The Art of Video Game Photography

This video essay by YouTuber eurothug4000 delves into a fascinating phenomenon: virtual photography within games. Fascinating because that secondary function of being able to make photos of a game’s virtual environment has spawned subcultures of gamers who focus more on the photomode and less on the gameplay, going so far as to exploit a game’s visual flaws to create striking visuals. Eurothug4000 (or Maria, as she is also known) gives a historical overview of the phenomenon, talks about her own love for the format and interviews some prominent virtual photographers. She explains how the photomode can encourage gamers to explore corners of a game’s world that serve little or no purpose for its gameplay but can yield beautiful photographs.


There’s another reason why this increasingly popular by-product of modern gameplay is fascinating, especially to a video essayist. The photomode achieves a level of interaction with the game’s visuals that many video essay makers can only hope to attain in their interaction with the films and tv shows they study. Evidently, the visual interactivity that is built-in to these games is impossible to achieve for a traditional movie. And yes, there is also an element of marketing to the photomode (video game publishers trigger the gamers to do their promotion for them by having those gamers willingly turn their social media channels into billboards for screenshots from a game). But at the same time, this phenomenon shows that games have less qualms about disseminating their copyrighted content then films do. Game photomodes stand in stark contrast with the rigid, reactionary and restrictive ways in which films treat their images.


The many options and settings available to virtual photographers allow for a practice that is very much like actual photography – and like art. Gamers set up their virtual cameras, characters and environments with the utmost attention to detail so as to make picture perfect screenshots. Especially interesting are the ways in which some virtual photographers exploit the fault lines, the limitations and the glitches of a game’s technology to produce striking imagery. To elevate the shortcomings of one’s favorite (game) to the status of art… isn’t that proof of unconditional love? (Maybe such an approach can serve as an inspiration for the (deformative) audiovisual essay maker? Think about how Bill Morisson uses the deterioration of film stock as an aesthetic and a signifier.)