Photo Modes Change How We Play Games

[MUSIC: Quiet Water, by Toby Fox] For as long as I can remember
playing games on PC, I have been taking screenshots
as I play. At the time of writing, my collection
is 17,000 screenshots strong, taking up about 44 gigabytes of space. It dates back to 2012, with the
oldest stuff in there being preserved screenshots of the world and
cinematics of Alan Wake, one of my favorite games
of all time. It was the ability to immediately
capture and then return to the cinematography of games that
kind of got me into the idea of screenshotting in the first place. When I saw a scene that had been
carefully composed, and that I really had an appreciation for,
I wanted to capture that right away Photography and cinematography are
areas that I’ve long held interests in. The art of capturing a moment,
whether that’s real or simulated, is something that has rapidly become
more accessible to us in our daily lives. When you think about how we have
phones everywhere, we have cameras in all of those phones, and so
a lot of people who weren’t previously able to take photos and
share them with family and friends now are. This advance has come to gaming
just as much as it has with our everyday lives. The power of the current console
generation, which is the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4,
at the time of writing, has enabled developers to create
photo modes. We saw a few of these on the Xbox 360
and the PlayStation 3 as well, but not nearly as much as we have
on this current generation. These modes enable players to
pause a moment in time, manipulate a camera, add effects like
depth of field, add color filters, add frames and then easily share
all of these photos with the world. [SFX: camera shutter] In virtually any game that has
a photo mode – even games I don’t I don’t ultimately enjoy, like 2014’s
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – I can still spend hours with these sorts of modes. Photo modes allow for novice and
professional photographers to be on kind of a level ground. They have access to the same suite
of tools, which does allow them to manipulate a camera and manipulate effects
all within incredible digital landscapes. When we talk about photography
in real life, we’re talking about capturing a specific moment in time,
from a specific angle and position, with specific settings on the camera,
either set up by hand or using automatic processes. The limitations and requirements of
taking a photo in real life, and the art of capturing those
specific moments, it’s deliberate and it’s incidental. What happens then if we
remove those limits? What happens if we allow people to
effectively freeze time, to manipulate a camera freely,
manipulate all of the associated settings, [SFX: camera shutter] and capture the moment in really
intimate detail? What happens when those moments
are primarily focused on violence? In some games, violence is your
only real interaction with the world. If we take Tom Clancy’s The Division
for example, your primary options as you move
through the world are “talk”, and “shoot”. “Talk” isn’t a viable option when you
think about most of the people in the world of The Division. It’s built for violence first,
and talking second. This sort of focus is very singular
and it’s something of a concern when we want to talk about
the art of photography within the context of video games. A very large portion of video games,
particularly those in the big budget and AAA sector are all focused
on violence first. They are built around,
and have the most time put into, their combat systems. When we add a photo mode into the mix,
the result is seemingly inevitable. Rather than the photo mode being a
set of tools to capture kind of incidental and unique moments, it has this potential to alter how we think
about how we interact with the world, whether that’s through combat or
through other means, because in order to get certain
spectacular photos we have to ask the question of,
“What would make the best photo?” Once you know that a photo mode is
in a game, that question can become kind of buried in the back of your mind. So as you go through the game,
you then become aware of “Oh, I can do this really cool thing in combat.”
“I can do this really cool thing over here.” “If I act in a certain way, I can create spectacle
and then I can capture that spectacle.” The results of this work can
really look spectacular, but it is kind of a cold, cruel way to
approach playing a video game. You are using combat and violence
as a preface to a photo. Let’s actually take a look at
an example that I took from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. As I played I distinctly remember
trying to set up attacks, and moments based on a certain chain of events and one of those chains ultimately
created this photo and I-I’ve got a little recreation that I
did here as well, uh, that I did while I was… I was
shooting for this video. In order to get this picture,
I had to find a group of Uruk by a fire, sneak up, use an ability
I had which would make the fire explode when shot,
and then turn myself around, because cool guys
don’t look at explosions. The timing had to be just so that
I was part way out of the wraith form while the aftermath of my actions
ensued behind me. A lot of consideration went into that shot
and the art of making it just so. But it was ultimately a consideration of
how to make violence look cool. I felt weird… [pause] realizing that I had done this,
months and months later. I had done it without any sort of
critical examination of why. I was just in pursuit of
that one killer shot. This is the dark side of
the power of photo modes. This is where it can unconsciously
shift play, and it can do so in such a way that you end up
seeking out the spectacular and creating these chains
of violent events specifically with the intent
of capturing them. So, ask yourself something here: How many skeletons
lie in your screenshot folder? How often have you done the
same thing without thinking? Could you do better in the future? I want to be very clear by the way
and weed out any commenters who tuned out the second I started talking
about violence in video games. This is not a condemnation of violence
