Machinima, Popular Education And Climate Change Deniers

Machinima is?

a) a technique for video production that progressives barely use;

b) a German cyber-goth band;

c) a name for pit-bull/doberman hybrids;

d) videos produced using computer game engines.

Recently climate blogger (and scientist) Michael Tobis posted “Dogs and Deniers,” a post illustrating the similarity between a particular Far Side cartoon and real life with the climate change Deniers .

With their typical inability to detect irony a Denier immediately posted comments demonstrating the truth of the post. To illustrate the point Tobis had actually used a rather crude Denier produced example of machinima.

Machinima is of course both a) and d), ie  it is a technique for film making using computer game engines that progressives barely use.

Machinima began in the 1990s with computer game players simply screen capturing their play and then distributing it. From there someone had the notion to tell a little sub-story within the game story and have the game characters act it out.

Then someone had the realization that you could control game characters to do more than simply hack and slash and kill everyone within the games’ storyline. If you had them strike a pose and say “To be or not to be, that is the question … ” and then hack and slash and kill everyone … you had Hamlet.

One of the earlier examples of non-game related Machinima (1999) used a game engine to present Percy Blythe Shelley‘s Ozymandias to a world that may have lost their relationship to text, but hopefully not to poetry.

In 2003 Free Range Studios released The Meatrix, a flash animation parody of ‘The Matrix’ that critiqued industrial agriculture and the livestock industry, and it went viral.

This was amazing, essentially progressive educational material that people not only actually watched, but then shared with all of their friends.

I became fascinated by the potential of Machinima to allow citizens to make videos and movies that had narrative and story, but no budget, actors, animators, or access to relevant footage.

Whatever a particular communities’ message happened to be, whether it related to sexual violence, homelessness or rainforest destruction, a relevant, engaging video could be made and distributed. If it was done well it might even go viral.

Reinforcing this notion was the successful Halo based series Red vs Blue. This is a machinima based on one of the more violent first person shooter sci-fi games, and it is almost exclusively dialogue and narrative based … and immensely popular.

The popularity of the Halo game itself may be because you can make things blow up in graphic detail, but the RvB machinima series is mostly characters just standing there talking. What are they talking about? well that’s the question isn’t it?

Without a good script and story machinima is just animated pedantry.

Three weeks after the French civil unrest in 2005 this “French Democracy” machinima appeared:

French Democracy‘ is a machinima produced video using the game engine ‘The Movies‘ that sought to tell the story of the disturbances as a particular community in France saw them. Agree or disagree, the fact remains that they got their story out to a potentially huge audience in a easily accessible form in a relatively short time.

No more waiting months after events, collecting up individual video camera footage and editing it all together. This one took a few weeks, but a team of 3 or 4 people could do one in days if needed. This confirmed my sense of the obvious potential.

At the time I was working at a small community based NGO and we tried to put together a machinima team; a small group of people who would both produce progressive machinima and teach other activists how to produce them. The effort failed and nothing came of it.

To produce machinima for progressive causes it is necessary to:

  • have in depth knowledge of the issue(s);
  • be skilled with the particular game mechanics and associated hacks and cheats;
  • be skilled with video production;
  • have a good story line and script.

That’s quite a lot to ask for; it takes serious dedication and a lot of time. Unfortunately those who already have one or more of those skill sets tend not to be interested in and/or have the time to acquire the others. Getting a team where each skill set was represented was something we were never able to do.

Rest in peace, pinky toe. YOU WILL BE AVENGED!I mentioned that Tobis had linked the crude Denier machinima Global Warming Panic explained (Denialism is another example), but I was being polite.

These two are seriously stupid, but very much typical of climate change Denierism. By all means view them if you must verify that I am not being unfair or misleading (or to leave your vote and/or an intelligent comment), but they are quite painful, gross insults to the intelligence.

In a Nutshell a cartoonish (cartoonish even by cartoon standards) ‘Libural’ brainlessly repeats their baseless faith in climate change while the “rational” conservative parrots a bunch of Denier talking points as though they were facts.  It is  no accident that in both cases the ‘brain dead liberal’ is female and the conservative is male.

When it comes to climate science women are more knowledgeable than men, but men think they are the more knowledgeable ones (known as Dunning Kruger Effect). Presumably the videos are not being ironic in playing out this example of right wing sexism and self-delusion by the terminally ignorant.

These two videos are the most simplistic form of machinima, ie two talking heads. These examples required no particular effort since action and concept are crude,  there is no actual knowledge about climate,  and the characters are just playing out a Denier fantasy.

Presumably this would be because the only arguments Deniers can actually win are with a cartoon that they created and control.

Bad as they are, these videos will be effective in making Deniers feel vindicated. I know this sounds unbelievable, but a significant number of the ones who view these will imagine that they witnessed the equivalent of an actual debate with a “libural.”  Think I am kidding? read the comments that go with the video.

Now, a fun piece of culture jamming would be to identify the game engines in question and do clones of these videos, but have the “libural” stating the facts (with sources) just as we do in real discussions. Then give these clones the same titles as the originals and start spreading them around the net.

That the Denier character’s dialogue would make absolutely no sense in response to what the “libural” is saying is not actually a problem in that it is how most exchanges with Deniers actually go.

In this way the sheer idiocy of the Denier characters claims would be exposed to many people who would not read a debunking of the nonsense.

More difficult would be doing videos like Leo Murray’s classic Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip. More difficult, but a lot less work than Murray had to do to produce the original.

Another very powerful tool for popular education is humour. Check out the audio broadcasts in “Some much needed climate change humour” for both inspiration and a bit of relief. Having done that, imagine what could be done with visuals accompanying it (most particularly the Dr Suess piece).

I think if you use your imagination just a little you can see the potential of machinima for a great deal of public education about a broad range of issues. In an era that is increasingly video rather than text driven it is one of the directions that we have to go.

I have no answer as to how we assemble stable teams with the required skill sets to produce them. I just know that we had better figure it out.


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