Machinima in Remix Culture

Remix has managed to become a very popular and incredibly important aspect of our societies cultural development. Some would even argue that nothing is originally created anymore, rather old ideas are creatively mashed up and remixed together to form something new and unseen. Everything from our artistic expressions to the very languages we speak have long been remixed from something that came before them. 

One specific form of remix is known as “Machinima”, a combination of machine and cinema. Machinima refers to the fan-based creation of movies using engines that normally drive video games. Video game engines allow for the rendering of graphics, animation, sound and other aspects. Using either high or low end movie editing software, Machinima creators use the built-in functions of video game engines including scenes, characters and character movements to create a new storyline.

Red vs. blue  is arguably one of the most popular fan generated Machinima series. Created by Rooster Teeth Productions, Red vs. Blue is a comic science-fiction video series that parodies the popular first person shooter game Halo. I remember back on April 1, 2003 when a friend of mine pointed me to the first video released, I immediately thought it was some kind of April fools joke put out to generate interest in the video game. After a bit of Googling, I came to find out it was actually fan generated Machinima. The very first episode titled Why Are We Here? ( comically alludes to the setting of the game itself as two characters have a philosophical conversation about the significance of their location. Today, nearly 10 years later, this series is in the works for an 11th season, has won multiple awards at various film festivals as well as an award for best animated web series. Red vs. Blue has been quite well received within the Machinima community as well as among film critics even being praised for its originality. Does that seem fair knowing that it is comprised of mostly other people’s work? 

One question I asked myself was how would it be received by both the creators of the video game and by Microsoft themselves. What were the legal considerations? Was this considered fair use? Some have argued Machinima is akin to music sampling, another controversial subject while others say it is just an example of a derivative work.

Through various legal battles on the subject it seems that no creator of Machinima can profit from their work without express permission from the copyright holder. Same goes if the creator is to incorporate copyrighted music into their Machinima. Not long after its initial release, Red vs. Blue received blessings from the creator of the video game Halo, Bungie studios as well as a break in using the video game engine Quake II when the software’s creators generously made it open-source. The series has even received a few nods from Microsoft themselves who commissioned the videos for use on demo stands in game stores and at a developer conference. References to Red vs. Blue have even been incorporated in Xbox games such as Halo 3 and references have been made to it in various other games. 

There’s no question of the popularity of the Red vs. Blue series, but I must wonder if it wasn’t so popular would Rooster Teeth still have gotten away with using so much of someone else’s content? The series, to many, is seen as single-handedly popularizing Machinima and now, scores of fans of this fan-based creation are seeking to create their own Machinima. In my searches, I came across a thread in the Rooster Teeth’s website forums titled “legal issues with red vs blue”. On the thread, people are asking each other whether or not it would be okay to use various aspects of the series such as the characters in their own Machinima creations. The responses are mixed and varied; some believe they would need express permission from Rooster Teeth while others feel as long as it is not for profit they would be okay. All of this seems very strange to me considering Red vs Blue is not a complete work of originality and takes me back to the question of popularity and what is allowed.

What do you think is legal/fair in remix culture? Should it be based on success and popularity?

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