Ego Central to Machinima Filmmaker Ken Thain

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Top 5 Machinima Controversies

Riding the machinima bus has been a very cool ride. I've achieved great successes, both personal and otherwise, that I may not have seen if I hadn't hung out on this bus. But today I feel like noting some of arguably the biggest controversies I've witnessed within machinima's child like development over the last 6 years.

1. 'Why Machinima?' In the early days there was many heated discussions validating if machinima was 'real'. Were we just playing with games? Was there any real advantage to doing machinima over traditional animation or filmmaking. With every other new person interested in machinima came the question, 'Ok, I've heard of this 'machinima'. Now convince me I should spend my time doing it over other mediums'. The thing about this one is the discussion still hasn't ended. Many have steadfast over their reasoning for sticking with machinima and I think we are really just seeing the money now where our mouths once were.

2. 'Machinima' is a stupid name'. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when those two Scots came up with that one. And even when they had a new name for 'quake movies' that clicked, they spelt it wrong for (deity here)'s sake! Classic! But what the hell is 'machine cinema' anyways? As an almost scripted response to understanding 'why machinima' many suddenly wanted to rebrand it anew. I was not a fan of the name at all (I was always on the opposition), and spoke my peace in many of those discussions but there came a point, a point when The New York Times came an asking, and the Wall Street Journal came an asking, and Wired magazine came an asking and CNN came an asking. A point where we could have started calling it 'sexotronic' and it wouldn't have mattered. The train had left the station and it was called 'Machinima'. I still see the odd forum posts challenging this one, 'what a stupid name'. Challenge all you want, I don't know what the f'k machine cinema is but I sure as hell know Machinima.

3. 'Ottawa Animation Festival snubs Machinima'. This one was nasty. The Ottawa Animation festival is 'the largest event of its kind in North America and one of the most respected animation events in the world'. Back in 2004 they opened the doors to Machinima entries, and this was a big thing. Machinima veterans such as Paul Marino, Friedrich Kirschner and Brian Mayberry, among others, flew out to represent their Machinima films and evangelise the technique. It was a big step in Machinima growth. I lived in Ottawa at the time and felt very honoured both to have these guys come to Ottawa and that the festival was taking notice. Then during the awards ceremony, when it came to the Machinima award presentation, this was given, " "New and inventively weird, machinima straddles the line between visual fan fiction and filmmaking, a genre filled with potential for engaging complete visual expression. While the Jury does not wish to discourage filmmakers, we will not present a prize for this category as we feel the award needs to represent a certain level of excellence of expression. We hope to see more entries in future festivals". At that point, those present representing machinima stood up and walked out of the ceremony. A silent but potent response. Needless to say the forums buzzed afterwards. Everybody had input. Even the conference organizer got involved, which was more like feeding raw meet to wolves at the time. Surprisingly enough, the stronger response was to stuff the conference submission boxes with more machinima the next year, rather than a FU response. This clearly reflected the strength of the community.

4. 'You can't handle the truth...of Intellectual Property rights'. After the 2005 Machinima Festival a discussion came up regarding 'A Few Good G-men' by Randall Glass winning the 'Best Virtual Performance' award. Here the fence was based on this machinima entry having a soundtrack provided by a personal copy of 'A Few Good Men'. Did the sound track give weight to the virtual performance created by Randall? Should the entry have been accepted at all since there was question of permissions? Would the festival happen at all if every permission had to be verified and double verified? The Intellectual property rights in machinima discussion still goes on and raises its ugly head(c) every so often but here was a case where it was really argued, for pages, and pages, and pages. I'm sure Randall threw his hands up a few times at this one.

5. 'Machinima and the Women who make them'. This one being the most recent and unfortunately the most tragic. With the preceding 4 controversies they centered around one place, a machinima.com forum. Everybody could provide their input, thoughts or choose not too and silently listen. At the end of the day, or days as some had it, we all walked away having said our peace. Many who opposed each other got past it and often found themselves sided on other controversal issues. But this particular controversy has made me realize something I had not previously. There is no machinima community any more. And I guess this may very well be a detriment to its own success.

