The Esoteric Beat: Machinima, Shopping, The Future

Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at virtual production, polit...
Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at virtual production, political machinima, and the fate of Sony. Machinima Activists Lionhead's new Hollywood management game The Movies seems to have caused a bit of a stir, but not simply because of its smart premise and odd flaws. It has made machinima, the art of making films from game engines, far easier than ever before. It's not long been out, but already thousands of films have been uploaded to the net. Some of these, as tech-activist site BoingBoing points out, have been concerned with stark political commentary, such as this movie about the recent rioting in France. Video games are increasingly enabling people to express their ideas on all kinds of subjects creatively, but there are limits on what people are going to be allowed to do with tools like The Movies. Interestingly, as a BoingBoing reader points out, all the films produced by the game are subject to Activision's EULA. "Since user-created movies seem to require at least *some* of Activision's copyrights (3D character models and/or environments at minimum), the DMCA could probably be used to take down movies. This might be of note if Activision doesn't agree with the content of political machinima made with The Movies." Virtual Shopping Objects of Desire is a project which aims to study the idea of a virtual world as a source of production. Modern economies play host to a lot of 'virtual' products, so perhaps it makes sense to try and understand their status by playing around with the goliath virtual design and production facility that is Second Life. Of course, the idea of turning game objects into real items for purchase has occurred a number of times before (and taken to the worrying extremes by these Devil May Cry airguns) but Objects Of Desire takes the idea a step further by selecting items from Second Life and creating physical versions of them on demand. As the team explain, their project could elucidate some understanding as to how we end up placing values on things that don't exist in the first place: "Our interest lies in exploring the concept of product design in a virtual world and what kind of interpersonal value objects carry in this context. Further questions are raised by transferring these objects to physical space and a "first life" economy. What is immaterial value-creation and can it be materialized? What does it mean to use a virtual world as a site of production?" It's that bold question that annoys female mall-addicts: does shopping really have anything to do with shopping? Or is it simply a hopeless conceptual exercise aimed at satisfying our undefined consumer urges? Whatever conclusions can be drawn from this strange subject, it seems clear that you can now decorate both virtual abode and actual home in some rather suspect wallpaper. Future History Finally this week, we link to this strange little article on, which attempts to map out a possible future for the unfolding console wars. The timeline imagined is one in which Sony stumble into deep trouble, while Nintendo come up smelling of roses. Wishful thinking, or clever forecasting? The author, Aaron Stanton, explains his thinking: "It's like chess; one player moves, the other counters - Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are the players controlling the pieces, with the occasional appearance of guest players that influence the game along the way, such as Apple Computer. The one that can predict the other's move far enough into the future wins." We have to wonder: will anyone remember this article in three year's time? [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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