[The following is an abstract by Robert Jones of an essay which will appear in a forthcoming Machinima Reader. It informs the discussion between Robert and myself at Henry Jenkins’ blog posted here]
Similar to the pioneering hobbyists from the early days of both radio and the personal computer, creators of machinima adapted the technology of video game engines and appropriated it for their own purposes. In fact, the histories of radio and the personal computer parallel that of machinima, providing a better understanding of this growing phenomenon. Overwhelmingly, the lack of female presence in the early days of development of these technologies becomes the unifying historical trend that offers insight into the relationship between gender and technology. Only through understanding machinima’s place within the history of communication technology can we fully grasp the breadth of this phenomenon. Therefore, this article proposes to explore the role that women play in machinima’s history and demonstrate how it falls within the larger historical context of women in technology.
Dating back to early radio, the discourse around technology situated it as something to be mastered by men and to be merely used by women. Making machinima has always required some sort of technical ability whether it be simply getting the game footage in an editable video form or completely repurposing a game engine. The technical skills necessary thus served as a barrier to women, who have long internalized the cultural message that technology is for men. The origin of machinima was born out of First Person Shooters like DOOM and Quake which found their fan-base among young men. With their militaristic narratives and warrior aesthetic, FPS’s create what Jenkins (1998) identifies as a gendered play space that mostly appeals to males. To date, the most popular and commercially successful machinima series is Red vs. Blue based on Halo, the space marine FPS. Because the majority of machinima gets made within FPS’s, the lack of women producing machinima makes sense. This however changes with the introduction of The Sims 2. Maxis, the game’s developer, noticed the popularity of a photo album function within the original Sims game, whereby players were using the screenshot function to document the lives and stories of their characters. For the sequel they created an interface that allowed players to record their gameplay and easily manipulate the camera in the 3D environment, in effect turning the game into a machinima studio. In addition, Maxis marketed the moviemaking functionality through their website (creating space for players to upload their movies) and a competition (a machinima film festival). The result has been a tremendous increase in women making machinima. Jenkins would explain this as a difference in the play space. The Sims, unlike most FPS’s, has no violent element to it. Instead, it is about building and maintaining virtual relationships.
I would certainly agree with Jenkins that the difference in the game’s content plays an important part in its popularity and by extension more machinima produced by women; however, I want to argue that The Sims 2 increased the production of machinima by women due to making the interface more user-friendly and thus accessible by women. This by no means implies an innate inability on the behalf of the women as many stereotypes would suggest. Instead, this reveals a long history of gendering technology as exclusively male. By situating machinima within this larger gendered history of technology I hope to provide a better sense of where it comes from so that we can determine where it is going.
Jenkins, H. (1998). ‘Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video games as gendered play spaces. In J Cassell and H. Jenkins (Eds.), From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and computer games, pp. 262-297. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.