Machinima as a Sensorial Cinematic Apparatus

In preparation for the May 24 Research Lab A Sensorium of Cinematic Apparatuses, the students of the UvA MA seminar Curating the Moving Image reflect in their blog posts on a particular aspect of the themes in the required theoretical readings or on the development of the curated EYE on Art evening.

Curating 2.0
By George Barker

On the 24th May at the EYE Film museum the Curating the Moving Image students – of which I am one of – will be programming an evening with the intent to reveal “some of the sensuous iterations of moving image practices throughout their histories, and in doing so, reflect on changes and connections between apparatuses of the past and present”. In this short blog post, I will unveil the possibilities and difficulties behind one curatorial trajectory for the event by describing how a selection of Machinima films could well fit within the rubric of an exhibition that is entitled ‘Sensorium of Moving Image Apparatuses’.

Why Machinima?

A term coined by Hugh Hancock in 1997, Machinima (a portmanteau of machine and cinema) are computer game narratives which are created in virtual reality within the boundaries of particular game engine systems and softwares. Rather rapidly the term became synonymous with often poorly realised fan-driven narrative films, although now the website which was initially built to house, collect and catalogue such works,, has an expanded concept of what the word itself constitutes; stating that it brings together “a community passionate about video games, animation, movies, TV, and the other endless forms of pop culture”. In a sense, Machinima allowed fans everywhere to become the author of their own gaming or cinematic vision, because of the ubiquity of the computer game apparatus as a household moving image making tool, holding a democratizing potential has been further noted by Elijah Horwatt. Yet Machinima do not only represent a certain shift in the apparatuses of moving image making but also in the sensorial relationships at play between the moving image maker, the image itself, and the spectator.

Of course there is a fundamental change in the relationship between created image and the creator evident in the production of Machinima that makes it different from a film camera. Here, real-time narratives unfold directly on the screen and moving images are made based on a sustained touch and movement of the apparatus (be it a computer game mouse or console controller) by the user. As it appears a tenant of our curatorial philosophy within this programme is slightly media archaeological – connecting apparatuses of the past and the present – machinima could well be connected to earlier apparatuses based on a similar touch-interaction, such as optical toy devices, the kinetoscope or mutoscope, so that our programme could expand more normative conceptions of a film dispositif where traditionally touch is excluded from the cinematic experience. Programming Machinima within the EYE as a means of educating the audience in expanded discourses surrounding the possible contemporary constitutions of cinema would find institutional footing, given that the film museum houses an Iphone in it’s Panorama exhibition as a ‘film device’. However, rather than use the word film, I would instead be cautious with semantics and instead introduce Machinima as a moving image apparatus, pertaining to Noel Carroll’s redefinition of film in light of the new media landscape that is outlined extensively in Theorizing the Moving Image.

Which Machinima?

Another reason to exhibit Machinima in this exhibition is that not only has it not (to my knowledge) been exhibited before at the EYE, but it is also not in the EYE’s catalogue and therefore it would be bringing a new example of a cinematic apparatus and aesthetic history to the museum space. If presenting Machinima moving images in the EYE as an introduction to the genre / movement / medium itself, I initially thought it fruitful to show the more populist works, such as that which is catalogued on, or perhaps even excerpts from BloodSpell, one of the longest Machinima films created using now antiquated computer programme systems and graphic engines.


Peggy Ahwesh, She Puppet, 2001

However, the series for this programme is entitled EYE on Art, so more experimental works such as Peggy Ahwesh’s She Puppet or the works of Phil Solomon, perhaps Last Days in a Lonely Place came to mind. Particularly, both of these moving images confront digital materiality and virtuality, encouraging haptic ruptures and breaks by exposing graphic glitches in the computer programme as the main character collides and merges with the scenery. Therefore, the works themselves in a way inculcate a phenomenological appreciation of digital surfaces within the viewer, and the work of Laura U.Marks, Jennifer Barker or Vivian Sobchack could be used as a theoretical framework from which to argue the sensorial potency of these more avant-garde Machinima film in particular.

Configuring Machinima within the ‘Sensorium of Moving Image Apparatuses’.

After having researched Machinima as a possibility for the programme, I also thought about how to present such works within a broader evening which wanted to touch upon a variety of apparatuses throughout moving image history, as well as looking at the senses. For this purpose, I thought it would be of interest to bring in a television screen and PlayStation 2 at the side of the cinema and have a student play Tomb Raider alongside She Puppet, or Grand Theft Auto alongside Last Days in a Lonely Place, thus ‘unveiling’ the apparatus technology alongside the work. So, this was my pitch to the curatorial team of students at the University of Amsterdam. Ultimately, we collectively decided that Machinima, although relevant to the evening programme, perhaps required too much contextualisation for the uninformed visitor and was too radical a departure from the rest of the filmworks to be included in this presentation. Indeed, perhaps a Machinima exhibition would be better suited outside of a cinema space regardless, in an environment where the viewer can themselves both simultaneously play the game and watch the machinima, in a 2 channel installation format.

Further Reading:
Elijah Horwatt, New Media Resistance, Machinima and the Avant Garde, Cineaction 73/74 (2008).

Jennifer Ng, Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).



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