It’s nothing new to video game fans, however, in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine there’s an interesting article by Clive Thompson titled “Xbox Auteurs,” discussing the success of Rooster Teeth and their “Red vs Blue” series. This series is the first machinima title to break out of the underground and go mainstream. You can download the “Red vs Blue” videos from here.
And mainstream it has certainly become. This summer Rooster Teeth announced that the Independent Film Channel (IFC) asked them to create a new series of Strangerhood videos for broadcast. The six-part series (which you can download here) is called “Strangerhood Studios” and features the same characters, but with a different storyline. This is apparently the first time a machinima series has been commissioned for broadcast. But what is most interesting, I think, is how time and time again young people do not simply passively consume media, they make it their own, with machinima as the most recent example.
Henry Jenkins‘ book Textual Poachers came to mind while reading the article. The book does not address machinima or video game fans per se, yet it is an important foundation work for anyone who wants to better understand the phenomena of media fan culture. Jenkins’ argues that fans of shows such as Quantum Leap and Star Trek do not simply consume the shows passively, instead, they appropriate the texts of the shows to serve their own interests through the creation of fiction, re-editing shows, and composing music. There is always a tension between the large media producers and the fans over the creation of meaning and control of the intellectual property. While Microsoft (the parent company of Bungie, who makes Halo) today might be thrilled that “Red vs. Blue” is helping to promote Halo into the mainstream, at some point there will be a struggle if lots of revenue moves into the picture.
Will these “Synthetic Cinema” stories become the “New Wave” of the first decade of the new millennium? As the article suggested, it’s like the Dogme95 aesthetic meets the video game. There is little in the way of the emerging artist creating their work, except, possibly, a copyright crackdown when it all becomes big money. How long will the likes of Microsoft and Electronic Arts look away as young filmmakers make movies based on copyrighted property? I think they should leave them alone, but how long will they?