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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Marilyn Roxie presents … Video Game Photography

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A personal association of games with photography and film has been with me since the gift of a Nintendo 64 as a child. Super Mario 64 was the first 3D game I had ever played, quite a jump from my previous experience with the Nintendo Entertainment System and Atari. Super Mario 64’s immersive landscape and tricky moments — such as those requiring wall jumps and other maneuvers to progress and avoid or defeat enemies — required manual use of the build-in camera controls. These controls were embodied in the Lakitu, the camera-man who follows Mario/the player, through the game. While Super Mario Bros. 3’s curtains and hanging landscape elements evoked a theater stage play, the crucial presence of Lakitu in Super Mario 64 seemed to transform the game into a movie.

Some of my most beloved Nintendo 64 games required extensive manual camera fiddling or waiting for the camera to sort itself out. Playing them again years later, I wonder how I ever got through these games without endless frustration. Donkey Kong 64 and Castlevania 64 have notoriously bad camera controls and break a sense of immersion in the world, while a game like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has excellent handling, allowing easy maneuvers that encourage exploration.

 

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I had previously enjoyed static screenshots of video games through Nintendo Power and browsing through strategy guides. I had tinkered with N64 launch game Pilotwings 64’s basic camera function in the game’s hangglider stages, but taking my own photos in-game went to the next level with with Pokemon Snap in 1999. While the main story was relatively easy to beat, earning higher scores through taking better photos could prove challenging. Pokemon Snap stations installed at Blockbuster Video allowed players to print off stickers of their favorite shots from this game and shots taken in the gallery mode of Pokemon Stadium (2000).

 

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I have since played many games where photography was not necessarily the object of the game, but an embedded element. In The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the Pictograph Box stores one photo at a time and can be used to advance the story and complete a couple of sidequests, or for the player to fool around with. While not initially allowing the player to take snapshots in its first iteration, the pause screen that zoomed in on the character and froze all surrounding action in Super Smash Bros. could be timed to produce amusing and artful scenes. Later, when lifted from my Nintendo-only-loyalty, I played a demo of survival-horror PlayStation 2 game Fatal Frame (2002), where the camera serves as your weapon against ghosts.

Getting into the practice of photography alongside a life of playing video games, it was only a matter of time before I would not only use in-game camera functions or take screenshots with an emulator, but photograph the screen itself as an experiment to frame the screen-within-a-screen-within-”real life”.

 

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I later took up visiting abandoned locations in the virtual world of Second Life with a digital avatar that’s more like a virtual dress-up doll to me; it’s simple to shift body shape, attributes, clothing, expression, and pose with a few clicks. Second Life allows for a wide variety of camera tools, including transforming the lighting to set the tone. The Second Life marketplace features a range of pose stands, camera heads-up displays (HUDs) to assist in rotation and fixation, lighting, animations, and more.

 

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We’ve reached an era where many game environments offer snapshot mechanisms, software is developed to “revolutionize screenshot capture”, the work of video game photographers (also known as screenshotters) is legitimized as art in Frieze and Vice pieces, and anyone with an emulator can easily take and edit screenshots of their own. As the description for NVIDIA Ansel reads:

Game photography is undeniably a new art form – screenshots can be posed and framed, and those with a great eye will select the best scenes and most beautiful vistas, just as a real world photographer would. The very best screenshots from famous game photographers like Duncan Harris, James Pollock, Leonardo Sang and Joshua Taylor are shown in exhibitions, printed and framed, and admired by millions of gamers online.

 

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In this movement of video game photography, the subjects are most frequently contemporary games, not retro games. Retro games have proven a rich subject in game modification patches and hacks viewed in an artistic context, through cinematic productions created within games (machinima), and through online recreational viewing and creation in the form of let’s plays and speedruns. I believe the time has come to re-enter these retro game worlds with an eye for photography.

Noticing the relative lack of older games being explored photographically, I have begun to do this work on my own, experimenting with camera versus screenshot, editing or leaving the image as it is, and using cheat codes for invisibility and to achieve other in-game effects that alter the impact of the image. I want to capture terrain from games that seem very much like ‘places’ in my memory as well as to forge new paths.

