The camera remains one of the most integral parts of game infrastructure. We all know how bad camera controls can interfere with the enjoyment of even the funnest game. Yet, one of the most important aspects of the camera is one that we hardly think about, the camera perspective. The camera perspective can directly have an effect on how you perceive a game and it's world, with first person, third person, and even second person cameras providing alternate viewpoints on the same world. Still, why does the purpose and power of perspective get looked over so often? Skill-based multiplayer shooters are normally first person, RPG's are normally third person, and pretentious arthouse games attempt experimental second person camera projects, this is the way the world works, but... why? Why do we use certain camera perspectives for certain types of games? Through a combined effort of research, observation, and scientific wild ass guesses, I will attempt to answer this question, as we take a closer look at camera perspective in games.
Let's Take a Look: Camera Perspective-
The Marc Owen's Avatar Machine
To start this observatory adventure, let us first delve into the third person and it's effects. The avatar machine, shown in the above video, allows ordinary people to see themselves in third person, very similarly to certain Videogames. As we spend all of our lives in a first person perspective, viewing oneself in third person causes a slight disconnect in identity. Marc Owens, the creator of the avatar machine, has observed the behavior of people using the avatar machine compared to their normal behavior and discovered this disconnect. What Marc found was that people in the avatar machine tended to have exaggerated movements and behavior, people would act sillier, braver, or meaner in the avatar machine and felt more like they were in a Videogame than them self. The third person view allowed them a greater sense of freedom in their actions then they were used to.
Saints Row 3
uses third person to it's advantage by being over the top in every way.
While subjects weren't exactly holding up taxi's and then going on joyrides to mow down civilians, the Videogame-like behavior exhibited by subjects gives us insight into the effects of the third person camera and it's use in games. While we don't exactly see games as reality, the third person camera can help further separate our in-game actions from our own. This is why most sandboxes are better enjoyed from a third person perspective, as it allows total freedom. While third person can be used in a game like Saint's Row
in order to encourage random acts of unrealistic stupidity, or to give you the feeling of power in Starcraft
, it could be used for other more subtle reasons.
In RPGs like Mass Effect
or Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura
, the disconnect given by third person is used not for silly hijinks, but to increase roleplaying. Just as with tabletop roleplay, the player's job in regards to their character is more similar to a puppet master rather than an actor. Good roleplaying games must allow the player freedom of their actions and what type of character they wish to create. This theory raises an interesting question though, what about first person RPGs? Yes, I'm looking at you Elderscrolls and Fallout 3.
Skyrim as played in first person mode, one of the few examples of a first person RPG.
series and the newer games in the Fallout
series both allow you to switch between first and third person perspectives. Both series maintain the same theme as in any other third person RPG, but in first person the experience changes. To those not necessarily roleplaying inclined, or those that would rather play as their character as opposed to controlling one, the first person perspective allows that option. While the content might be the same, the theme and design of the game changes with each option. Armor becomes only useful for it's stats in first person, whereas it becomes character defining in third person. Battles are more direct and tense in first person then they are in the hack-n-slash-fest of third person. Why do these changes occur? Well let's look at the first person.
As we live our entire lives in first person, this is the perspective that we should understand the most. In order to emulate the feeling of personal weight, of being in another character's shoes, or us being in the game, the first person is the go to option. The sense of in-the moment intimacy it provides makes it a great choice for skill based games such as Counter-strike
or Team Fortress
, and provides a great way for us to explore wonderful lands such as Skyrim. This same sense of personal investment also serves as a great way to induce vulnerability, which makes it a great choice for survival horror games, such as Amnesia: the Dark Descent
provides one of the best examples of survival horror done right.
This sense of vulnerability that makes Amnesia so bloody scary is what makes survival horror the genre it is. But if first person provides great vulnerability, then why is it not the only perspective used in survival horror? Well, let's take a look at Silent Hill
. In Silent Hill
, most of the town is covered by a deep fog, only allowing you to see so far ahead of you. The story behind this was that the PS1's graphics could not take the level of detail in the game, and they moved down the render area to make it technically possible, and give it atmosphere. However, what this fog does is provide a sense of limited visibility, and the magical survival horror keyword- vulnerability. This gives us all of the horror of first person, without having us identify with the main character too much, which I cannot go into detail about without spoiling Silent Hill 2
Example of the second person in a Psychonauts boss fight- Skip to 8:15, possible spoilers.
Last but not least, is the curious second person perspective. If that would even be the proper term of it. To be true, the only example of a second person perspective would come from a certain boss battle in Psychonauts, in which you see out of the eyes of the boss you're fighting. It makes for an interesting way of navigating the map, and the sense of being in a horror film in which the creature is rapidly approaching. New camera perspectives of these types could provide entirely new ways in which we see and interact with games. By learning about the properties of existing cameras, we can better construct game experiences and deeper interaction. Regardless whether designing games is your forte or not, I would love to hear about other ways cameras can be used in games. Feel free to comment with ideas, examples, arguments, agreements, or disagreements. No matter how much you know, it's always possible to simply take, a closer look.