Final Fantasy XIV
Screenshot by Destructoid

How many screenshots is too many for a game?

Help me budget this, my SD card is dying.

Something peculiar happened to me recently, when I was playing Unicorn Overlord. I was on the review coverage, and also on deck to hit a few guides along the way. And at one point, somewhere in the game’s fourth major area, I got a notification screen I hadn’t seen before: I couldn’t take any more screenshots.

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Considering the size of the SD card I have in my Switch, it seemed absurd I filled it up that fast. So I went into the settings and got a notification that I had exceeded the amount of screenshots I could capture. The amount, for those wondering, seems to be 10,000 screenshots.

Now, it seems like this 10k cap isn’t for a single game, but for cumulative screenshots. Given that I still have a giant repository of other screens for other games I’ve covered on my Switch, like Tears of the Kingdom and Mario vs. Donkey Kong, it makes a little more sense. (At least to me and my brainworms, it does.)

Final Fantasy XIV
Screenshot by Destructoid

What it did do was make me so much more conscious of how often I was hitting the screenshot button. It’s a lot more than I realized. Sure, my guides-seeking brain was firing the snapshot-neuron every time I saw a rewards screen or detail I might not be able to easily resurface. But I was also just grabbing cool images; art that looked nice, dialogue I enjoyed, and battle scenes that struck me. Going back to my PlayStation 5, I saw the same was happening in games like FF7 Rebirth and Dragon’s Dogma 2. I was instinctively hitting the snapshot button, all the time.

I can remember the time before screenshotting was widely accessible. In the late aughts, when I was grinding Call of Duty: Modern Warfare with my friends, it was a big deal when one got a gameplay recorder. He’d upload clips of one-shots and throwing knife kills onto a YouTube channel, just so we could relive silly moments from all those nights spent running Search and Destroy inhouses.

It’s funny to think that not even five years later, both Sony and Xbox consoles would come with capture tech packed into the hardware, and Nintendo followed suit in 2017 with the Switch. Capture on PC got easier, too. Programs like OBS made it incredibly simple to link with Twitch and share gameplay. By college, I was recording Hearthstone Arena runs and League of Legends matches with relative ease.

Both of those situations seem like a far-cry from now, where streaming gameplay is possible within a console box, and the growing prevalence of gaming PCs means everyone can be a streamer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: the biggest impact the PS4 and Xbox One generation had was the Share button. The ability to take a screenshot, without any additional hardware, meant all those moments don’t just look better than cell phone snaps and off-screen video, but they’re easy to take and share. (Well, they used to be easier to share on a certain site.)


I remember the time before built-in capture well, but the margin is thinner for concerts without phones. Growing up, I loved going to live shows. And for a long time, they were just giant pits of people. Then, as technology advanced, I started to see those hands in the air holding more than just lighters. Digital cameras, cell phones, iPhones, even Nintendo 3DS handhelds.

I’m not really lamenting the before-and-after of it all. I’m not the Old Man Yelling at a Cloud today. But at some point, advances in technology did fundamentally change the way we engage with media. It became easier to record live video and audio, and so people started wanting to capture those moments, to share them or preserve them, to send to crushes or boast a little online. The same thing happened to video games. And now I’ve got 10,000 screenshots on my Switch.

Over the weekend, I had to fix my install on Final Fantasy XIV and was terrified, for a brief moment, that I had lost all my screenshots. Hundreds of snaps, chronicling the long journey of my Warrior(s) of Light throughout Eorzea. Why did I want them? Well, it was like a scrapbook. I don’t crack it open as often as I should, but when I do, a flood of warm memories washes over me. Huge story moments, funny gags, and posing in front of cleared raids alike all remind me of good times in this digital world.

Final Fantasy XIV
Screenshot via Destructoid

For Final Fantasy XIV, taking copious screenshots seems encouraged by how powerful its Gpose tools are. But so many games now account for the love of snapshotting perfect moments. The “photo mode” has become ubiquitous, and even games like Tears of the Kingdom have entire mechanics based around their camera functions.

So let’s get back to the quandary that started all this: how many screenshots is too many? Is it possible to over-do it? Maybe or maybe not, though I know which answer my Nintendo Switch is giving me. Moreover, I think this whole saga has only made me more conscious of why I take screenshots. Am I doing it instinctively? Do I want to preserve this moment? Am I, honestly, sometimes caught up in trying to take a perfect snap of a character or scene because I know it’ll make for a good article image later? (That’s a distinctly games writer problem, I know.)

I do think the screenshot function is an ultimate good for the industry. I also think it has fundamentally altered the way players perceive games. When I reach a new vista, I absolutely stop to see if the lighting looks good for a new photo mode snap. This can be an incredibly rewarding way to engage with a game; it can, at least in my experience, also prevent me from taking in the moment as-is. I’ve spent more than a few cutscenes just snapping away. It’s not quite the same as staring at a concert through an iPhone viewfinder, but it does frame how I’m viewing the game in the moment.


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Author
Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.