What The Heck IS Machinima, Anyway?

machinima-for-dummies.jpgDigital movies made in online virtual worlds seem to be ‘the next big thing’ in youth created content these days. For the uninitiated, machinima (muh-sheen-eh-mah) is filmmaking within a real-time, 3D virtual environment, often using 3D video-game technologies.

Check out the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences for FAQs and examples, Paul Marino’s Thinking Machinima blog, or Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) links, including the Second Life machinima track at the recent community convention. (it’s like having cliff notes to online youth media culture at the ready, and an e-ticket on the parental coolness scale) Machinima extends far beyond media creatives and youth though…With ‘Machinima for Dummies’ hot off the press, the first European Machinima Festival kicking off in October, and today’s screening of Global Kids’ year-long machinima project, A Child’s War showing tonight at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, I’ll go with the old ad agency adage, ‘three makes a trend.’ Okay, actually…it’s a lot MORE than three…

This week teen veteran virtual community Habbo launched their new MovieMaker tool, and “first ever global contest” for their Habbowood Global Digital Movie Awards. (sample movie finalist here ‘helper man/hacker dude’) Evidently, thousands of submissions have already been received, and they’re projecting 1,000,000 films to be created from 18 global communities worldwide users. (heckuvalotta kids boppin’ around looking like Lego figurines!)

Meanwhile, popular teen hub Gaia Online hosted their own first teen film festival last month, WebTV hub reported, with machinima submissions of 2-minutes or more, judged in the categories: “My Film is Awful” and “My Film is Awesome.” You can see that content and quality vary as much as the virtual worlds themselves…

I’m choosing to focus on the virtual learning side for a jiff because Global Kids continues to do worthy work as a nonprofit devoted to educating students about international and public policy issues, and their content is substantive.

We’ve written about Global Kids’ work with Unicef’s Voices of Youth before, and talked a bit about their own virtual ‘island’ in our article on Teen Second Life, but they’re a good example of machinima for all the digital newbies trying to wrap their heads around how to even define the medium.

I’ll save a more detailed feature on Global Kids’ recent machinima track at the SL summit, teen blog posts, PSAs created in the 3-D environs of Teen Second Life, and best practices slideshows and such, but their machinima virtual video project A Child’s War speaks to me personally.

My roomie at the Women Leaders for the World summit is an amazing woman from Uganda named Debbie Kaddu-Serwadda. She’s responsible for launching Ashoka in East Africa back in 2001, and is now using her leadership for a self-help crusade of social transformation in Africa with her newest project, ICON. (Our 2007 GWLN graduate bios here, inc. Debbie)

Today I received a Ugandan hand-beaded sarong and keychain from the craftswomen of her community in the mail, and as I hold it in my hand I can’t help but think she is the PERFECT person to weigh in on this new film focusing on the plight of child soldiers in Uganda.

Produced by 20 NYC public high school students ‘filming’ inside Second Life’s virtual world, the online teens hope to raise awareness via machinima storytelling. (SL is one of many virtual worlds where avatars reinvent or mirror physical world interactions online)

By scripting the fictional life story of a former child soldier testifying against a warlord who forced him to murder hundreds of people, (including his own family members) the teens are hoping to leverage the peer to peer poignancy within their ‘own world.’ Literally.

The film is the proud culmination of a year-long after school program conducted in collaboration with Global Kids, Inc., the Museum of the Moving Image, and backed as a virtual success by the MacArthur Foundation, devoted to exploring alternative learning environments like Teen Second Life. They produced a compelling report for their funders on teen voices in digital media (an excellent 57pp whopper!) and impressively linked to actionable suggestions, resources on the International Criminal Court and real-life video memoirs of children shaped by conflict for the Uganda film itself.

To me, this kind of thought-provoking media work exemplifies one way youth might engage beyond trotting around virtual hubs muttering in monosyllabic chat bubbles and dressing up fashionable avatars to hand-wave and add friends to their profiles!

I’m convinced that media can be part of the solution rather than the problem when used as a creative vehicle and distribution channel to impact change…

Whether it’s via gaming, poignant global interactive, media literacy, or video, (like my favorite Nickelback clip here called “If Everyone Cared” which we played at the Women Leaders for the World summit)…media is at its most magical when it entertains and enlightens.

To flip a phrase, “it’s the content, stupid.”

Yep, it seems there’s a whiff of a ‘machinima’ film festival trend taking place among youth, a veritable cinematic playground out there in the virtual worlds…

Let’s hope the virtual world rush to machinima doesn’t yield countless clips of grinning, flying, clapping emoticons in cute outfits…Looks like Second Life’s Global Kids crew is daring to delve into some murky waters, proving machinima creators will float, sink, or swim based on what they bring to the digital dialogue.

Related Resources:

Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences
(and their resources as noted below)

The Art of Machinima by Paul Marino
(Paul Marino, Paraglyph Press, Aug. 2004)-a hands-on book showing you both the artform and the basics of how to get started in your Machinima production.

Machinima by Dave Morris
(Dave Morris, Matt Kelland and Dave Lloyd, Ilex Press, Aug. 2005) – which gives a great overview of the medium and its filmmakers.


Thinking Machinima/Paul Marino’s blog

Machinima For Dummies by Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram
(and their blog)

Machinima for Dummies’ author’s list of ‘must watch’ machinima

And…Aldon Hynes amazing Orient Lodge blog for literati and thought leaders tips us off to this Reuters/Second Life release…evidently mainstream HBO has just bought the rights to this machinima short form documentary film shot exclusively inside Second Life. Definitely a noteworthy media content play when cable cos are digging into virtual worlds for creative talent and entertainment value. Fascinating.



  1. This Habbo update just landed in my e-mail too, abbreviated here to add their new links/popular examples of teens using machinima:

    “Hi Amy, Wanted to share an update from Habbo…Clearly, more teens than ever are turning to Habbo to express their creativity…Globally, more than 2,000,000 teens have viewed Habbowood movies http://www.habbo.com/entertainment/habbowood. Thus far, the most popular movie with 35,000 views is, “Stop that Hacker!” http://www.habbo.com/entertainment/habbowood/movies/2549.

    Other popular teen-created Habbo movies include:
    · “Mission Habbowood” (http://www.habbo.com/entertainment/habbowood/movies/1303)

    · “Inactive Galaxy” (http://www.habbo.com/entertainment/habbowood/movies/31273)

    · “Memoirs of a Habbo” (http://www.habbo.com/entertainment/habbowood/movies/43973)

  2. Video games now outgross Hollywood films. Kids that grew up on video games are entering their forties. The latest statistics from the gaming industry puts the median age gamer in their thirties, and many are the heads of their households. Machinima makers that collaborate on productions in virtual worlds span age spectrums from teens to retired adults. The Quest 2 Change RL video festival ( Quest2ChangeRL.com ) offers an outlet for machinima makers to get political, and to submit stories that are created inside these virtual worlds (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) or any animated 3D computer or video game world. The films will address the climate crisis, loss of biodiversity/extinction, and/or environmental justice and offer up actions and solutions. Getting involved in the contest as a videomaker, sponsor, or viewer is a great way to reach today’s socially networked online media makers.

  3. Thanks, James…looking forward to interviewing you on same and hearing more…so it’s open to all ages, not just a student contest, eh? I’ll be sure to announce it in my CCFC workshop tomorrow, and in fact, our Shaping Youth ‘gamer’ analyst from Gamine Expedition will be speaking too, so I’ll let her know as well! Best, Amy

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