Gaming Screenshots as an Art Form

Flexibility is one of the most fundamental cornerstones of artistic expression. This doesn’t just apply with already established art forms either, as it also reflects the new and constantly evolving avenues which our artistic appreciation can take.

One of the most recent forms that has been becoming increasingly visible is that of static gaming images as art. Of course, games themselves consist of enormous quantities of art assets but, as we commonly see in photography, images when properly framed can account for more than just the sum of their parts.

Borrowing from the Old, Relying on the New

Perhaps the most obvious component of this burgeoning art form comes from the classic discipline of photography. Light, framing, focal length, and so many other forms of image manipulation raise their heads here, and these have benefitted heavily from improving graphical horsepower.

Rising graphical standards through better in-game textures, model quality, lighting techniques, anti-aliasing, and antistrophic filtering have all been growing increasingly convincing in recent years, and these are only a few of the technologies involved.

While depictions of realism have obviously seen some of the biggest leaps in believability, it should also be noted that stylised graphics like those from cell-shaded games have also made significant strides in recent years.

Aiding in this more traditional appeal to photography is the inclusion of what is known as a photo mode in many newer games. This is usually triggered through the pause menu or by performing a special button combination, which then pauses the action and opens up the photo tool.

This tool then allows players to fully rotate and tilt the camera, change its distance, add filters to the screen, remove certain characters, add borders, manipulate saturation and brightness, and otherwise play with a whole host of other options.

In effect, this gives more freedom than a real-life photographer could ever find, which can give rise to some astounding artistic pieces. Take a look at a few from Redbull, for the recent PS4 Spider-Man game, to see just a hint of the possibilities here.

Building the Business

The other side of this equation is afforded through the inclusion of humanity as a means of guiding expression and understanding. Before taking a look at how we accomplish this today, however, we need to examine the place screenshots have had in gaming’s past.

Primarily, screenshots were a form of advertising above all else. By placing images of the most exciting parts of a game on the back of the box, a studio could show their games in the most measured way possible. This could allow them to draw from parts of high action or the areas where games possessed the most graphical fidelity.

This was so important, in fact, that it sometimes involved less than honest practices and, more recently, helped shaped the current form of console gaming. On rare occasions, the screenshots on the back of the gaming box would only include images from the best-looking version of a multiplatform release, for example, while the game included within might never match these standards.

When it comes to the most recent generation of consoles, gaming enthusiasts have lamented the emphasis of resolution over frame-rate. This very deliberate choice has allowed games to look amazingly good in still images like screenshots, though it inevitably makes the gameplay itself suffer as a result of less fluidity.

Better in screenshots, and better for their art, but less helpful to those invested in more mobile depictions of gaming art.

Taking from the Human Aspect

In terms of bringing the visibility of gaming and the art within to mass attention, few developments have been as influential as game streaming. Giving space to both the game and the human participants, this goes for a different tact than just in-game illustration, relating human response and feeling back to the game with a direct line.

There is a modern classic style in taking screenshots from live gaming services like Twitch, UStream, and YouTube, for example, in times of success, failure, frustration, or comedy. Selecting the right moment, and using this to capture emotion is an incredibly effective system and one that has inspired memes the world over.

This doesn’t just apply to these services either, as casino online services utilise game streaming to offer interactive classics such as blackjack and roulette though the likes of live casino games. These are more interactive, and all the more effective at conveying and setting a mood because of it.

Static, Moving, and Virtual

As graphics and animation only improve, and the gaming market continues to grow, it is inevitable that we will see a greater emphasis on gaming-related art in the future. With the introduction of new tech like virtual reality, this could even take the form of fully immersive images, which could shape the medium in ways not yet conceived.

Offering itself as one of the more communal and participatory illustrations of art, from the assets to the placement and capture, this opens doors to an interesting future of collaboration. Regardless of how you see gaming itself, these possibilities are certainly expansive and exciting.

Michael keeps himself busy by writing about design, arts, psychology, and how they intertwine. He grew up in a small town in Montana and now resides in Austin with his wife and dog, Bailey.