I'm not going into the nitty-gritty, play by play of this particular episode, but I'll share my perspective. A few weeks back I came across a posting on a blog about machinima that I found pretty fresh and invigorating. And in relation to this posting the author and I started exchanging emails back and forth on various topics. I really found her insight interesting and perspective intriguing and felt her input into the machinima community would be thought provoking. Shortly thereafter she made another blog posting. This one providing an opinion about the subject matter of machinima films commonly made by women. In the post she mentioned a top rated machinima film as a less than stellar example of her subject matter, and I honestly believe that had she not named this film I would not be writing these words right now, but it caused an 'explosion'. Because in reality, her piece was an opinion, but as soon as she laid an example, that seemed to push the post into an attack.

And so it all painfully came down, albeit not in a community centered forum, but across websites, blogs, forum posts, comment threads and apparently personal emails. He said, she said, well you said, no you said, fuck you, fuck you too. But here's the tragic part. The blog poster still continues to have to remove slanderous anonymous postings on her site, gets personal emails from multiple people full of negative statements and taunts, and constant notices of personal messages waiting at other sites that are filled with graphic words of hatred (WTF?). In hearing this I've poked around various open forums to see where all this has gone, only to find participants coming across like gladiators of roman conquest cheering and patting themselves on their backs for silencing an evil heretic.

So the controversy here is not the topic at hand, but the state of the machinima community that the topic has reared an ugly side of. It's gone political. The community has splintered into factions that have their own social standings, machinima perspectives and agendas. And those factions are free to speak to and represent machinima however they wish, which is fine, to the point of mob like personal harassment for those who speak against them, which is not. The next great controversy will most likely arrive when factions begin to turn on each other, each touting they hold the holier machinima grail..And this one may become the bloodiest one yet, as we turn from open minds to oppressing elitist. And if one party can speak loud enough while others remain silent, it will begin to represent the whole, which, if this particular controversy is an example of, isn't to the benefit of the greater good of machinima.

So this is why I list this as controversy number 5 in machinima. Not so much for the volume of discussion on the topic, but because the discussion speaks volumes to where machinima may be headed.


  • At 12:58 PM, Blogger fiezi said…

    Thank you for this post Ken. Many of your points speak my mind and especially the last one is a critical new reality we have to face.
    It doesn't make the life of a Machinima Academy a lot easier, that's for sure.
    It seems that now comes the time where we start to divide, to choose, to pick the "good" from the "bad" and i fear it will not be based on thorough discussion but on community relations.

    It seems that the intense growth of the machinima community out of machinima.com to sites like sims99.com, warcraftmovies.com, machinimahq, mprem, etc... led to an identity crisis among the few people who still thought to be the "core" of the machinima movement.

    When your opinion is weighted not by the arguments that you bring up but by the number of postings you contribute, there's something wrong. And with new Machinima techniqes, branches, games - and now even commercial tools - the next discussion about "What is machinima" is a thought that makes me shudder.

    Though, as dark as i paint things with the above statements, i can understand the problems the community is into (and i count myself with that bunch of people - i'm right in there) and I see ways out of the identity crisis. This is about moviemaking, after all. The further we push the boundaries, the more people we invite to participate - and to criticize.

    Machinima (talk about a word I dislike) Films have matured a lot in the last couple of years, but with that we need to acknowledge that we left our subculture status of being a closely knit community. And we cannot hide behind the cover of being a medium in development any more.
    People compare machinima with traditional animated films, sometimes even with TV series. Reading the occasional critical TV column in my weekly newspaper tells me that we're not ready for "real life criticism" yet.

    In order for machinima to grow, we have to accept the fact that "the machinima community" is no more.
    But what we have is a number of people with a vision, ideas and dedication that try to look at machinima as a whole - an art form, a medium, a whatever means of telling a story.
    Communities will come and go, travel around blogs, websites and comments like this. But what will remain is the movies, the outstanding works of passion and emotion, thought and laughter that pick the best out of every medium we have to date and pull it together to create a new culture. For everyone to use or bitch about.

