“Over the last two decades a new photographical practice evolved in the realm of the digital: In-game photography. Open world computer games are increasingly shipped with an implemented photo mode, users post game snapshots to their social media timelines as a matter of course, and artists present their in-game photo works in museums and galleries. “Capturing the (Game) World” is a series of events which invites students, scholars, artists, photographers, hobbyists as well as professionals, gamers as well as non-gamers, theorists as well as practitioners to explore the quickly developing new photography practice called in-game photography. The series offers insightful talks – about the practice, aesthetics, and the history of in-game photography – as well as hands-on workshops to explore photography in games and in-game photographical techniques.”
In the late 1980s I was making paintings about computer games. In January 1991 I bought an Amiga computer and made a series of fictional videogame stills using Deluxe Paint II. I photographed them straight from the screen as there was no other way to output them that I knew of apart from through a very primitive daisy wheel printer where they appeared as washed out dots.
The effect of the photographs perfectly reproduced the highly pixellated, raised needlepoint effect of the Amiga screen image. Conceptually this means of presentation was also appropriate in that it made it seem like I had gone into a videogame arcade and photographed the games there, lending authenticity to the fiction.
The histories of videogames are so often contained with nostalgia for the screen, for the arcade, console, computer or game box design, and for the experience of playing itself. Various amateur photographs now archived on Flickr allow us to remember beyond the stereotypical, albeit iconic, imagery of Pac–Man and Space Invaders. The essence of play becomes captured in the photograph as a “collective memory” and “reflective nostalgia” for the places, times and actions inherent in the histories of the early 1970s and 1980s videogame era. It is through debating the so-often implied “reconstructed nostalgias” offered by videogame companies to consumers in their remakes of classic game titles that this paper explores “reflective nostalgia” of videogames by examining the role of photographs taken during the act of playing these games. In doing so it reframes 1980s videogame nostalgias beyond the “mediated space” of the screen, and moves instead towards the “play space” as another way of keeping these histories alive.
“Point and Shoot, Remediating Photography in Gamespace” is a 2007 essay by Cindy Poremba. Here the author looks at the phenomenon of screenshots photograph of digital games and their relationship with photography. The virtualisation of photography, she claims, remediates many aspects of traditional photography.
Considering the time of the essay and its scope and content, this can be seen as a defining and pioneering writing for the discourse of in-game photography.
If the process and ritual behind this image making is similar, the players themselves are validating the reality of their subjects simply by creating a document of these experiences. In this sense, players are taking real photos, just in virtual spaces.
Although game photos remain a representation (through remediation) of the technique of representation, photography nonetheless carves out a space for itself within play, bringing new practice to the digital game.
In an essay part of Martin Lister’s The Photographic Image in Digital Culture (2nd ed., 2014), Seth Giddings looks at Videogame photography and argues that while light is absent from this kind of photography, yet other aspects persist.
Images taken in them may not be written with light, but in their conventions, their uses, effects and affects, they function, and are understood as, photographs of the virtual.
In-game photography, he states, is not a completely new medium but also not just an unqualified remediation of photography.
If we pay attention to what the residues of photography and photographic practices facilitate in the new milieu of the virtual gameworld and the digital network, we might see new quite different media technocultural individuals emerging. Not remediated, not rupture per se, but an evolution, a mutation – as it ever was.
Eron Rauch, “A Land to Die In (Every Player Corpse from 1-70)” from A Land to Die In (Detail)
Eron Rauch attempts to categorise the different kinds of in-game photographs in four categories, drawing a parallel with the history of photography and its development.
So what were people doing with photography for that whole previous century if they weren’t sure if it was art? I know I’m being facetious, but the question begs a number of interesting followup-questions which directly inform what is happening now with IGP and virtual photography: Why do people make photographs? Who makes photographs? What kinds of photographs get made? What does photography mean in the internet age?
Well, let’s run through a few of the major historical veins of photography to see what they might teach us about talking about a broadened pallet of types of IGP. These aren’t absolute categories, in fact many photographs can be part of more than one category or even change categories as they age (such as the military survey photos of the uncolonized American West now being shown as art in the Getty).
Let’s talk about four categories. We’ll call these photography divisions “Art”, “Amateur,” “Artisan,” and “Vernacular.”