As a fan of comics and animations (read: cartoons) in learning, I was pleased to see a small mention of comics in a twitter discussion (triggered by this post). When I lauded the claim, I was asked what I think of machinima, and I had to think for a bit. My feelings are mixed, so it’s probably worth it to think them through out loud.
So, first, machinima are animations made by using characters in 3D virtual worlds or computer games. They share the look and feel of whatever platform is used, which can range from cartoon-like to quite complex. Similarly, their speed can range from quite slow to pretty fast.
One particularly attractive feature, which I hadn’t really thought of, is that they may be easy ways to create animation. As Karl Kapp (professor at Bloomsburg College and clear thinker on games, virtual worlds etc) mentioned in the exchange, they can be great for inexpensively creating animations. And that’s a good thing, if you get the animations you want to use.
My concern has to do with the output of the animations. Many times, I find the complexity of computer graphics containing too much unnecessary detail. And when surfing the web for some other examples, I found ones where the dialog was too slow (which I’ve seen in other animation forms as well, I confess). So I worry about matching the detail of output to the need, despite the cost.
Now, as Karl also mentioned, they’re good for procedural tasks. This certainly could be true, as the extra detail would help contextualize. However, is it better than a video? Certainly if you can expand or contract the scale, so you’re seeing it at the necessary level of detail, not the only real one that video can provide. So for minute details, this would be really good!
As the original respondent suggested, it’s better to be there (e.g. in game) rather than watch, and I’d certainly agree to that, as you can negotiate some of the other issues that might be confusing. And of course social learning adds value in and of itself.
So, the question is, when is machinima useful? I wouldn’t want to use it just because of cost; if you’re not getting the right characteristics, it might be a false economy. If it’s producing output within a range of acceptability at a reasonable cost, or really capturing the affordances of virtual worlds, I think it makes sense. And I’m willing to be wrong. What are your thoughts?