Photography is one of those things I thought I’d be good at until I actually tried it. I studied media and graphic design at university (that worked out for me, didn’t it?), and I’m pretty well versed in the theory of crafting the perfect snapshot, I reckon. I know what depth of field is. I understand the rule of thirds. Kind of. But all you need is a cursory glance at my camera roll to see that… well, I’m terrible, frankly (and the fact I just referred you to my janky camera roll and not real photography software should’ve given me away, too).
Even that brief period in 2006 when I was wafting around the place with a DSLR glued to my face – a shameful, walking embodiment of the phrase “all the gear, no idea” – I was appalling to the point of offense. Much like Monica’s massages in Friends, if there was an award for the Best Worst Amateur Photographer, I’d be taking the gold.
Imagine my surprise – and delight – when current-gen technology arrived with its 4K resolution and virtual reality headsets and transformed me into a photographic goddess courtesy of the humble screenshot button.
I love games because they make me feel capable and strong when in reality, I’m useless and feeble. The list of virtual activities that I cannot do in real-life is predictable enough: sprinting; swimming; climbing; racing; puzzling; shooting. If you and I were pitted toe-to-toe on any of these IRL challenges, I suspect you would win, and I say that even though I have never met you. I reckon I could probably beat you in a bread-and-butter pudding bake-off – honestly, I’m outstanding – and I once downed a pint of Caffreys faster than anyone else in my packed Union bar, but beyond binge drinking and pudding-making, you probably have me beat.
Photo mode – or the screenshot button should a bespoke mode not be available – is one of the greatest things to come out of this generation of gaming. It might just be the greatest thing ever, although it’s difficult to deliver an assertion like that with next-gen on the horizon. But before we turn our backs on current-gen, shoving it aside like a regretful one-night-stand the morning after, let’s spend a little time honouring the eighth console generation’s greatest achievement.
I may not know how aperture or white balance really works, but my god, video games make me feel like I’m great at in-game snapshots. Of course, I very rarely do any of the hard work – unless there’s a specific photo mode that lets me manipulate all aspects of the photograph, it’s mostly done via the screenshot button and there is literally no skill required for that; a designer has composited that shot just so, and I’m simply snapping it for prosperity – but my capture library is awash with striking backdrops and luscious locations and charismatic characters. But more than that, just like the shots on our phones – or the rare few that make it to frames or albums – they hold a host of evocative memories, too.
Some games go even further, though. Those that do offer an in-game photo mode – God Of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Red Dead Redemption 2, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, Death Stranding; I’d go on, but you get the point – enable you to control all aspects of the shot, with some enabling you to unhook the tether of the camera’s perspective and sweep around to any angle you want, able to tweak the composition of your shot right down to the granular detail. I’ll admit that I don’t always know what I’m doing but my god, do I have fun doing it.
I currently have 12GBs worth on my PlayStation 4’s hard drive, 12GBs worth of memories that I regularly dip into, as important to me as the blurry snapshots of the nights out and the parties and the friends I’ve collected throughout my life. There is no particular genre or type of game that I’m more drawn to capping although, diverse, expansive playgrounds like the later Assassin’s Creed instalments are undeniably appealing. I’m not biased to a particular art style, either; whilst it’s likely true that hyperrealistic visuals are especially effective at snagging the eye, particularly when it comes to trying to engage your non-gaming pals, all games – big, small, AAA, indie, long, short, colourful, monochromatic – have the ability to captivate. Each one is beautiful. Each one is important. Each one I’ve played reminds me of a period in my life, be that good or not-so-good.
There are, of course, whole projects dedicated to recording the astonishing worlds of video games. Other Places shares videos and screenshots of beautiful video game worlds. Some outlets regularly curate the greatest shots and display them in end-of-year roundups, such as this striking collection at Kotaku (my UrbEx itch is so tickled by The Division 2 ones). My lounge bookcase is stuffed with Art Of coffee books; heavy, well-thumbed tomes that showcase the breathtaking concept art – and in-game environments – of my favourite adventures. I will never tire of looking at them, not even when current-gen becomes last-gen, not even when ray tracing becomes the new normal. Backwards compatibility will help us savour these memories for longer than ever, sure, but flicking through my capture gallery freezes that moment – that emotion – in time forever.
As we bid farewell to this generation of gaming – so long, my PS4 Pro’s impossible-to-dust, slanted, triple-decker chonkiness; sayonara, my Xbox One X’s power button that’s so hyper-sensitive, my dog can turn it off with his freaking tail – and gallop towards the next, here’s hoping we don’t leave the humble photo mode behind.