Machinima: Beyond Gameplay
The 36th Minimalen Short Film Festival, Trondheim, Norway. January 23-28, 2024.

Curated by Vladimir Nadein and Dmitry Frolov
Machinima is the practice of creating moving images using video games or game engines. It was born in the 90s in the gamer community as a form of amateur narrative film production, but by now has also become an important medium for contemporary artists and experimental filmmakers. Being very versatile, machinima can resemble animated movies, documentaries, online performances, puppet theatre, music videos and many other things. It is typical that video games are considered as something not too serious and belonging to mass entertainment, although one cannot but admit that they play an ever-increasing role in the life of modern society. The gamification of reality is visible everywhere, from education to the military industry. Machinima is thus becoming an important tool for reflecting on these changes, as well as a way of artistically exploring virtual worlds. This focus section is not intended to be a comprehensive overview of machinima properties, but offers a glimpse of what can happen beyond gameplay when an artist picks up a controller.

Replay! Resist!

Counter-gaming is a term coined by philosopher Alexander Galloway that refers to various subversive practices and describes the desire of artist-players to misuse a computer game for something else. No wonder that it is often utilised to challenge or criticise the rules, ideology, or core principles inherent in virtual spaces. This has become especially relevant recently as new games become hyper-realistic and incorporate a lot of structures from reality into their open worlds, such as economic relationships or power mechanics. Machinima is also a form of counter-gaming that can help to reveal the capitalist strategies, online consumerism, racism or colonialism concealed beneath the surface of mainstream digital environments.

Just Pixels?

Issues of digital corporeality and identity, and the fixation of virtual experience. Digital images and objects in video games are often associated with something ephemeral. The more time people spend in these virtual spaces, however, the more real this experience becomes. By controlling their avatar, users can feel quite strong emotions and sensations, both on a bodily and mental level. For example, they may develop romantic relationships with other players and longing for a virtual home, or undergo many forms of violence. Machinima can unveil this complex connection between a gamer's identity and the game environment, or track patterns of online social behaviour through participant observation. Moreover, having screen recording technology at its core, this artistic medium allows us to capture the unique events and short-lived digital objects that may disappear after another system update. Can we still arrogantly say "it's just pixels", or is it more than that?

How are you feeling today?

Recent developments in digital technologies and artificial intelligence have brought humanity closer to a point beyond which technological progress may become so rapid that it will cease to be accessible to human understanding. It is already possible to observe how much our psyche, social structures and patterns of behaviour are changing. We may feel nostalgic for outdated computer games or alienated in commercialised virtual worlds. At the same time we are endowed with unprecedented power and are capable of writing a novel in half an hour or creating deep-fake images. People tend to project more and more essentially human traits onto cybernetic beings, and Youtube is already full of videos of users making Siri and Alexa talk to each other or gamers asking AI-controlled smart NPCs (i.e. non-playable characters in video games) about their personal problems. Once again we are faced with the old question: will the machines be able to feel anything?