As Henry Lowood put it, “Play-Machinima-Law” has been a very rich and deep event reated to machinima as far as content and discussion, “probably one of the most dense conferences I have attended in terms of concrete information and opinions, very little in the way of vague ideas or boring demos.”
The main goal of the conference was to get all the parties involved - artists, practitioners, lawyers, and academic - in the process of creating, disseminating, and preserving machinima in a room to discuss the multiple issues involved.
The conference began on Friday April 24. On that date, the organizers, Lauren Gelman, Executive Director, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School and Henry Lowood, Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections; Film & Media Collections, Stanford University Libraries, introduced the theme of Play-Machinima-Law.
Lauren Gelman, Executive Director, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School
Specifically, Lowood talked about machinima as an example of ‘found technology’ – using a technology for purposes that were not planned by its creators and about machinima as a creative form of expression created by fans and users. But machinima is also a peculiar form of conversation between ephemeral moments of gaming: preservation is the key here and it is one of the crucial goals of our project here at Stanford. In fact, machinima is used to capture events that take place in SL and MMOS – preserving the history of the media but also player generated practices of users that inhabit these spaces. One example is the freely accessible machinima archive.
Henry Lowood, Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections; Film & Media Collections, Stanford University
Machinima is also a contested area since its very existence requires the use of tools and assets (music, images, gameplay) created by others. How do we maintain the freedom of creative users while making sure that the intellectual property of the companies that produce the games is not violated?
One of the highlights of the conference, at least for me, was the first panel, titled ‘Machinima 101: Making Movies in Game Worlds’, moderated by Henry Lowood. In this panel, a group of machinima artists illustrated how and why they make movies in virtual and game worlds. As artists who create new content using game technology, characters, and settings, they are not always able to freely express their artistic vision. The panel featured Joseph DeLappe, Joshua Diltz (Sleeping Dogs Production), Douglas Gayeton, and Clint Hackleman (Myndflame). J. Joshua Diltz, the author of the PML spot among other things, began his talk with a powerful quote:“we are the music makers, we are the dreamers”. In other words, we, the gamers, are the ones who make the music, we are the ones who transform inanimate objects (games) into living organisms (gameplay and derivative artifacts). Joshua talked about the personal experiences of exploring an online game like World of Warcraft,and especially " meeting the people that explore these spaces and the powerful effect of realizing that behind the mask there is always a real human being:.
J. Joshua Diltz, machinima artist, Sleeping Dog Productions
Joshua spent insane amount of time in Wow and one night, after reaching the top levels, sitting in a territory infested by zombies, and realized how cinematic the game looks. His friend found a program called FRAPS that allows you to capture audio, video and screenshots of a game, and they decided to make a movie using that software. First movie: ‘Lost’ ("It was really bad, full of clichés, about a woman that dies and the man tries to overcome the trauma by vindicating her and killing all the werewolves. A tragic story that ends with another death"). He was experimenting with FRAPS and he did all the camerawork by himself. The video was posted on a site and the site crashed after a week because of intense traffic. He was amazed by the reaction of the fans – ‘ready-made audience’ – so he decided to developed his skills and craft. Created 'Rise of the Living Dead' and by time he made the third movie, he was using. new software and tools – after effects – in addition to FRAPS. The last one is "The Island". Joshua says: "Machinima is a space for experimentation and the competition is intense because there are so many people using this format. Machinima is great advertising for games and music. Machinima is a win-win situation, helps the game companies a lot and expose the game to audiences that would not necessarily play games."
Douglas Gayeton, talked about his experiences working in cinema, music, and print. He collaborated with EA and Ubisoft. At Ubisoft he worked on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, trying to find a way to integrate the cut-scenes into the game.