  • At 5:27 PM, Blogger Mu Nansen said…

    Who's this fiezi character, and who does he think he/she is making such bold declarations?! :P

  • At 3:22 AM, Blogger offramp said…

    Oh man, for a moment there i thought you was gonna quit, Ken. Don't scare me again like that ;-)
    I am really new to this, but reading this one i felt i had to say something.
    This whole thing about the community splitting up or even ceasing to exist sounds familiar.
    The same thing happened in other communities. The one i was a part of was the ironman scene. When the whole thing grew, the same thing happened. Which is cool with me, as it is now. That's evolution is guess.
    What is totally uncool is that stuff like that never happens without people totally forgetting about manners, intelligent discussions and the like.
    I still find it hard to believe that there are so many people with such a lousy character who actually have no problem to go insult and harrass you once they're hidden behind their nicks and avatars.
    This whole thing feels like a step back, since the community is divided although it should be logical to join forces to further develop this medium. But as i said - i guess it is evolution and - like fiezi said - it is time to choose. Reflect on yourself and your position (if you haven't done so yet) and choose. Not which side you're on (i do hope we're not THAT far yet), but choose which direction is your's. And doing that - who will be travelling along with you.

  • At 7:46 AM, Blogger CJ said…

    The problem with #5 is that no one gets to see the "cheap shots" that the person in question edited out of the blog shortly after it was posted, which is what really got people annoyed in the first place. So now it looks like the "big bad rouge group of machinima filmmakers" ganged up on the person for a critisism of the film, which is not the case at all, no matter how it gets spinned. If the comments were posted as they stand now in the first place, I seriously doubt this would have turned into the "big deal" that it has. Don't you just love teh internets?

  • At 12:37 PM, Blogger 3dfilmmaker said…

    Thanks for the feedback people. It's awesome.

    Fiezi - Great input. When you mentioned the part about it really being about the movies is what hits it home.

    offramp - Nope. I could never quit. I left my friends and relatives and moved my family to Edmonton to do machinima full time professionally. I'm in it for the long haul now. Great feedback in you comments, thank you.

    CJ - Ya man, I totally don't want to give off the vibe that I felt a rouge group had publicly victimized this poor blogger because they didn't agree with her. There was crazy shite said from all sides. It was nasty. I fed into it too, providing links to the various reactions.

    The thing I (hope I) spoke to in #5 is really how its different now, in relation to when there was a 'community' and people would agree to disagree and move on and both sides could continue to post and share opinions about other things without being judged as 'outsiders' (and your 'outsider' may not be my 'outsider'). I'm also not aware that it ever got to the point that people would go out of their way, both publicly and privately, to keep the purposed outsider from ever being anything but. This is where 'machinima' looses and this is what had spurred my observation of the community.

  • At 9:01 PM, Blogger Booklad said…

    I've been a supportive reader of your blog for almost as long as it's been around. If you look back in the archives, you'll see that many, many posts had a single commnet to them - by me. And even when I've disagreed with you about things, I've always been supportive. I've made an effort to tell others about your site. I've listed your site in posts about machinima. In short, I'm part of the machinima community you've created here. It disappoints me that you feel the machinima community is no more.

    On the contrary, after getting over the flame war you mention, we are back to business at mprem.com. Our community is strong and growing. We have several new films at our site which is sparking creativity and discussion is as positive and interesting as ever. I think perhaps that there are far more machinima related sites than the old days. We have blogs, podcasts, production company forums,game specific machinima sites and several new machinima only sites. Simply because a particularly bad flame war occured doesn't mean all of those sites are no longer able to provide support or help to the machinima community. As a reluctant participant in this flame war, I'm not aware of any hate posts on our site and if there were they would be removed. I'm sorry to hear about continued labeling of this blogger (why can't we use her name?), but my take on her post is different than yours and I think she may have been more offensive in her blog than you imply in your post here.

