Machinima

One of the embarrassing things about being a human instead of a really sweet OpenBSD box is that sometimes you forget things. I was talking with my pal Suzanne about something to do with juggernauts, when she suddenly paused and looked at me weirdly. "Do you know what a juggernaut is?" she asked.

"Yeah, they're those big, tiered pyramids with the sort of stair shape," I replied, drawing one in the air with my fingers.

"That's a ziggurat!" she said with a laugh.

Holy crap, I thought. For the past dozen years, I've completely amalgamated the words juggernaut and ziggurat. And why not? Both are giant. Both are connected with religions that existed in the ancient world. And let's face it: They sound really similar. The eerie thing, though, was that my mistake had actually rewritten one of my favorite childhood vocabulary memories.

Back in the sixth grade, I was playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons.

In one particularly memorable campaign, my party encountered an "inverted ziggurat," which was when I learned what a ziggurat was and how it was shaped. For years afterward, I felt deeply superior knowing that I had learned the meaning of ziggurat from a geeky role-playing game. And yet before Suzanne corrected me, I was thinking smugly about how I knew what juggernaut meant because of that "inverted juggernaut" from way back when. Who the hell knows what else I've misremembered in this way.

Actually, there is a chance I can use this particular mind trick to claim that I've always known about the machinima art movement. It's just that I confused the word fanfic with the word machinima and managed to forget there was a difference between them. You, dear reader, with your fine and untroubled memory, will have no problem recalling that machinima is the art of making movies out of video games. Although the machinima scholars on Wikipedia.org claim the practice can be dated back to the 1970s, it wasn't until the Quake-related machinima masterpieces of the late 1990s that most of the world came to know about the phenomenon.

Like fanfic -- which is short for "fan fiction" and refers to original stories that fans create about their favorite TV shows, movies, comic books, or whatever -- machinima are stories that take well-known video game characters and situations in bizarre new directions. A machinima artist might stage a play or music video using characters from Halo, or simply use the rendering engine from Quake to create an amateur CGI action movie set in the Quake universe.

One of my favorite recent bits of machinima is called World of Warcraft: Shut Up and Dance. It begins with a typical battle scene from the game, with fantasy monsters and other characters blowing the crap out of one another. Then, abruptly, the scene shifts and all the game avatars are dancing to a catchy song, waggling their hips and doing the green demon boogie. What's truly amusing is that the machinima maker has managed to manipulate the game characters into dancing, even though all the moves they've been programmed to make are associated with fighting. It's a fun movie, as well as being a spot-on satire of the entire genre of first-person fantasy combat games.

Making machinima isn't the only way fans pay tribute to their games, however. Sometimes they liberate bits of games that got edited out on the way to the shelves at Fry's. The nerds who play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas discovered that a special code could unlock a hidden sequence in which the main character has fairly graphic sex with his girlfriend after she invites him to her house for "coffee."

Basically, these nerds had found something that manufacturer Rockstar Games had edited out, but didn't actually have time to remove from the code itself. Tinker with the code, and voilà, all edited scenes are restored! Dubbed the "hot coffee mod," the codes to unlock this bit of naughtiness zipped around the Internet like wildfire, inspiring Rockstar to recall hundreds of thousands of PC versions of the game.

These are my favorite moments in popular culture, when fans take control of mass media and transform it. Nobody will remember today's bad TV and video games in 50 years, but fanfic and machinima will never die.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.