Comments vs. Critique (and groundhogs)

A while back, I joined a very active web community called DURS (Directors United for the Revival of Sims Film Site.) I haven’t participated much until now, mostly because I’ve been so busy with the Stonehaven video. But this week I learned about an event DURS is promoting called a “comment party.” It’s an effort to boost participation by members and drum up more comments on their videos.

I think it’s a great idea. And I was all over it like white on rice. But I do have a few reservations. I saw right away that some people are equating comments with critique. I piped up with the fact that I don’t think public comments (like those on YouTube or Vimeo) are the right venue for real criticism. The responses to my post were anything but argumentative. However, I could tell that the generally accepted definition of “real critique” differed significantly from my own.

This has prompted me to do a great deal of thinking over the past few days. Sims 2 and Sims 3 machinima (from now on I’ll call it simply “Sims machinima”) is in dire need of intervention. When you search for it on the web, hundreds upon hundreds of the returns you get are of such poor quality that they’re virtually unwatchable. This has led to Sims machinima being blacklisted by the general machinima community and maligned by mainstream audiences. Yet for moviemaking, it’s one of the most ideal gaming platforms in existence. So how did this happen? And what are we going to do about it?

(ADDED NOTE: Someone called to my attention that this post might make it seem that I’m less than supportive of the Comment Party’s premise. Oh! No, that’s not what I mean. I intend this blog post to promote the Comment Party, not detract from it. The commenting issues I address here are universal in the machinima community, and if the Comment Party is what it takes to get people thinking about this stuff, then that elevates it from good idea to pure genius. )

A few years ago, an active Sims 2 community thrived on YouTube. Great inroads were made into filming and modification. Then Sims 3 hit the market. It was like someone dropped a grenade into the middle of the Sims 2 machinima community and for a while all that remained was a wasteland. YouTube’s purchase by Google didn’t help matters, either. Their crackdown on copyright decimated the number of videos to watch and banished into oblivion many that might have otherwise been uploaded.

Still, several diehards kept the dream alive. And recently, there has indeed been a push for “renaissance.” New directors are popping up and old ones are rejoining the fray. I believe some are very serious about their work and are looking for ways to put Sims machinima into the center ring for good.

But the community lacks structure. It lacks standards. Just like the self-publishing book industry, anyone can create a machinima and put it out there for the world to see. No editing necessary, no minimum quality requirements. Just make it and post it, and call yourself an author (or machinima director, whichever applies.)

I think stringent peer review might solve certain aspects of this problem. It definitely works with written projects. Recently, an author I know said the publisher of her first novel remarked that it was one of the “cleanest” manuscripts they’d ever seen for a first submission. This means it was already well-edited and ready for press by the time they received it. It so happens that this writer had workshopped the novel through one of the largest online critique forums in the world. Peer review had taken her manuscript to a level above the ordinary, and I believe this same dynamic would hold true for machinima.

Some might argue that higher standards, higher expectations, and more organized critique forums will take all the fun out of creating machinima. You might be surprised to know that I agree. Machinima is a beautiful tool mainly because it’s available to nearly everyone. Small children can film their Sims in standard gameplay, post it on YouTube and share it with all their friends. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, that kind of creative activity will stimulate brain development and add a different dimension to their skill set.

However, some directors have advanced far beyond this. There is a point when hobbies turn serious. At this time, no careers exist for machinima directors. But with the advent of royalty free animation platforms like iClone and Moviestorm, the commercial potential of this craft has increased exponentially. Many Sims machinima directors express a strong interest in filmmaking and writing. Therefore using Sims machinima to develop those skills makes perfect sense.

As far as critique through comments goes, it’s time to get away from such a clannish mindset. Fellow directors, remember that whatever you post in the public comments will be seen by more than just other machinima directors. A potential mainstream audience will not give a hoot about filmmaking tips. But they do read the comments and often make decisions about whether or not they’ll click “play” based on what they see there. The “Suxx Brigade” will add enough crap to the mix without our technical deconstruction being aired for all to see. Why in the world would we want one of our best promotional tools cluttered with “feedback” that means nothing to most of the people who will read it?

Do I think only “I loved it!” and “Good job!” are appropriate comments? Absolutely not. I remarked a few days ago (in the public comments!) that a certain machinima character should be euthanized. We can (and should) be tactfully honest. Go to any book review website (Amazon, Goodreads, etc.) and you’ll see the entire spectrum of reader reaction in the comments. But what you won’t see is structured critique addressed to the author. I think it’s a good format to follow, especially if we provide an alternate critique forum where directors can get the detailed feedback they crave.