 

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Arguments against a screenshot, or photograph, of a dazzling landscape or a portrait in a pre-made video game world being considered art fall flat when there is wide-spread acceptance of nature or street photographs that depict our own pre-made world. That which is not ‘natural’ need not mean ‘inauthentic’.

Is it art?

 

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p.s. Hey. Today the multi-talented and -disciplined artist and d.l. Marilyn Roxie presents this beautiful post. If you’re into the art and intricacies of video games like I, for instance, am, it’s a fascinating and high-producing thing, but even if games are a frontier, I promise you’ll come away inspired, so enjoy it from whatever perspective and, in any case, please comment today in Marilyn’s direction so they’ll know their kind work has been rewarded. Thank you! And thank you ever so much, Marilyn! ** Jonathan, Hi, bud. There are some unusually good buches this year. A boon year, it would seem, as you will see. Glad the gig hit home. Yeah, such a great label, easily one of America’s tip top. Oh, man, awesome about the thing you made. I can’t wait to get it in my head. Everyone, Jonathan aka the amazing artist Jonathan Mayhew has made a Soundcloud-housed work enticingly called ‘5 poems read by machines’, and you can and really should give it a heavy listen. Click this then scroll down a little ways and do just that. Sweet! They did record the New Museum event, and all of us signed papers allowing them to broadcast it, so I guess it’ll get out here at some point. I’ll ask them. Have an extreme goodie and very safe travels. Love, me. ** Tomk, Hey! Yesterday got entirely eaten by the other but I’ve got your story queued up to read pretty for much a minute or so after I launch this post. Excited! ** MyNeighbourJohnTurturro, Hi, man. Always really good to see you. Yeah, I noticed that there was a fair amount of guitar in those tracks. I must have put it together on a weird day, ha ha. I go back and forth re: Stereolab on my favorite, but it’s always between those two and, ultimately, I think I have to agree with you that ‘Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements’ was their absolute peak for me. Life’s pretty good, thanks. Oh, thank you a lot about LCTG. That’s great to hear. We wold love to show it in Scotland. All we need to know is venues there that might be into screening it, and we or ‘our people’ will contact them to submit the thing. Any ideas? You were here, wow. And in the Marais on whose edge I live. Paris is a place to fall in love with, for sure. I am. Mm, I’ll have to ask Gisele if anything’s playing here in June. I will. But if you come back, let me know so we can get coffeed together yes? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Cool about all the hanging with good friends. I hope the meet up yesterday was swell, and I’m sure it was. Yesterday I mostly rehearsed Gisele’s and my piece ‘Jerk’, which went well, and then, ugh … I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned that the apartment where I live went up for sale about a month ago, but that was stressful news because I rent, and a sale could mean I would have to move out, which sucks because I love this place. Anyway, I was informed yesterday that it has been sold, and I’ll find out today what that means. Probably I’ll have to move out. Remote chance that whoever bought the apartment did so as an investment and I can stay, but, even in that case, everyone’s buying apartments here to turn them into Air BnB rentals, so I’m probably doomed. Anyway, I’m kind of nervous and depressed today about that. Otherwise, okay. And your day? I’m really glad to hear you’re writing! