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Origins of the word "machinima" - Anthony Bailey's blog
Origins of the word "machinima"

Machinima was spelled slightly differently when first-born. The first use of the term, as "machinema", appeared in an e-mail I sent on the 'q2demos' mailing list on 5 Jan 1998. Here is the quote from the mail in question. Conveniently, it happened to go on to explain the need to coin the term.

I think with a new tool-set and a greater awareness of the skills
required to make a good piece of machinema[*] we can expect to see
some truly adventurous stuff being made. Fine and fun as they can be,
slapstick and B-movie action horror are just the start of what *could*
be done with this new medium. If I was a film student with some
technical savvie, I'd be beginning to look at using this stuff as an
alternative to or prototype for an expensive real-world production.

[*]Machinema... yes, sorry, it's a bit of a contrived term... but what
in general *are* we going to call these pieces of cinema that are made
using 3D engines? Not only is "Quake movie" an ugly and confusing
term, it's also fast going to become outdated as other technologies
become relevant. (c: Any ideas?

I chose "machinema" to rhyme with cinema. I used "machine" as a base only because I didn't find an easy pun with "engine" in it. I spelled it with the 'e' because it made it look a bit like cinema. I don't believe it to be the best neologism in the world, and I apologize for that - I didn't know the term was going to get widespread.

The word began to be used fairly regularly on the mailing list and gradually in other related fora, but that was about all. So far as I know, it's first "public" appearance is in a review I wrote for GameSpy Industry's Quake portal site PlanetQuake.com, first published on 02 Apr 1999. (Slightly broken copy of now dead page courtesy of the Internet Archive)

Hugh Hancock of Strange Company wrote up some "machinima" techniques on 10 Jun 1999. We were already in e-mail contact so we discussed the new spelling.

I'm very happy that you've adopted my silly whimiscal term for cinema
generated by desktop machines, but is there any reason that you have
changed the spelling? The 'e's in both "cinema" and "machine" seem to
suggest the natural spelling for the mangled combination is
"machinema." It's a pun rather than a derivation, so I don't see any
linguistic pressure to follow the path of e.g. "machinist."
As a linguist I'd prefer to use the "ima", a more common suffix than "ema",
and go with the normal derivation, but to be perfectly honest the main
reason we've changed the spelling is I forgot how you originally spelled it
and "ima" looked more natural! Sorry...
I didn't like "machinima" at first because it seemed to lose the
"cinema" pun, at least at the lexical level. But it's still there
phonically, and now I realise there is a genuine derivation from
"anima" going on as well, so the new spelling actually maybe combines
something plausible and word-play. Anyway, in the interests of
uniformity I'll adopt your spelling.

Hugh tells the machinima etymology story from his side in a far more self-deprecating and entertaining style within the book Machinima for Dummies.

The term crossed the chasm for certain when hub-site machinima.com was launched at the start of 2000.


3 comments or Leave a comment
anthonybailey From: anthonybailey Date: September 9th, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
This brief etymology had skulked on my hard drive for too many years. Today I finally got around to doing my archival duty and publishing it somewhere. Some form of the story has made it on a few etymology websites before, but they seem to have a shorter lifespan than that of the words they cover!
cairmen From: cairmen Date: September 9th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cool. Thanks.
From: zs_overman Date: September 10th, 2007 03:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you

Thanks for documenting this here. I updated Wikipedia to refer to this article as a reference on the topic.
3 comments or Leave a comment