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?
Melissa Milloway says
Thank you for writing this post in relation to that great Twitter conversation we all had. I agree with the “clunkiness” of most machinimas. Machinimas definitely need to be done well to be effective.
I have to say that I learned a lot through actually creating a machinima on a topic versus just watching one. I think it could be a very cool learning activity for K-12 or Higher-Ed classes. The machinima I created was in Second Life and we used Fraps to record it that was back in 2010/2011). I really enjoy learning in virtual worlds too.
I also agree with Karl’s response about procedural machinimas (especially if you are on a budget).
I am so glad that you wrote this post because we don’t often see people exploring different mediums of learning enough!
Brent Schlenker says
Machinima is the type of tool that comes in handy for learning development if you are already interested in virtual worlds, and virtual software. Someone who is familiar with the tool will easily see the useful applications for creating media from it in the form of machinima useful in learning.
The flip side is whether or not you very specifically seek out virtual worlds, learn them, and begin to create machinima. If you as a developer have other tools available to you, or a budget for other more HighDef solutions than perhaps it’s best to stay away from machinima.
Done well, machinima can be a very engaging method of storytelling. But like all media, understanding how to USE the tools and using them effectively are two different conversations.
Also, the tools used to make machinima were meant for fully engaged interactivity. It always felt to me like a waste of technology to simply use them to make videos. But if users don’t like to engage in 3D spaces then at least there is a use for the technology in making videos.