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, David. I’ll go spend some minutes with Dolores Gray shortly, thank you! ** B.R.Y., Hi, man. Love your avatar, by the way. Yeah, it was nice to relive Drag City while making that post. Pretty seminal, yeah, on the fronts you mention and even more. No, I don’t know that record you linked to. I’ll go submit to it today, thank you! I’ll find out when/if the Violations footage is going public, and I’ll let you know. You take care too! ** Tosh Berman, That Kevin Drumm album is very good in general. That might be my favorite track but, if you like it, I think you’ll like the totality. Yeah, the stuff in the post is probably my faves from the label, I think. ** Jeff Jackson, Hi, Jeff. Thanks, man. Drag City is a wealth. Okay, another plus re: ‘Arrival’. Zac and I only talked about it briefly, and he’s away right now, but I’ll query him when he gets back. He and I almost always agree on things, but not always, so … Yeah, I saw ‘Evolution’ at its premiere here last year. I like Lucile. She’s cool, and I respect her. Honestly, while I think there are some interesting things about ‘Evolution’ — it looks great, for example — I think it’s way too self-consciously mysterious and trying too hard to seem meaningfully withholding, but I think it’s ultimately kind of an empty exercise in style and atmospherics, I have to say. Worth checking out, though. And people, especially in the States, seem to be getting into empty European style exercise films like ‘The Neon Demon’ these days, so … Haven’t seen ‘Childhood of a Leader’. Gisele thought it was so-so apart from the soundtrack. Oh, a guest post! Wonderful, thank you ever so much, my friend! ** Jamie, Hi Jamie! Wow, your description of the agent meeting really takes me back. Yeah, that sounds almost exactly like the meetings I had with agents and editors at the publishing houses back when I was first submitting novels. It’s very formulaic, isn’t it? And, ha ha, that question about other books that yours resembles, Jesus. Yeah, I got that too. When an author is new, agents and publishers always to say, ‘Like (‘BlahBlah’) and (‘BlahBlah’), Jamie McMorrow’s novel is … ‘. I hate that. I never answered those questions either. And it took years before every promo for my books didn’t say, ‘Like William Burroughs and Jean Genet, Dennis Cooper … ‘ Ugh. Well, hm, wait and see. Hard to tell how much they’re interested in biting from what you said. I’m glad you got through it with your optimism in tact. Fingers crossed until further notice. The ‘Jerk’ rehearsals were easy. Jonathan still remembers the piece and can do it like magic. No, we’re not changing it at all. Other than that, as I said to Dora, I found out the apartment where I’m living has been sold and that I might have to move out, and I’m pretty stressed about that. I’ll find out the verdict today. I’m also doing the interview and maybe going to a film premiere tonight. Fingers crossed on my own behalf. Dude, tell me how it goes with animators! I’m very excited to hear! Love back, mega, Dennis. ** Steevee, I forgot you’re a vegetarian. High five across the waves. Wow, I look forward to reading you on ‘Roma’. I haven’t seen that film in ages. I think that was chronologically the last Fellini film I liked a lot. ** Damien Ark, Hey, Damien! Really happy that my picks coincided with your awesome tastes! ** New Juche, Hi! Lucky you to have seen Dirty Three live. I haven’t. I’m not a huge Cave fan, or not of his stuff from the recent long time. The Bad Seeds put on some awesome shows back in the day. The day being the ’80s. Have a great day! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Drag City is definitely one of the USA’s preeminently good and smart labels. Seasonal mix, nice. I’ll get over there. Everyone, _Black_Acrylic … well, here he is to tell you: ‘Earlier this week I put up a kind-of seasonal mix on Soundcloud titled Wintertide that features former Gig fave Carla dal Forno amongst various other acid/krautrock/techno picks.’ Get in the mood with his help, yes? Well, I’m no expert on these things, but doesn’t Andrew just have to put the two episodes on a hard drive? I mean, that’s not a time consuming task. ** Armando, Hi. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. ** Misanthrope, Hi. Vigilance is the byword, for sure. I’ve come around over the past couple of years to being on Bieber’s side on most things. Fuck that arm inserting asshole. My Thanksgiving did not exist. Not a trace. That does sound like lactose intolerance. What about cheese, though? Maybe not. I hope you get to sleep like crazy today. ** Okay. Be within the reach of Marilyn’s post today as thoughtfully as you can. Thank you. See you tomorrow.

