Gamers meet Byron

What happens when you expose a bunch of hardcore video gamers to a 200-year-old poem? The reaction is very mixed. Strange Company’s latest machinima piece, When We Two Parted, is a visual interpretation of Byron’s famous poem of love, loss and regret. Hugh (the co-author of this blog and the director of the piece) released it onto YouTube recently, under the channel. The reaction and comments were not what he was expecting at all.

The You Tube channel collates and releases machinima videos by many different people, but it’s fair to say that a lot of the videos are made using games such as Halo 2. They’re often short comedy skits, set in the world of the game in which they’re produced. It’s not often that subscribers to that channel are exposed to something as unashamedly arty as When We Two Parted. So, what would the hordes of gamers and frag-video junkies think of Hugh’s Byron interpretation? Indifference? Confusion? Not a bit of it.

The reactions were extreme. Commentators either loved or loathed the piece. There was no in-between.

Warning: Strong language in a few of these.

The comments that were posted within just a few hours included (sic in almost all cases!):

> > I think you did a hellova jb on this. The poem was exelent and you oput it all together so beautifuly. > >
> > wtf u suck go kill yourself > >
> > boo you suck!! machinima dont put this stuff on here i know you guys are better than this > >
> > Very well done. An excellent poem presented beautifully ad with a style that is reflective of the poem itself. Great job! > >
> > This is fucking shitty. One star. I'd give less, but i can't. > >
> > boo this stinks!. I can smell the doo doo coming out of my speakers > >
> > XD that was so awesome. > >
> > did u made this? nice! > >
> > just kill yourself plz > >
> > dude ur a awesome poet > >

And finally, the rather wonderful

> > who ever made this should stay in art NOT MACHINIMA > >

Aside from exposing a woeful lack of basic spelling and grammer skills amongst the Halo elite, this really does expose a larger fact. As Hugh, I and several other commentators have predicted, where once there were a few people making films in games, now Machinima (as it became known) is split into many sub-communities, usually based around a specific machinima engine or game.

The thing that’s of interest to me is that, in a lot of cases, these communities are not aware of each other’s existence. A lot of World Of Warcraft moviemakers think that machinima is “Warcraft movies”, and vice versa. Many Sims 2 moviemakers have never even encountered the word “machinima”. The same is true for many other groups.

Rather than bemoan the dilution and distortion of our precious artform, I’m actually going to give a virtual cheer. What it means - and I’m not sure that any of us have really grasped this yet - is that there are thousands upon thousands of people happily creating and releasing within their particular community. Not only are they not aware of us, crucially, we’re not aware of them either. It means that machinima is a much more widespread technique than we normally consider it to be. It also means that the “next stage” of machinima, that next big step that we’ve all been watching on the horizon for the past couple of years - where machinima spills over into everyday computer tasks and really does enable anyone to tell a story - is well and truly among us. We’re just not in the right position to notice.

The recent discussions on this blog and others as what should and should not be defined as “machinima” have only served to highlight just how different people’s experiences with this technique have been. The commentator who saw When We Two Parted and suggested that Strange Company “should stay in art NOT MACHINIMA” may seem ridiculous at first, but it’s actually a fair comment in the context. Whilst for some it was clearly a refreshing change, for this commentator, machinima is not art or interpretive visual storytelling. It’s Arby ‘n’ the Cheif. It’s Halo movies. What we all must realise, if machinima (and anymation) is to thrive, is that he or she is quite correct. So am I, and so are you. Welcome to the revolution: anyone can play.