As video game graphics continue to evolve, so do the features that work in tandem with them. One of those features is photo mode, which allows users to screenshot moments in-game.
Initially, photo mode started out as a fun resource for gamers to use to capture moments from their favorite games. Over the last few years, it has grown into an art form within art. This is another case of new media art in video games.
New media art refers to works created with the use of new technology. Video games have been home to a number of different forms of contemporary art. Video-based content exists thanks to the use of video games. Photo mode is just the photographic end of things.
Instead of having to go out and shoot something with a camera, users can create beautiful images using video games. Sometimes these modes even create new games of their own within video games.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is an action video game that places players in the shoes of a web-slinging superhero. Using these powers to fight bad guys, traverse the city, and advance through a compelling narrative is an amazing experience. But Insomniac didn’t stop there, as they incorporated in-game photographic elements that add even more depth to gameplay and lore.
Any Spider-Man fan knows that a consistent backstory for Peter Parker and his secret identity revolves around photography. Thanks to photo mode, players get to feel even more like Spider-Man and Peter Parker, like they were taking pictures for The Daily Bugle.
Marvel’s Spider-Man’s photo mode isn’t the game’s only photo-driven aspect, as the landmark photos allow you to take shots so beautiful, J. Jonah Jameson might even approve of them. Redditor u/j2tharod shows off the beauty that is captured by the in-game camera Spidey and MJ carry in the picture above.
But why exactly is this so appealing? Just like any other form of art, these images tell their own unique stories. Alongside the beauty of Spider-Man running up this building, there is a narrative to unravel. While it may quite literally be one that tells the game’s narrative, it could also be a story that belongs to an individual gamer.
Similar to normal photography, these photos are the result of an individual’s work. And while they may not have made Marvel’s Spider-Man, crafting a brilliant image in the game, unique to them, is an accomplishment of their own doing. This ability to create multiple distinct user constructed experience within a video game is just one of the many reasons photo modes keep popping up. We’ve also seen plenty of instances where this new art form is even able to imitate reality.
Forza Horizon 4 is a racing video game series that is known for its realism, specifically in regards to its map and car model designs. Its graphics are so finely tuned that is difficult to tell the difference between a screenshot in-game and a real life picture. A lot of this can be credited to the developer’s attention to detail. Just look at these five incredible, tiny details you might have missed. Nonetheless, the best shots take talent to capture.
Some artists are so good at taking realistic pictures in photo mode that they’ve created jobs out of it. England-based games journalist Duncan Harris runs an entire site, Deadendthrills, dedicated to crafting the most photorealistic screenshots around.
One look at Deadendthrills’ website will take your breath away and likely confuse you. Despite the fact that you know it’s fiction, plenty of features on the site make some fantasy game photos feel as real looking as Forza Horizon 4’s screenshots. It’ll leave you thinking “maybe dragons and magic are real, and Dragon Age Inquisition is a true story.”
In an interview with Kotaku, Harris expands upon this thought, talking about how the fictional end of video games provide an opportunity to produce art that you’d never be able to create elsewhere.
“Only in the screenshot can I really do those incredible things, then share them with the community because that’s what those games are really all about. They’re about saying, ‘Look how fucking badass I was today.’ They’re about pretending, one way or another.”
It will be interesting to see how photo mode continues to grow and influence games. Maybe photography oriented games could even become a gaming genre of their own based on the groundwork of this feature.
Examples of photo-based interactivity, however minor, can already be found in Uncharted 4’s photo mode. This feature allows users to change exact camera settings in order to create the best image. There’s a lot of possibilities to play with involving depth of field, framing, and other photo-based features.
Horizon Zero Dawn is another amazing example of screenshot customization, as players can access the mode whenever they pause. Similar to Uncharted 4, you can change a slew of different camera options to affect the picture’s outcome. What makes Guerilla’s title stand out is the ability to change things like the time of day.
Guerilla is also doing a fantastic job providing players incentive to take photos in game, as the company is actively promoting them on social media. Throughout Horizon Zero Dawn’s short life cycle, it has already run a nine-week contest to create the best screenshot. Winners received a signed print and the studio got a great promotion out of it.
For now, we will just have to sit back and marvel at the beautiful photos taken within games, doing our best to figure out in-game photos from real life in all the while.