Do you like this photo? Would you believe it if I told you that it wasn’t a photo taken in real life – it’s from a video game, Dishonored 2, by Flickr user Videogame Photography. So, then, does the question change? Is it even a photo anymore? No, it’s not.
When one of the early Gran Turismo games allowed me to take a picture of my virtual Ford Mustang next to a virtual canyon, it was a neat trick. I downloaded the file onto a USB drive and made it my desktop wallpaper for a while. But I never looked at that image and thought to myself, “Gosh, that’s a nice photograph of a Mustang.” It was digital art, pure and simple.
The topic of in-game photography was brought up in the news again by this week’s B&H Photography Podcast. In game photography is something that isn't new, but certainly gets more sophisticated with each generation. It was an informative interview, with a game developer and a couple of in-game “photographers,” an artist who earned his M.F.A. using some work incorporating World of Warcraft screenshots, and a game developer.
It used to be that video games would run at 640x480 resolution on your computer, bad guys would like a clump of pixels overlaid on the screen, the quality was so bad. But now with faster processors and better hardware, 4K is even possible – for reference, that’s an 4096x2160 pixels, or about 8 megapixels, big enough to print 24” x 36” at full resolution in high quality. That’s better than some “actual” cameras. But does that make it photography?
Artist Eron Rauch in the podcast describes a project he did to earn his M.F.A. that involved large prints of World of Warcraft screenshots. He said that at the time he was accused of plagiarism, copyright violations, and was generally pilloried by his classmates. He was supported by a few professors and continued and evolved his work. Today, he said he believes it’s part of photography in 2017.
The photography industry is under assault from many fronts, but who would have thought that another one would open up against video games?
There’s a lot of talk in the podcast about the in-game “cameras” that you can use to take a “photo” – but the reason here for all those quotation marks comes from one of the things the game developer – Tobias Andersson of Avalanche Studios – says toward the end.
“The circumstances are always perfect,” Andersson says.
Indeed, why worry about rain? Or sunlight that isn’t just right, or wind that won’t cooperate? These are all pesky things that real-world photographers have to worry about. But the circumstances are not always perfect in real life. Andersson even adds that sometimes are people are fooled by screenshots.
Why the need to fool people, if indeed in-game photography is just as real as IRL photography?
Because it isn’t.
I drove out to this spot in Long Island in New York at 4:30 in morning to make sure I caught the sunrise. I dropped my neutral density filter in the water. It was December and I froze my feet off after an accidental splash while setting up the tripod. This is a real spot in the real world, with all of the danger and infinite variability that comes with it.
This is a photograph.
If you’re sitting on your couch and the Playstation’s doing all the work, call it what it is: Art.
[via B&H Photography Podcast]