Global Machinima: Pros and Cons?

Curator's Note

I found this on Rik’s blog (Rik’s blog itself is a very interesting layered negotiation of voicing in the midst of globalization - but more on that some other time). For more information on this project - see In this video, we see an interesting example of how Machinima is being used in education and in efforts to connect children “globally.” Digital literacies taken for granted by children from some privileged layers of society the world over, are now being transferred to children with less privilege through projects of (self) representation and empowerment. While this is a very worthwhile project, I’d be curious to know what sorts of choices are being made in terms narrating human rights violations. Will videos and machinima re-presentations be made only of human rights violations in "Other" regions (developing nations) or will we see narrations of human rights violations against children even from the developed world? In the narration of these stories - is responsibility for the human rights violations going to be located globally or locally? In short, will there be a replay of colonial discourses through uneven story-telling in the name of empowerment? If, as responsible media scholars and producers, our task is to create awareness of discourse produced, then, even as we generate “new” mediated forms of re-presentation of Others within a global internet space we need to examine the choices carefully while weighing the benefits and harms that come from these re-presentations. How do we negotiate voice and agency in global contexts. The key is to examine seriously these issues and to understand how even very well meaning re-presentations of the Other in contexts of globalization can get appropriated in the service of policy that may allow for further exploitation and oppression of such populations. Thus the goal of critique would be to improve on the collaborations and not to shut them down. I am sure I have not covered all the complexities in this brief note, and my intention is not to devalue the work being done by such organizations as those who are trying these innovative ways to generate dialogue, connections and education. However, I want to assert the need to get beyond celebrations of the “new” and to look deeper into what older forms of hegemony and neo-colonialism might be seeping into such projects unintentionally For more -see my blog at .


Avi Santo's picture

This is a fascinating clip,

This is a fascinating clip, Radhika, and to go along with your comment, I could not help but be distracted by the slippages in linguistic markers that accompany the narrative. While the clearly western narrators disturb the third-worldness of the events being depicted because they sound so much like American tenth-graders, and this is turn might call attention to children’s suffering as a global phenomenon rather than just something that happens to “Others”, I was also struck by the way the Ugandan boy is voiced by an African American teen, which risks conflating the two in ways that exceed their shared age-group. I wonder is if this increases our awareness of suffering as transnational and local, as something that happens to “us” as much as to “them”, or does it merely replicate discourses of racialized citizenship that conflate the experiences of black children in the US with those of Ugandan children in Africa?

Great prompt, R, and it

Great prompt, R, and it really got me thinking about the specific production tools used for the clip. While Second Life offers a dynamic and interesting environment within which to work, it’s not the most sophisticated or robust instrument out there (no offense to Linden Lab intended). I wonder if another part of the question of voice and agency you invoke might not have something to do with the nature of the tools in play.

Judd- re SL though - its

Judd- re SL though - its fairly easily accessible - that is important too.

Avi - good points.

The key as far as I am concerned is for more people to get involved in these projects that are attempting good across context collaborations.

Radhika, Important points


Important points to raise.

Please keep in mind, however, that some of the issues raised - while perhaps valid in regards to how the media piece will be consumed - don’t necessarily reflect how it was created. A lot of the design decisions MIGHT not actually reflect deeper issues of power and representation but more the limitations and requirements of an after school program under schedule to produce a year-end video (which of course have its own issues of power and representation), e.g. no resources to find a voice reflective of Uganda, etc.

At the same time, while the voice of Anthony has been referred to, I wonder how you read the voice of the reporter, as a latina. Thoughts?

Richard Edwards's picture

Very thought provoking clip.

Very thought provoking clip. I really like the way Radhika introduces the piece, because it focuses on the question of empowerment and representation, which would be my main focus on this clip as well. I have to admit that I was distracted by the machinima-effect in narrating a story about children soldiers. But this is not just about machinima as a mode of representation: I felt distracted in similar ways in a fictional movie like Blood Diamonds. For me, it is not about the use of machinima per se (though I agree with Judd’s point that it is a crude moving image tool at the moment compared to other methods), but about representations of otherness in expensive mainstream films and cutting edge virtual worlds accessible by a small minority of privileged people. Furthermore, while machinima is a tool, I wonder, in classic activist terms, what type of witness and a weapon it is? As a witness, the 3D animation serves to distance me from the reality of the events being narrated. I felt displaced from the lived reality of the voice narrating the story of the child soldier. The artificial reality of SL made me desire some documentary video or some old fashioned photographs with their traces of the real, to inject more humanity and lived experience into this piece. There is a risk that Second Life can hide the actual psychological and physical realities behind children soldiers; it is a practice that is deeply embodied and not virtual. In terms of a “weapon,” I began to ask myself how this piece would be used to generate social and political activism on behalf of children soldiers? And while I will have to think about this much more, especially in terms of SL as a mode of activism, I am not sure this example fully appropriates SL as an activist weapon. It felt more in keeping with machinima as a storytelling medium and not its re-appropriation as a mechanism for political and social action.

Matthew Thomas Payne's picture

I concur w/ Richard’s

I concur w/ Richard’s reservations about machinima’s ability to compellingly convey the gravity of this story, and w/ Judd’s points about machine cinema’s technological limitations. Indeed, framed as a news document, this SL-based short aspires to a realism that, in my view, feels at great odds with the avatar puppet-theater.

I’m interested in hearing whether anyone else thinks that another game might be better suited for this cause, or if machinima—irrespective of the generative game—can adequately convey the horror of these human catastrophes? For example, I keep thinking how a found footage project or a non-computer based animation technology (e.g., video camera w/ stop-action recording capabilities), might provide activists w/ a more expressive, and more easily accessible DIY tool.

Barry I am VERY happy to

Barry I am VERY happy to have you respond here - this is what we want on media res - that we can open up dialogue between audiences and producers (and although you are probably not the sole producer - you are a member of the group that enabled the production).

You point to very important issues regarding the constraints within the production process and the access issues when we are trying to help such voicings with comparatively less resources.

I agree with the points you are making and appreciate your coming on board to make them. I hope to have more on this topic by and by.

and yet who are we to decide

and yet who are we to decide that these teens dont get to do their productions via machinima - just because they are attempting the difficult task of representation of invisible Others? In this instance, the teens participating in the production themselves, we must remember and note, are those that have been Othered in various contexts (US)locally and apparently (based on what I see on the project website) seem to be those with less access to literacies demanded for participation in such techno-mediated spaces.

There are more nuanced issues of agency and access in these productions than just the representational ones. But that does not mean that we dont also pay attention to the representational issues.

Responding to Barry’s qs about the female voice - I’d say - to my not so well trained to the US context - ear (even though I have lived here for over 15 years) - it does sound Hispanic or Latina…

Mathew - can you suggest

Mathew - can you suggest other games and ways we could problematise the realism without taking away the seriousness of the issue?


Some discussion re this

Some discussion re this happening at globalkids blog as well.

In the context of this

In the context of this discussion …



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