Douglas Gayeton, artist and filmaker
Gayeton lived almost ten years in Europe, trying to figure out what ‘the documentary of the future’ will look like. He concluded that short formats will prevail over longer ones (5-10 minutes max), that the web will become the preferred platoform fgor distribution and consumption of such content and that documentaries will be shared like any other forms of digital capital. Doug wanted to make a documentary in Second Life – went to Linden Lab and asked for permission to shoot inside the virtual world. Linden Lab did not release the form because “They don’t own anything in this space, it’s all user generated”. Therefore, he had to ask for permission to all the SL avatars he encountered in this space. After receiving an advance for the project, he had three months to make the documentary. Three months of full immersion. Left Europe and retreated to Petaluma and started to tinker with FRAPS, but after a few attempts he quit because “this application was too technical for me”. He found an alternative solution: pointing the camera and the screen and shooting in total darkness! He set up dates for shooting, wrote a script and faced all the issues that a director would face in the real world, e.g. actors not showing up, plus other problems that one could only encounter in a virtual world, e.g. locations vanishing from one day to another, griefers etc. The result was Molotov Alva. A Second Life Odyssey. The first episode – or dispatch – was posted on YouTube and it went viral almost immediately. It became a sensation, but he had to remove it because Tv execs were not going to buy something that was available for free. HBO loved the idea and eventually bought it, but for a while he was working with MTV and for a company called Million of US that developed digital content for major brands and corporations.
Douglas Gayeton, artist and filmaker
Molotov Alva. A Second Life Odyssey and the Search for The Creator explored some of the dark sides of virtual worlds. The show has a Russian doll structure: the series was intended to begin on TV (HBO); ithen migrated online (the conclusive episodes were initially visible only on the web), andconcluded its journey into the virtual worlds itself (SL). Full circle: talking about transmedia storytelling! Doug is now working on a new virtual world platform specifically designed to facilitate the production of user-generated content.
Artist Joseph Delappe, who is originally from San Francisco, described his initial projects at SJSU (my alma mater) and went on discussing some of his performances, including the ‘Artist’s Mouse’ (1998), hybrid, reverse-engineering project, used to play Unreal. ‘Playing Unreal’ (1998); ‘Work/Play’ (2001), which is an attempt to “Mapping my experience on the computer – on paper”; “Howl: Elite Force Voyager” (2001) – ‘the longest reading of Allan Ginsberg’s poem ever, I suppose’ ; ‘Quake/Friends’, (2003) – the transcription of an entire episode of the popular sit-com Friends into Quake – “a mash-up ante-litteram” – colliding two cultural artifact - playing with the conventions of both genres – did it also in a more theatrical way – the New York Times picked it up – two days after the article was published he was contacted by Warner bros. and received a cease-and-desist letter. The university did not back up the project and did not go through.
"Quake Friends" (2003) by Joseph Delappe
‘dead-in-iraq’ (2006-2009), designed to elevate the user in the double role of “war correspondent” and “conscience objector”. This project is meant as “a memorial and a protest”: “America’s Army is military territory, thus going into this space as a protester is to me like closing the loop – think about the kids that start playing the game and eventually come back from Iraq in a body bag”.
Joseph Delappe, artist and professor
According to Delappe, the feeedback he received from the players “was mostly negative aside from a few fellows who actually defended me during my performance”. Delappe did a series of public performances as well, for instance, in Newcastle, 2007. Je also created a series of papercraft models for ECA 2009.
'dead-in'iraq' (2006-2009) by Joseph Delappe
'dead-in'iraq' (2006-2009) by Joseph Delappe
"Over the course of 26 days, a treadmill customized for cyberspace was used to reenact Gandhi's famous Salt March of 1930. The original 240-mile walk was made in protest of the British Salt Act of 1882; Joseph DeLappe's recreation of this seminal act of protest took place at Eyebeam, New York City and in Second Life, the Internet-based virtual world. Media artist Joseph DeLappe walked the entire 240 miles of the original march on a converted treadmill - his steps on the treadmill controlled the forward movement of his online avatar, MGandhi Chakrabarti, enabling the live and virtual reenactment of the historic march. It took 26 days (with three rest days coinciding with the actual rest days from the original march) to complete this reenactment in RL and SL." [link to video]
Delappe explained the rationale behind the performance: “reading about the history of protests, I realized that everything goes back to Gandhi. I created an avatar in SL that looks like Gandhi. I bought and modified a treadmill on eBay and I used that as an interface” This is fitness gaming with an ideological purpose! During the performance, Joseph lost 10 pounds. “I found myself engaged into this space [SL] in a way that I never thought possible. Like the Wii effect, the physical aspect definitely changed the way I experienced virtual worlds. I found Second Life much more interesting that I thought, but also much more commodified, with all its shopping malls and gated comminuties…”. Delappe made a 17-minute long video. Also, extracted his avatar from the code and made a series of sculptures, including a 17-foot tall Gandhi that travelled to Belgium and China.