    My point is, our community is changing, but it's still strong. A newcommer stirring up passions and animosity is not going to change that.


  • At 10:45 PM, Blogger ninety-nine said…

    I don't get it. Words are just words. Along with IP issues, we are getting surrounded more by free speech debates. People are wanting these non-commercial films rated either by the author or some amateur review board where the video is submitted.

    This is something that I will never agree with, and I think that it has much to do with machinima moving away from a community atmosphere to a business one.

    If people get upset by blogging then it is very easy to see why there is a movement for rating and denial of video hosting service or promotion due to content.

    I mean, seriously. Most machinima viewers, at this point, are filmmakers as well. I do not know about the rest of you guys, but it is really hard for me, as a filmmaker, to limit the audience at which my art can reach. It seems degenerative. Kind of makes me think that machinima is more widely consumed by Fox News employees rather than filmmakers. Perhaps that is the type of level of media exposure we want to be at? But is it really worth compromising the art?

    Sorry if I went off-topic, here. It all seemed to relate, to me. =)

  • At 11:03 PM, Blogger fiezi said…

    gToon, you bring up some valid points.
    You're right when you say that the machinima community is far from dead. Though, what i think has changed is that it became much more diversified and it will be had to draw a line and say "this is the community" - start here, end there.
    I am not really concerned about the comment thread - things like this happen and i feel that moving back to business is the one thing you can do.
    We have some difficult decisions ahead of us though and i think the type of community driven development of the medium will be hard to maintain, given that the community is all over the place.
    The worst thing that could happen is that we start to divide - that some sites have a different definition of machinima than others.
    That's kindof what goes on in the demoscene since people started to release demo editors (off-topic, but just a comparison...).
    It's just a thought though.

  • At 12:52 AM, Blogger Mu Nansen said…

    Good comments by all. I would like to point out, though, that I agree with gToon in that babayaga's inflamatory remarks were a bit skipped-over. Plenty of people threw some gas on, but she definitely lit a flame directly in some people's camps.

  • At 1:04 AM, Blogger 3dfilmmaker said…

    gToon - As always, I appreciate your feedback. I certainly have recognized and am grateful for all your comments over the past years. I've never really seen it as you being part of a machinima community I've created here. I've always seen you as part of 'the' machinima community (as well as a friend) that visits here.

    I didn't want #5 to really be about 'the flame war' other than the fact I laid my perspective in telling it. And I really do hope everyone is over it and has moved on. #5 was really about what I observed/realized in reflecting on it. I think fiezi's feedback pretty much says it though for how I see there is no machinima community anymore - its because there are machinima communities.

    ninety-nine - I can see how your feedback relates. Machinima is at a very interesting point in its growth right now, it seems to be lining up to face some real world, hard to address issues. I think once the next generation of tools, games and festivals comes about it will be out of the stratosphere compared to where it is today. It may be anything or everything from deeply underground stealth production groups dodging MPAA/RIAA subpoenas to red carpet walking eccentrics who can't even pronounce machinima but are hobnobbing with studio execs saying how they 'discovered' it. And then who only knows what the face of machinima controversy will be then. I'll meet you back here to discuss. ;)

  • At 1:43 AM, Blogger 3dfilmmaker said…

    Hey Mu, let me point out that I skipped over the whole argument. I kept it brief and generalized. That itself was not the point.

    I did put some words in about some consequences the poster has faced since and well after the flame war. I can't imagine what was so offensive that it would have to come to that degree.

  • At 3:56 AM, Blogger Rachel said…

    I can't even remotely fathom how some are unable to see the clear difference between sarcasm or opinion which is insulting, and attacks which are clearly meant to do harm.

    Since I wrote 'New Media Neurasthenia' personal attacks and outright slander have immediately been directed at me in several public/private forums. And not only did these attacks exist long before I ever made any so-called "inflammatory" remarks; they've continued long after I've ceased trying to address people's outrage.

