falling body of the camera and those of the other virtual victims use the engine’s particular physics system that changes the behavior of the virtual characters into that of uncontrollable physical objects. They are thrown around like ragdolls by the forces applied to them. The implementation of real-time physics effects, like these, stand out as a milestone development of game engines such as Source. Physics engines’ glitches and performances have been documented in countless machinima films and used as the central topic of other machinima pieces: Brody Condon’s Karma Physics < Elvis (2004) carries the name of the physics engine in its underlying Unreal game engine even in the title. It solely depicts the uncontrolled twitching of countless Elvis avatars floating in space. The result is another media combination: Elvis’ famous hip swing meets the twitching of the virtual ragdoll puppets. The effects in The Tyrant as well as those in Karma Physics < Elvis are still unrealistic and physics engines have evolved. However, the key point here is not a flawless simulation; instead, it is part of the machinima’s quality that these effects are game-specific and that they remain recognizable as such.

Fig. 3

Video still from KarmaPhysics<Elvis (Brody Condon, 2004), https://vimeo.com/24001068 (accessed on August 21, 2015).

Video still from KarmaPhysics<Elvis (Brody Condon, 2004), https://vimeo.com/24001068 (accessed on August 21, 2015).

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Technically, The Tyrant stands in the tradition of game technology development and science fiction and horror genres. This effect is produced not only by the camera as it shows blood splashing on Bush/G-Man’s face, falling bodies, and faceless killers, but also through references to horror games, in-game physics, and game technology. The piece works as a re-mixed and re-crafted machinima precisely because of the effective combination of various media sources on every level, from the physics engine, to the editing, to the sound.

Tinkering with media

The tools, characters, rendering technology, soundtracks, and textures of a game belong to what Dourish and Mazmanian describe as the “material culture of digital goods.” [18] It follows that mastering the game content and the game technology are productive practices—each on their own but also in an interconnected way. However, this effort might appear too specific in The Tyrant to be fully acknowledged by audiences at large. The many media references at work in The Tyrant are demanding, and not every viewer might be familiar with all cited games. To counter that, Munson makes sure that his audience has every chance to recognize them. The last two minutes of The Tyrant’s total 5 minutes, 39 seconds running time consists of credits that list all of the tools used in this production, from the game engine to the image manipulation, editing, and sound tools. Munson also credits all included musical pieces and their composers. Their assembly might be original, but their origins remain important details to understand and appreciate the final piece. Viewers are meant to recognize the sources and the tools as the process of the media construction is pushed to the foreground. The constructed nature of the piece and the mixed media practices are emphasized instead of hidden.

Tinkering with media and technology alike is revealed at the center of how this—and many other machinima pieces—operate. In this blending of technology and content we return to Gernsback and the crossroads of media content and technological practice. To navigate this field one needs a level of digital craft knowledge to combine and recognize the merger of the two. It leads us to a form of media literacy that includes process and that harks back to Greenless’ opening definition of craft, namely the ability “to understand and enjoy the energy and care which has gone into their making.” This last step of the argument turns back to Greenless and looks closer at her two components of tinkering itself: making things and thinking through such a form of material engagement.

Pearce argued in regard to productive play that it “challenges traditional capitalistic notions of ‘productivity’ versus ‘leisure.’ […] the notion that play is not only productive but an adult-worthy activity represents a major shift in cultural perception”. [19] She traces an “autoludic culture” in which players increasingly take over games to form their own creations in and with them. Content production can even become a core feature of the game’s success to a degree where the appropriation of various forms of immaterial labor becomes its main value. [20] The debate on digital labor is too wide and far-reaching to be covered here, but it is clear that the first key concept of craft—“making things”—applies to such productive practices. In the case of machinima, it applies to the community of game modders and machinima artists, who re-use the technical set up of an existing game for their practices. Half Life 2’s production studio, Valve, encourages such forms of player creativity and modifications of their games, and provides their production tools to players. It seeds cultures of fandom that see players as “aesthetic petri dishes” [21] in a larger movement of media convergence based on such tinkering.

Westecott, for example, concentrates on the game series, LittleBigPlanet (Media Molecule, 2008-present), which builds its design around the slogan of “play, create, share.” Creating additional content and games is an integral part of this series’ design, which aims, she argues, “to grow through active engagement with cultural ‘feedback loops’.” [22] Following Westecott, it is clear that craft is such a productive “feedback loop” and that The Tyrant is a media object crafted by Mike Munson with the help of the tools and components provided by the commercial developer Valve as well as others. It uses the game level “de_chateau” that was originally created by Chris “MacMan” Ashton and Ido Magal for Counter-Strike and blends this with character models from Half Life 2 with the help of Garry’s Mod, a playground for Half Life2 manipulation originally started by an amateur modder, Garry Newman. This productivity chain has its boundaries. For example, Munson is not allowed to commercialize The Tyrant based on the conditions of the game’s “End User License Agreement (EULA)” that each player has to agree to when installing the game. But The Tyrant remains an example of the emergence of media convergence through blended amateur media. In that regard, the machinima is closer to craft than to the often-cited connection of games to design or art.

The digital revolution shapes craft just as it affects other domains. In the wake of 3D printing, scanning, and CNC mills, modern craft has already adopted a range of digital production tools. Drummond Masterton’s use of CAD systems in metalwork [23] or Justin Marshall’s use of digital tools for ceramics [24] are only two examples of an emerging area that sees the gradual adoption of digital tools in the crafts. Consequently, scholars reposition craft and crafters anew:

[…] craftspeople can be defined generally as people engaged in a practical activity where they are seen to be in control of their work. They are in control by virtue of possessing personal know-how that allows them to be masters or mistresses of the available technology, irrespective of whether it is a mould, a hand tool, an electrically driven machine or a computer. It is not craft as ‘handcraft’ that defines contemporary craftsmanship: it is craft as knowledge that empowers a maker to take charge of technology. [25]

Munson is a crafter in a largely digital domain, trained through play as it evolves into productive play and gradually shifts into expert manipulation and ultimately control of the underlying toolset beyond the originally intended design. This emergence of craft production through play is driven by an intellectual engagement and exploration of the material at hand, including the toolset provided by Valve, contributions of other modders, the music re-purposed from other sources, and the blended nature of the re-skinned antagonist. This responds to Greenless’ opening statement that looked at craft as “an intellectual and physical activity where the maker explores the infinite possibilities of materials and processes to produce unique objects.” It is the practice of transforming the world one inhabits—digital or physical—through active production.

Near the end of The Tyrant’s credit sequence, Munson informs his viewers that “There was no political message in this video.” The machinima itself and its production story clearly prove him wrong. Craft is a way of materializing belief [26] and as such, it is a powerful force that needs critical investigation in physical as well as virtual contexts. It is a problem, then, that the term machinima has proliferated into a form of visual gaming culture in leading online channels such as Machinima.com. Machinima is in danger of losing the demanding qualities of production in its transformation into a marketable brand. The Tyrant is a machinima piece that exemplifies the combination of game media and technology through crafting, but there are countless machinima pieces that operate with less care. Reducing machinima to a culture re-using game media and missing the role of the production/crafting process cuts its expressive range dangerously short. Indeed, we need to approach machinima as a digital craft to understand and enjoy its potential and further its development.

Parties annexes