You might not think that playing an MMO (massively multiplayer online [game]) is a creative activity. Given that the world is heavily designed, and animations are scripted, and players can’t really customize much in-game, there is a lot of truth to that. Choices for in-game creativity are limited. But many games have a vibrant fan community where creativity abounds; players write fan fiction, create fan art (drawings of their characters and equipment, or artist’s renderings of favorite in-game locations), write game-related comics, and even make movies. I ran across a particularly nice one: Big Blue Dress.
Fair warning: the rest of this post contains spoilers about the movie, so go watch it first if you prefer. (Now would be a good time. Go on, I’ll wait.) It’s worth the time it takes to download. Use headphones if you share an office.
There are some remarkable qualities of this piece that you might not notice if you don’t play MMOs. The movie was made by capturing what was going on on the screen while playing the game, so everything you see is happening within the constraints of the game world.
The significance of the dress. Each piece of armor in the game has a certain “look” that players can’t change. Mages (the main character in the movie is a mage) can only wear cloth armor. At high levels, if you want a piece of cloth armor that gives good protection and also, say, gives you a bonus when you use fire spells, you pick the Robe of Flaming Might or something (I made that one up). It looks a particular way and that’s that. Most high-level cloth armor looks like robes, so you’re pretty much stuck wearing one. The point is underscored in the movie by letting the amount of damage this guy is doing show (i.e., the yellow numbers that appear over the heads of the characters he hits) — 1300+ per hit is a healthy amount of damage, so this is a pretty powerful character. The other on-screen information is turned off, so the numbers stand out more to someone who is used to playing the game.
The music-video quality. All animations are pre-scripted in-game, and players can’t change them. The dancing gnomes, for instance, are animated by typing a dance command, at which point the gnome starts dancing. All gnomes dance alike and you can’t change that. To get the synchronized dancing, those three players all started the command at the same time, after carefully lining up their characters in the right spots. The way the characters seem to sing happens because of another command that animates the mouth, so they had to throw that one in at the right time, too. Some care went into this, in terms of timing and getting the best command to make the gestures look appropriate for the song. Oh yeah, and the guy’s actually singing, and he edited the footage and the soundtrack to make a coherent video. I’m impressed.
The camera angles. You can zoom in and out, set the position of the camera, and so forth, but it requires some preplanning and mousework. The angles are used in the video to great effect, framing the tight shots and panning past the character while he’s walking or riding.
Like all fan art, the movies you might find will vary widely in artistic merit and taste. My point is that the game world can make people want to be creative, to bring some part of it out of the game and into the rest of their world. We make art about stuff that inspires us, among other things. I think that’s pretty cool.