Thursday, November 12, 2009

First Time Farce, Second Time Tragedy

My UC Irvine colleague Peter Krapp gave a talk today called "Of Games and Gestures: machinima and the suspensions of animation" in conjunction with the new lecture series at the Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds in which he argued that the "trained motion of players" and the "virtuoso ballet" that may build on "an archive of gaming performances" initially should not be "reduced to fan culture" not only because gaming is inscribed within certain historical conditions but also because such "gestures are neither necessary nor natural" as they express an "attitude or emotion" and also convey information about the "motion of the camera in game space." In thinking about machinima in the context of silent cinema, Krapp argued that the pantomimes of both art forms reflected a kind of melancholy about increasing technologization and the need to prove one's humanity. Unlike contemporary big budget films that can be summarized in their pitch lines or in their plot round-ups on IMDB, machinima can be difficult to summarize. By combining game demo, fan art, and media history, machinima represents much more than a mass-mediation of user generated content. He conceded that there was also "a ludic angle" to the record of performance, but that this record has a longer history that dates back to Muybridge. (I had seen Krapp earlier this year give an interesting talk that also referenced Muybridge about Taylorism and scientific management that offers a database of employee maneuvers.) Krapp asserted that a society that has lost its gestures is consequently obsessed with them as life becomes indecipherable and the subject must retreat to bourgeois concerns, interiority, and psychoanalysis.

Krapp showed a number of classic machinima favorites, which included I'm Still Seeing Breen (above) , along with Cantina Crawl X, the first episode of This Spartan Life, Warthog Jump (which inspired the Flash game Warthog Launch), and A Few Good G Men (below).

Yesterday, I saw Enda Walsh's play The Walworth Farce from Ireland's Druid Theater, a devastating play about a paranoid schizophrenic patriarch and his two terrorized sons who are forced to reenact an alternative version of a fratricidal family drama. As the two young men act the same play over and over, the pathos of a visitor gives their puppetry particular emotional investment. When Krapp had to answer the familiar question about when videogame content would be enough to make someone cry, I thought about how machinima could probably bring about this same emotional power of an "off" reinactment, as Walsh's play demonstrated.

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