in video games, or violent video games at all. Rather, this is a *side effect*
of the decision to place violence at
the core of a video game. When we place the focus of
a game on violence, then the natural evolution of
someone using a photo mode, or even simply screenshotting that game,
is going to be producing images that are – in one way or another –
caked in violence. When we talk about video game
screenshots in general, it’s not that uncommon to see a
dead body somewhere in the frame. And that’s a sight that would be
horrific to someone who was detached from what a video game is. This isn’t a phenomenon that’s exclusive
to games where we can pause, and manipulate a camera and add effects;
it’s not exclusive to photo modes. It is something that can happen in
more casual capture as well. Chris Plante, writing for The Verge,
found himself confronting this as he worked through
his game screenshots. Quote: “One recurring theme was a bit jarring. My gallery is stuffed with photos
of virtual dead bodies, like rigid tuna packed into a can. The oldest shot in the gallery
is a cop unloading a round into the head of GTA 4’s
protagonist, Nico Bellic, and the newest: a low poly soldier
taking a bullet to the chest. Link to the original article
in the down there bit. When it comes to photo modes,
we as players can actually think about “how do we make violence look cool?”
in much the same way that game developers do. At some point in development,
decisions need to be made about how to make violence look and feel cool to
the audience of the developer: the player. As a photographer operating within
the constraints of those same games, we then are faced with
much the same question. We might be thinking about how
we present violence to our audiences, whether that’s some friends,
or maybe the general public if you’re sharing through something like Twitter,
or just preserving it for ourselves. When we go back and
talk about photography in general, the entire art form is something
of a value judgment. What do we feel is worth
preserving and sharing? When you look at Instagram or Facebook,
for example, you’ll likely see presentations of the mundane. People’s pets, the food they eat;
everyday occurrences. These things are meaningful in some way
to the photographer even though they may be mundane
and so they’re worth preserving. In contrast, seeing my gallery from
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, It’s clear that what I took away
from it was not the beauty that could be found within Mordor
– limited as it was – but rather the brutality that shaped the core of it. The screenshots I took
fixate on that brutality, with rare breaks to show environments
or characters that I found interesting. As the player, violence was ultimately
what was most meaningful from that game, and it was what
ended up being preserved as such. It was the only thing I could
take away from it. I feel like that speaks volumes about
other aspects of that game as well: that the only thing I felt was worth preserving from it was brutality. In other games, different takeaways do
make themselves apparent. If we look at Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,
for example, my screenshots from this reflect massive scope and scale. There’s these grand landscapes, historical landmarks and amazing views peppered
throughout the gallery. If we look at Forza Horizon 3,
though not a violent game, you can see the take away in there. You can see the spectacle
of the Horizon Festival. You can see exciting moments
of wheel-to-wheel action, and the design of some
pretty incredible machinery. Everyone’s take away from any given game
is going to be very different. You may be looking through your
screenshot folder of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and find you’ve preserved a lot
more beauty from that game, and that was what you took away. Maybe you took away shots of
your nemesis going about their business. Your take away will always be different. Maybe next time that you open a
photo mode or you go to take a screenshot, Ask yourself:
what do I really feel is worth preserving here? Thanks very much for watching this video.
If you haven’t already, remember to like this video, Maybe leave a comment.
Let me know what you think. You can also subscribe to find out about
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my social media. There’s a link to Discord. There’s a link to my live streams on Mixer.
There is a link to my Twitter. It’s all right there. A special thank you to @TheQueerestDeer
and @apogeesys on Twitter for assisting me with editing the script. They were huge helps and they both really
helped me laser focus my vision for this piece. It’s my first time doing a video essay.
So, I was kind of nervous coming into this. Annnnd that’s it. Thank you again for watching. I really appreciate you taking the
time out of your day to do so. It really means a lot to me.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this essay. I hope it’s given you something to think about. [Music: Chapter Clear by Yoshihito Hirano
& Yuka Tsujiyoko]


  1. this really made me think about the type of screenshots i usually take! i went WILD with the photo mode in far cry 5, and i made it a personal mission for myself to take some portrait photos of every NPC in that game that i was fond of. great vid, jessica!!!

  2. As I reviewed this for captioning, I noticed that the audio clips in a couple places, and want to apologize for that. That's not up to my standards and I'll avoid that happening again in the future with a more careful mix review. My microphone doesn't have any gain and I'm not working with any sort of audio interface, so it's proved tricky to work with to this point, but audio quality is deeply important to me, as is not blowing out everyone's f***ing ears. I hope that you all can enjoy this video regardless of that issue, and thank you so much for the very positive feedback so far. <3

  3. Thank you for your video. I appreciated your point of view. I also have been impressed by the no man’s Sky cinematic from photo mode you put in introduction. I have done some research on the net on how to get the same result and I did’nt catch it. So, how to make cinematics from photo mode please ? Thanks.

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