The 'Gandhi's Walk to Dandi in Second Life" (2008-2009)by Joseph Delappe
The ebullient Clint Hackleman (Myndflame) showcased a series of clips that he produced – calling his projects “as close as possible to ‘legalized’ machinima”. For us, Hackleman said, “machinima is a great exercise – it is much easier for us to use this format to express ourselves than working with real actors – at the same time, machinima does not really give the author much control of his or her creation since it was created with game assets that you don’t own”. The major drawback for a machinima artist is that “it is very hard to monetize your efforts; thus, potential investors stay away because they are afraid of getting sued by game companies”. The only way to make money is through contests – a major incentive that drive the production of content – because without contests there will be no content. At the same time, contests are a often contested, since many companies are not keen of having gamers profit from their games, albeit in an indirect way. Another possibility for machinimamaker is try to sell merchandise based on their production, although one must be careful not to sell anything related to the games used to create the videos. However, this procedure is excruciating: “it requires way too much work and pays very little”. “Sponsorship is another way to fund machinima, however, forget about selling your videos to a TV network”. Another way is contract work for a TV station. The problem is that “they have no idea on how to integrate the content, and often make absurd, unrealistic requests”. One might always try to sell the original music composed as a soundtrack to the videos. Again, this case is borderline and one always risks of being sued for copyright infringement. Also, “unless you are Roster Teeth, you can’t produce and sell DVDs”. Moreover, “it is really hard to run a contest because first you need a license. The content is a grey area as well. You can take items out of their natural environment and put them in an editor and create something complete different. It saves a lot of time. Private servers are not an option – Blizzard does not endorse it”. The conclusion is obvious: “It is way too difficult and painful to produce machinima in this environment”. Nonetheless, Hackleman expects “a revolution in production of videos in the next decade. Production costs are going down, but game companies do not understand that they are missing out on this great opportunity.”
Clint Hackleman,machinima artist
The Q&A session that followed was extremely interesting as well. Gayeton revealed that he wanted to call his documentary “My Second Life” but “I could not use the same Second Life as Linden Lab has trademarked it. In fact, they threatened to sue me and HBO made me sign a piece of paper that basically said that whatever happened, it was my responsibility. Actually, I wished somebody sued me, it would have been a great boost, free publicity for the project. Can you imagine the irony of making a doc on a world based on user-generated content and getting sued by the company that promoted such openness? It would have been priceless… Still, the experience was a big letdown for me. I was burnout. I did not want this movie to be perceived as a commercial for Second Life. I started to become obsessed with the notion of free speech… I watched Outfoxed at least 10 times in order to understand what I could or not do.”
Joseph Delappe: “I was asked to remove the name of a soldier who died in Iraq by his brother. I had a conversation on NPR on this subject which helped me to better understand the project that I started".
Clint and Joshua were both surprised that nobody had sued them yet. Joshua re-enacted scenes from horror movies and they are surprised they have not been asked by the companies to remove the content. Clint: “The real problem is that game companies are not really doing much to endorse machinima. Blizzard is one of the few companies that are co-operating with machinima gamers, but even they are not really doing much. They are showing less and less movies at the festival.”
Doug – “Your stuff cannot be shown on TV because you don’t own the content. Game companies would never let people play around with their storyline – Blizzard has a 150 million dollar movie coming up. Machinima is never going to become big because there are too many inherent limitations.”
