Visual imagery experienced today exists in a proliferation of forms and are created and communicated through an increasingly diverse range of mediums. Previously existing differentiations between visual mediums and forms of image production are becoming increasingly subtle and diffused as contemporary visual culture continues expanding and developing. The intention of this paper is to examine and discuss relationships between photography and videogames as distinctive visual forms existing simultaneously in a complex visual environment. This paper discusses the differences and similarities between photography and videogames as visual forms existing in parallel and as two forms of image production that are mutually informative and influential. Photography and videogames can be perceived as contemporary continuations of historical practices and extensions of historical processes and concepts into our own time. These processes and concepts, including representation, simulation, realism and subjectivity, remain vital and relevant even now. A range of theoretical works from various discourses, most notably from photography theory, game theory and history are discussed in this paper in order to provide a comprehensive yet detailed discussion of the relationship between photography and video games. This paper also provides analysis of work by Samsul Alam Helal, Karl Burke and Benoit Paillé as exemplification of the practical and visual relevance of the theories discussed. As a step into an increasingly post-photographic culture this paper concludes by reflecting on future relations between photography and videogames and by suggesting topics for future consideration.
Introduction: ‘Rise and shine, Mister Freeman. Rise and… shine.’
G-man, Half Life 2 (Valve, 2004)
Contemporary society and culture consists today of an increasingly saturated environment of visual imagery. Every minute sees the creation and dissemination of images. This torrent of visual imagery originates from different, often discrete, sources. These images seemingly permeate every sphere of public and private life and vary in type, from complex artistic expressions to vernacular documentations. Images also exist in multiple forms of materiality, they have the traditional physical form of photographs created in a camera while also having a virtual form as zeroes and ones created, communicated and viewed through computers and software platforms. Tracing the relations of visual forms becomes increasingly important as cultural and technological differentiations between images wash away. The diversity of visual imagery seen today causes reconsideration in how society and culture perceives, experiences and relates to this increasingly wide and difficultly defined conception. This paper aims to discuss the relation between photography and videogames as two distinctive forms existing in parallel in an increasingly complex visual culture. This paper will explore differences and similarities between photography and videogames as diverse forms of representation, simulation, expression and narration. Photography and videogames are among the most utilised and accessed visual forms today. In 2014 Mary Meeker reported in her annual analysis of Internet trends that an excess of 1.8 billion images where created, uploaded and shared through popular imaging sharing and social networking platforms. Flickr, a popular image sharing website, reported the same year that 1.83 million images were publically shared via their services. Regarding video game usage, Entertainment Software Association reported in 2014 that 42% of the population in the United States of America spent three hours or more per week playing videogames. Merely based on statics the popularity of photography and videogames is undeniable.
The relation between photography and videogames is easily prefaced by their popularity and visual form. However, beyond their evident popularity and prevalence in contemporary society, both forms share similar historical frameworks. While the process of visually representing reality using technology may in some cases seem surprising, the tradition is traceable farther into the histories of humanity. Bruce Wands argues that:
The roots of digital art are ancient and varied. Indeed, it could be argued that the pre-historic cave-paintings found in France and northern Spain provides not only some of the earliest examples of graphical storytelling, but also the earliest examples of immersive environments. As evidenced by sites such as Stonehenge, by the art and monuments of Classical Antiquity and by the calendar systems of the Mayans, people around the world, from the earliest times, considered the disciplines of science, astronomy and mathematics fundamental to their art and culture.
According to Wands, the practice of visually communicating one’s experiences and perceptions of reality is a more ancient practice then previously considered, especially relating to digital imaging art. This practice continues today at remarkable speeds as contemporary methods, including digital technologies, make it possible.
Wands’ statement concerning the origins of visual storytelling compels us to reflect on the histories of contemporary visual practices. Following Wands’ implied suggestion I will provide a historical relation between photography and videogames as a starting point for this paper. Continuing on this initial relation I will discuss a number of topics relevant to both forms, including representation, simulation, realism and subjectivity. I will also explore further similarities and differences between the two. Ultimately I intend to provide an analysis of photography and videogames as related processes and methods of communication in contemporary culture.