Thursday, September 30, 2010

Photo Opportunities

My first article with PopMatters is up right now. You can find "Photo Opportunities in Video Games" right here. I stumbled upon the topic after playing around with Afrika, a sort-of safari simulator that lets players take photos of gazelle and other various wild animals.

Some of the missions in this game are actually pretty fun. I really enjoy the idea of approaching the animals from new perspectives, trying to capture rare moments. Unfortunately, a large portion of the game is spent being railroaded to a particular location, primed and ready for just the right photo. This can make the game feel very artificial, though I still enjoy the experience.

Naturally, this got me thinking about why I was taking these photos and ideas of collection and ownership. I contemplated photography as a possessive act in which I imprison moments and subjects in time, which seems strange considering all the animals in Afrika are already imprisoned within the game disc. After awhile, the idea of taking photographs in games seemed very strange to me.

So I went to the library, dipped into film theory, and here we are. I think the article suffers from some of the problems that arise in certain film theory articles - mainly, thinking in such a distanced manner makes it hard to believe our conclusions can be true. Thinking in this way can feel unnatural. Regardless, I had fun exploring the concepts. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Also, if you missed Scott's article from last week on PopMatters, check it out.


  1. Hm. I'm finding it interesting that all those three games you've listed come from Japanese developers.
    And I can't really think of a western game that centers around cameras either. Do they just elude me?

    Seems to me most western developers use *those* camera mechanics only as a gadget, one mechanic among many but rarely the prime one.

  2. Playboy: the Mansion had an American development team. Also, I believe little success in the States.

    DoA: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, again, a Japanese dev team. I think more success than the previous game, but I think that it is niche here.

    Photography and voyeurism go hand in hand and in my mind is also related (as game mechanics) to Jorge's allusion to capture and possession. There is something to "collection" that is similarly related (also a common conceit in Japanese and European games, i.e. collectible cards of the women that you have nailed in The Witcher, collectible action figures in Brave Fencer Musashi, etc.).

  3. I love the 'fire and ice' concept; it's very incisive. I remember a similar discussion about making film viewers read on-screen text, forcing them to involve themselves in the film's setting and use their cognitive abilities actively to draw conclusions, rather than passively letting it wash over them.

  4. @ Sebastien and Christopher

    Good call on the Japanese phenomenon. I would also include the camera phone in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories as an example, which I think uses the need to make sense of reality through documentation a theme.

    You could also include Bioshock's camera mini-game mechanic in which players document, and thereby learn about, splicers and other enemies. That seems less about possession because you cannot go back and examine the photos. It a bit voyeuristic though, especially when taking photos of unsuspecting splicers.

    @ Chris

    Being asked to partake in a medium in a different way, basically, is jarring. But like you said, it might force viewers to examine their experience in a different way.

  5. I was trying to come up with games that have the camera is *the* central element over other interaction, and those were the ones that first came to mind.
    There's of course Bioshock, and there's of course Beyond Good & Evil. And Zelda: Wind Waker. Though that one's again Japanese.
    In western games cameras oftentime see use as a secondary mechanic. BG&E, Condemned, Bioshock, they all have cameras in some way but in no game is taking pictures the prime activity - even though the pictures taken often times are central to the overall progression.