    At this point, the ongoing drumbeat excuse of "she was insulting so she deserves whatever she gets" sounds rather uncomfortably similar to something one would hear at a witch trial. And I do feel that I am now the target of ongoing harassment for no other reason than because I've completely refused chastisement after attacks like those gToon (booklad) delivered to me from his mprem pulpit. There, amongst more slanderous armchair psychoanalysis and much talk about my allegedly insidious "motives" gToon (booklad) clearly outlined that his single and only desire was to punish me for my "arrogance" and my lack of "respect" towards "the machinima community".

    The fact is, I wrote a simple opinion piece that used a single work of machinima as an example for an entire genre I wished to discuss. The choice of that video was *completely* impersonal. The story ends there. Claims that I had *any* ulterior motives to somehow sabotage or "stir up animosity" in any machinima community are not only false, they're completely irrational.

    Still, gToon (bookland) again only recently accused me of having merely written something so seemingly controversial for the sake of increasing my "standing" in the "machinima community". This oddly revealing accusation isn't only a mischaracterization; it's completely impossible.

    I have always been and remain very much on the far distant edge of any greater worldwide machinima community (as some of you already know) and unlike gToon (booklad) I am neither socially nor politically interested in my "standing" within any machinima community. Sites like mprem (and any sub-communities which may orbit around it) were completely unknown to me until I had already written 'New Media Neurasthenia' and consequently been attacked for it.

    This to say, there is basically no need to repeatedly attack or harass me in order to retain or solidify one's own "standing" in any machinima community under the pretext of "insult" or whatever moral outrage one allegedly carries. I am and always have been a completely 'outside' element in this entire mesh of ongoing machinima "controversies" and at this point, I'm rather inclined to remain as such.

  • At 9:47 AM, Blogger 3dfilmmaker said…

    Hey Rachel. Thanks for leaving your comments. I think many can see how this controversy has not been fully put to rest as its something you are still facing. Also, my apologies for not giving this associated event more time to settle down before posting my top 5 controversy piece. I see now by a few of the comments it was too soon after.

    I hope any further comments here does not spiral this into point of views or finger pointing about the flame war itself.

  • At 10:38 AM, Blogger Booklad said…

    This war is over, M'am. Let it go.

    If you truly have ideas to offer the machinima community, write more blogs and tell us about them. These vindictive posts will only hurt you and the rest of the community.

  • At 12:31 PM, Blogger Rachel said…

    Over? If only it were over! It seems the only way it can be completely "over" for me is if I refrain from reading any of these machinima-related blogs I've only so recently discovered and which you (booklad) happen to frequent.

    I never wrote 'New Media Neurasthenia' in order to directly address any specific machinima community, since I have never fully considered myself part of one. Like all my writings, it was written primarily for the sake of sharing ideas/opinion and inviting discussion with the people of my own creative community (who also exist well outside of any machinima community).

    If I am ever to write again about machinima (or any related topic), it will yet again be directed at this same readership and serve only as a possible secondary reference to any member of a "machinima community" who may happen upon it. That said, I will not be taunted into writing anything in any attempt to "prove" to anyone that I have anything to contribute to a greater machinima "community". That is a motivation I simply do not share.

  • At 12:39 PM, Blogger Suhnder said…

    I've avoided this "war" mostly because I completely missed the original blog post that was apparently edited. So to be honest I can't really have an opinion on this, nor can I take a side.

    But I would like to say that if Rachel did say some negative things about a film, I think overall it's a good thing. I'll say it again, the only thing that will push the quality of machinima is competition and more criticism. I think we need more scathing reviews and suspiscious opinions like Rachel's for us to become better at what we do... those people who can't see that any comment (no matter how negative it is) is a good comment, well, is one lame-ass filmmaker. Not pointing any fingers here, but just saying: At least you're getting a comment - at least you're getting mentioned somewhere - at least your film is the spark of discussion. You can't please everyone, and the sooner you understand what that means, the better it will be for everyone.