Clint is afraid that the machinima scene might soon dry up because the makers are getting hired by companies. "It’s a great opportunity for the artists, but the fact is that their film disappears, the websites vanish, and this compomise the continuity and evolution of the genre. In a sense, artists are co-opted by the industry but often they don’t leave any legacy behind them… Their movies simply vanish overnight, their craft is not transmitted to others...". “It’s a huge loss”.You can read Clint's additional comments here.
Joseph – “Today the game industry reminds me of the music industry five years ago: the latter was rather myopic and paid a high price. There should be some kind of model for facilitating the use of content– I mean, if you use Final Cut Pro, the company does not own the video you produce, right? So, why does not the same rule apply to machinima? You should do whatever you want with the software. The musicians now are looking for alternative forms of revenue – like concerts and merchandise – to make a profit. Maybe this situation will change the way game industry operates as well."
Kotaku's contributor Amanda Glasser asked Joseph Delappe about the upcoming game Six Days in Fallujah – “I grew up during the end of the end of Vietnam War and this event still resonates strongly with me. Truth is: there is no much reality or realism in wargames – I’m curious to see that game – games functioning in a documentary sense is a fascinating idea – but I’m a bit skeptical – we don’t even see pictures of our casualties – the war had been virtualized already” [Konami eventually dropped the project].
Joshua – “I feel that the idea is game is disturbing – it would make sense if you could only play the game once and then die forever, like in real life. That’s what I call ‘realism’”
Joseph – "I was contacted by two users replicating my actions and I was flattered and happy about it rather than feel than somebody was ‘ripping off’ my work. “America’s Army is a very problematic artifact”. "It features a low level of violence so that even kids can play; it shows no civilians... I mean, it is a pure fantasy, a fantastic view of war, like the cartoons in the 40s. The fact that it is sanctioned by the army is problematic..." On the status of machinima: "the format is still in the silent era, but there is massive potential... Think about movies like Tarnation"
Doug: "Machinima will evolve and become a filmic version to document people’s lives in virtual worlds. We have not seen the first machinima yet. The very machinima is putting a camera in a place and shoot, like in Central Square. Scion – community generated idea. Did not work. Too complex. Enrty level too high. Dawn of machinima: happens when tool gets easier to use."
Speakers: Image gallery
Jennifer Urban, Clinical Associate Professor Of Law; Director, Intellectual Property And Technology Law Clinic, University of Southern California Law School
Sean F. Kane, Manager, Intellectual Property Practice Group, Drakeford & Kane LLC
Mark Methenitis, Vernon Law Group
Chris Ridder, Residential Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School
Julie Ahrens, Associate Director of the Fair Use Project at the Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School
Matthew Skelton, Microsoft
Shane M. McGee, Partner, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP
JoAnn Covington, Electronic Arts (source: articpenguin)
Michael Nitsche, Georgia Tech
On Saturday April 25th I moderated a panel titled “Machinima in Game Preservation: A Fair Use Activity?”. In this panel, we considered the use of video capture and machinima-like techniques for purposes other than artistic creation.
Specifically, we discussed a series of curatorial, historical, and archival projects that seek to preserve the history of game culture and creativity through these and other related techniques. Some of the questions that we tried to answer were:
1. What are the specific challenges that academics encounter when dealing with machinima, video games, virtual worlds, and user-generated content for preservation and documentation purposes? Corollary: What can academics bring to the table - as opposed to game companies and users? Why should game companies pay attention to our efforts?
2. Corollary: Are the DMCA or licensing restrictions (un)intentionally creating an obstacle for preservation and archiving activities? If so, what are possible solutions?
3. What are your personal experiences with machinima and user-generated content in the context of preservation and historical documentation? Feel free to describe your current/past/future projects and identify some key issues, problems, solutions, scenarios et al.
Dave Beck's "thehighestscore", a commentary on Rockstar Game's The Warriors (2005). You can read my previous essay in two parts here (