On a completely different note–for anyone who has wondered about my screen name. . .the “saymuch” part is probably clear enough already. 😉 But the “Dolittle” part? Well, have a look at the current guest in my kitchen:

“Lively” is a female groundhog I rescued from the dogs yesterday. She’d received several brutal shakes and was gnawed quite a bit before I could reach her. Assessment convinced me to try and save her rather than put her down. Last night I second-guessed that decision. She’d gone into hypovolemic shock, had developed a serious pneumothorax from a punctured lung, and I could tell her hip was displaced. But I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. Since no IV or other veterinary supplies were handy, I forced fluids down her throat (Gatorade, for the electrolytes) and said a prayer or two. This morning she was sitting up looking around. The shock had resolved, she had better lung sounds bilaterally, and fought tooth and nail to keep me from pouring more Gatorade down her throat. I suppose the stuff probably does taste pretty bad to groundhogs.

She’s not out of the woods yet, but I do believe we’re seeing a little light through the trees.

The Culprits

While I’m at it, I figure I’ll upload a few more pictures of my Zoo Crew. Carol, this is our Mean Kitty, otherwise known as Tinka:

Hollywood loves his watermelon!

Natural pest control (or slug patrol) for the garden:

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6 responses to “Comments vs. Critique (and groundhogs)

  1. The animal pictures are a beautiful addition to this post. Jilley (spelling?) is sure looking much better. Perfect picture of Tinka. Pretty kitty. Didn’t know Hollywood like watermelon.

  2. Hollywood will take your hand off to get to a slice of watermelon. The only thing we’ve found that he won’t touch is olives, and then we learned that olives can be toxic to dogs. Go figure.

    Yes, Jilly looks like a real dog now, not a pile of bones and matted fur. To those who might not know–the white Pyrenees in the picture is another rescue. I (Rhonda clears throat self-consciously) actually hit her on the highway and nearly killed her. Her owners never came forward to claim her, or the vet bill. Based on the condition she was in at the time, it’s likely she had gone feral anyway.

  3. I love animals… in pictures. Particularly love the dogs.

    About the machinima: would you consider changing your site’s purpose then? Personally, I would love to go to a place where I can find “the best” machinima. I’ve actually googled that in the past because I became so weary of seeing ‘poor’ ones. Needless to say, I got no results. With all the tutorials and the tips that the pioneers have left behind, no one should still have machinima with plumbobs showing, walls down, sleeping zzz’s etc. Those are the basics – entry requirements if you may. Then the peer reviews by a panel who knows what they’re talking about. It’s the most innovative idea I’ve heard to date where Sims machinima sites are concerned. I am excited about this but I’m being real presumptuous here… Would you consider it then? I love it! I’m having some ideas about this!

  4. OMG!!! Asa loves watermelon too!!! And it’s not fair–I want a ground hog too!!!

  5. Odara, I absolutely have been thinking along those lines recently. I think the real secret to the success of such a site will be consistency. . .once we establish credibility as a panel of reviewers, then the words: “Rated 5 Stars by Sims2 Machinima.com” would carry significant weight. I’ve seen this idea tossed about by different people here and there, but nobody sticks with it long enough for their reviews to mean anything.

    I don’t, however, want to shut out the newbies. This means the site would serve dual purposes, which I don’t think is a bad thing. Here’s what it would not be: 1) a forum. DURS has that angle sewn up nicely. Not to mention sites like AST and MTS. 2) a hosting site. There’s no way I could ever afford the bandwidth, although the idea is tempting because copyright crap with YouTube is way too much of a hassle. 3) a social network. People will not be able to interact with each other through this site or leave comments about the videos. Why? The short answer, I don’t want the hassle. But when it comes down to it, like I said about the forums, I think that niche has been filled by other sites and filled well.

    I think the public side of Sims2Machinima.com should still be a basic listing of active directors who want to promote their work. But the other side of Sims2Machinima.com could be a closed group, where participants can submit their works-in-progress (possibly set to “private” or “unlisted” on YouTube) and have them go through the review process BEFORE they’re released to the public.

    Carol and I have also been chatting about the possibilities of a similar book review site. No need to offer a critique forum in that one; plenty of those exist already. But in the modern jungle of self-publishing, e-publishing, and small press, finding a high quality, well-written novel is quite a challenge. One thing we discussed is no negative reviews. We’ll only mention the books that meet certain standards and say nothing about the rest. Over time, if we gain credibility with reliable reviews, being recommended by our site might be a coveted achievement for some writers.

  6. Hi, Cindy! Good to see you here. Hollywood says “hello” to Asa.

    I do believe groundhogs might actually be cooler than squirrels. But I won’t know for sure unless Lively survives. She is still a very, very sick critter.

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