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The not so philosophical discussion about screen shots


This blog posting was inspired by the interview of Duncan Harris and follow-up discussion. I guess a screen shot photographer is the best way to define him.

Now Harris doesnít do the traditional screen shots that devs push out for game trailers/releases/promos/etc. nor what 99.5% of us do when we take a screenshot in a game using Fraps. Yes I made up that percentage but Iím probably not that far off.

He fudges with the game to get those images.

He tweaks the filters, adds modifications, and pushes the product to its limits in order to capture the image that he is trying to achieve. Admittedly so, it causes the games to crash a whole bunch. Iím betting his computer screams at him every time he does this with Skyrim. I know mine would.

Theyíre all interesting pieces in their own rights. Itís a new level of digital art using content that already exists in the game and spinning it to capture a moment. I know a few people might argue that itís plagiarism since he is not directly making the image from scratch, but there was this movement called Pop Art that would state otherwise.

We can get into a giant debate of what is and isnít art, but thatís not what I want to do with this post. What I wanted to talk about was this quote he made in the article and the ensuing responses:

"I think what it boils down to is that there's just an awful lot of dumb shit in videogames."

Which he later updated on his website: ďI did say there was a lot of Ďdumb shití in them, and I should probably revise that to say thereís an awful lot of dumb shit in them.Ē

He made a photo journalistic response to the comments using Super Mario Galaxy to clear up 3 misconceptions. Mostly I wanted to focus on comments that he doesnít like video games and why work with a medium that he doesnít enjoy, based on the quotes above.

Part of his process and philosophy is to explore a game from a photographerís point of view. And you know what? I have to agree. There is a lot of shit in video games, if you want to film or photograph something. And I donít just mean the bloom and brown obsession with FPS. Too much frickiní brown these days.

What I mean is the content in the game that distracts you from admiring the world your character is standing in. There is a lot of really neat stuff that goes on in the background that most people are never aware of. You get spammed with the story or a war zone and are expected to move forward to whatever the ultimate goal is that you ignore the things happening around you. Not saying that itís intentional, but what games program us to do from the moment we hit the Start button.

One thing that I learned many years ago when I first started in film studies are that there are two processes we always need to be aware of: to capture the image as it happens and to create a story around it. Thatís what Harris does with his pieces, including manipulating the scene to get to the concept he wants to tell. Itís not about the game but the image.

To get to those points in the game where there is an image worth being saved you have to wade through a lot of crap. From that perspective, I understand where Harris is coming from. Neither of us hates games. Iíll probably play them even on my deathbed. Itís a part of my life and a hobby I canít imagine giving up. But getting from point A to point G to grab an image is taxing on the mind when you realize how much stuff there is to wade through to get there. A lot of it is shit, yes. Shit to the mind of a photographer, not a gamer.

I take a lot of screen shots. A lot. A lot lot lot. I have 50+ gigís worth saved up of images from years of gaming (theyíve been compressed to save space but Iím sure itís twice that much). A number of them are random, funny times with my friends. Conversations that we look back on and have a laugh. But most are scenic moments in the game where I have to stop and snap an image. When you remove the noise of the game, take out the chat boxes, build up the filters, play with the settings, you find something truly magical that you may have never seen before because of the clutter.

Iím an avid defender of gaming scenery and removing the noise. There are so many amazing images in games these days that get blocked out by walls of text, conversations, and cut scenes that you miss out on all of the cool things going on.

Chat bubbles for example. I hate chat bubbles.

This has been a big debate on the Star Wars: Old Republic forums. For a very brief time in early beta, they had chat bubbles and no way to turn them off. It pissed me off beyond all belief because it completely took away from the stunning artwork that makes up the Star Wars Universe.

Before I get flamed, not every MMO uses chat bubbles. Some have never had that function (see FFXI) since its inception and theyíre still going quite strong. You donít need a chat bubble to play an MMO. Iíve seen this as a common argument ďevery MMO has chat bubbles so this should too,Ē but thatís a rant for another day.

Chat bubbles would have prevented me from capturing this:

To me, this is beautiful and represents so many things that I enjoy about Star Wars. Because I like exploring my gaming environment, this is something most people will probably never see in game or take the time out to try and find. I went around some buildings, into a corner, and did some crazy Mario-style jumping on ledges to get this. I saw it in the distance and wanted a closer look. Imagine that scene with chat bubbles that you canít turn off. Itíd be an endless stream of clutter like Navi pestering me until I keeled over in insanity.

I may not have the panache of Harris, but I understand where heís coming from. Part of my experience when playing a game is to take screen shots of the content as it is. There are already so many wonderful things happening in the background that there isnít a need for me to futz with it even more. Thatís my perspective at least. If you want to tweak the image to fit your vision, have at it. You donít have to be a gamer to appreciate the images within a game, nor do you have to be a photographer, videographer, filmmaker, artist, etc. But itís obvious to me that Harris does enjoy working with the medium that he has chosen, otherwise he wouldnít continue to spend so much time creating those pieces.
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About TifaIAone of us since 9:31 AM on 11.15.2011

I have been gaming since being pulled from the womb. Literally. I have over 20 decades of gaming in my blood, going all the way back to the Atari 2600. Old school and living it up.

A long time fan of DToid, I finally caved in to make my own profile. Currently I work as a freelance photographer and videographer, but I always have a geek twist to my work. You can view more at my blog: The Geek Spot.

I hope to meet new people here at DToid and share in our love of all things geek, gaming, and gloriousness.