    In my opinion all that community splitting stuff is bull. There's only a split if we want it to be that way. Think about it. It's all about how we approach it as the community evolves. It's not necessarily that we're splitting up, but that we're expanding. That's a good thing for a growing community, and it's inevitable too.

    It's especially important now, I think, that we machinimators stick together instead of fighting with each other or picking sides in a war. All of that is bullcrap that accomplishes nothing but damage our creativity.

  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger Overman said…

    Good perspective in this post, Ken. At least one of the Top 5 (Ottowa) I wasn't even aware of.

    You and fiezi know this community and its history a lot better than I do. I don't think we need to be fearful of the changes, but I think caution is very wise.

    Like any growing community (and I have a very broad definition of the word, one which includes Rachel and many other elements who feel like, or desire to be, fringe), we can be seen as a microcosm of civilization. I think the anxiety about what's on our horizon comes from the observation of what communities / civilizations tend toward: sectarian divisions, xenophobia, war... we don't want these things for a machinima community, and we rightfully rue the day of their coming.

    I find myself again compelled to Hugh Hancock's farewell address at Machinima.com, and to the analogy of Fountainhead's machinima film, "Anna," wherein a seemingly violent death and fragmentation ends up bringing forth new life. I guess the original flower could be said to represent the "core" community as it once was (Note: not any one website, forum, etc.), and it's easy right now for our vision to be consumed with its passing away. But the seeds of new life have been sown. I think Jason is right; what is going on need not be perceived as a destructive process, but as one of expansion, growth, evolution.

    And time may prove me naieve for thinking so, but I don't believe that "the evils" are unavoidable. We will stumble from time to time, and really show just how human and animal we CAN be... but if we learn from these mistakes, they can make us wiser and stronger the next time.

    Fiezi's call to focus on the craft is spot on. The work, the passion, the creations and the act of creating. That's what brought us together, and what will keep us together - even if our understanding of "together" is radically changed over time.

  • At 12:50 PM, Blogger 3dfilmmaker said…

    Hey Jason, thanks for your feedback. Ya, the machinima community being gone is more of a 'The machinima community is dead, long live the machinima community' kind of thing. There is still very much a larger community, but my observations was that it's spread so far and wide now that it is very much unmeasured, where no one part can represent the whole. Its more of a state of mind now.

    Phil, thank you for your input as well. Your analogy is great. It's like within a few companies I have worked for where they have reached that critical mass of being 'small'. Suddenly as you walk the hallways you recognize less and less faces and as you converse in meetings you have to be more aware that there are more people that are coming from different places and perspectives that are now contributing to the greater company objectives. I would hate to think of machinima as 'corporate' but we are definitely reaching that critical mass into a whole new entity/community. I really think this recent event was my 'aha' moment that this is truly happening.

    Also to note, Ottawa. OTTAWA!! (In that controversy thread for some reason everyone kept typing Ottowa and I kept interjecting the right spelling. And it goes on ;P

  • At 4:34 PM, Blogger Overman said…

    LOL, I noticed I typed Ottowa too late and couldn't figure out how to edit. Sorry bout that!

    Re: the corporate analogy, I have witnessed the same thing. Inevitably, "charter" members of the organization are not thrilled about the changes... and those changes are significant, I don't want to downplay that. But I guess I've come to look at it (both in business and here in the 'munity), growth is something I think we all desired at one point, and some of these awkward "adolescent" years are part of that journey.

    My hope is that in this race to "adulthood" as a medium, we never lose the perspective of the "child" and the joy that came with it.

    And that we never lose sense of the value of an overplayed metaphor. *sigh* sorry

  • At 5:49 AM, Blogger mikerivero said…

    I can relate on the no. 5 section. I'm an indie film maker and I tried out experimenting with the Machinima technique then I published it in the community of the usual gamers for an event of this MMO videogame. And my team were harassed and ridiculed by some faction and other individual usual gamers. Good thing, the youtube community were a bit friendlier than theirs.

    Here's a link to my experimental machinima film that stepped a lot of egos:



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