18 Comments

  1. Hey Marilyn,
    This day was great…mario 64 was a huge formative gaming experience for me to, I spent a long time in that world. I really liked your essay as well, this especially stood out: That which is not ‘natural’ need not mean ‘inauthentic’.

    Dennis, having to move is the worst and I’m sorry to hear about the whole air b n b hedgemony. Hope something comes through soon or that they at least give you time to find something.

  2. Hello Dennis!

    Good luck with your apartment!

    Marilyn Roxie, thank you for this! It’s really interesting and intriguing, I’ve thought about that a lot. Art if you ask me.
    By the way, do you know this book?
    http://www.rocherms.com/en/projects/postcards-from-home/

  3. Hi!

    Thank you for today’s post!

    Oh no, shit, the situation with your apartment sucks, big time! I’m really sorry! What did you find out about your possibilities today? Can you stay? Fingers crossed, of course!!
    There isn’t too much action on my end. I’ll yet again meet a friend a bit later and that’s about it.
    Gah, I hope everything goes well and you can stay, really! Please tell me about it and anything else worthy of mentioning about your day!

  4. I’m sorry about the apartment, that’s really terrible.

    I had a similar reaction to EVOLUTION. I was impressed on some level by the film’s devotion to its status as an enigma and its own weirdness, but it never added up to much for me by the end (which, of course, is open.)

  5. Interesting post today; I like the more abstract images. Were they manipulated maybe?

    Loved the gig yesterday, of course! Those are some of my favorites. Funny, I never connect Drag City with that Derek Bailey record, and I own a copy.

    Sorry to hear about the apartment woes, Dennis. Yikes.

    Had a pretty reasonable Thanksgiving. Got some work done, and the green apple crumble came out ok, I think.

    Bill

  6. Lovely stuff, Marilyn.

    I do hope you don’t have to move, Dennis, but if so I hope it’ll be to a nice place.

    Latest FaBlog: Florence Foster Trump

  7. Hey Marilyn Roxie-lovely pics & I’d really like to see some more. Thanks for the post!

    So sorry to hear about your apartment, Dennis. And you’ve not been there too long, if I’m remembering correctly. I pray pray pray that you can stay.
    I got word back from the agent & she reiterated what was said yesterday. I really appreciate that she’s read it and been pretty constructive & kind, but am a we bit….I don’t know, down about it. And I really don’t want to be an asshole & I know that these folks are smart, but I feel that if I was to apply their advice then I’d be writing another book. Ah well.
    Meeting with the animators was pretty great though! So much to think about and so much that we haven’t considered. They should us lots of animations pulled open so we could see their innards which was kind of dreamy to me haha. It’s going to be a lot of work, but very good work.
    Great that the rehearsals are so smooth.
    How did the interview go? Did you wax lyrical? What was the premiere? Exciting! Weekend plans?
    I’ve been up since 4 am so am writing this on the train then heading home to bed.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend.
    Lots of love to you,
    Jamie

  8. Marilyn, Exciting, beautiful day here. Thank you for this.

    Dennis, Yeah, I wasn’t sure if you threw a bone to Thanksgiving or not. I figured not, but still had to ask.

    I’m pro-Bieber too. I do have friends who say that rich people should just lie back and take it because they’ve gotten rich off everybody else (or more to the point, conned and stolen their way to their riches because that’s the only way a person gets rich). I disagree. There’s some civility that’s still required in human interaction.

    Maybe there’s some gender bias too. If a guy had done the same to, say, Beyonce or Gaga, we’d be talking about sexual assault and people would be applauding either for punching a guy.

    Got some good sleep last night. I’m gonna try and hit the Redbox in the area and see if they have “Cafe Society.” I really want to see that movie.

    • You may be a lot less enthused with CAFE SOCIETY once you’ve actually seen it.

      • totally. I recommend instead his previous one, Irrational Man – seen it 3 times, but I know you said it got mixed reactions. What do they know? Missed you at New Museum, Steve.

        • I wound up not going to the New Museum. I think I posted about this here, but I was having a Trump-related freakout and spent 2 hours talking about him at a cafe where I’m friendly with the waiters around the time that event took place.

  9. Here’s my interview with actor/director Sophia Takal: https://www.fandor.com/keyframe/sophia-takal-gender-nature-always-shine. We discuss Hillary Clinton, feminism and horror movies, and there’s a link below to a video called “Getting Stoned with Sophia Takal.”

  10. Nice post! There’s something so beguiling about snaps from video games and having the opportunity to examine the design elements more carefully, something that was well put across by a series of Harun Farocki videos I saw at the Whitechapel Gallery earlier this year. Hi Dennis! Hope you’re well. By the way I love Zac’s Freight Elevator (though I have so far just sort of gotten lost in the first few chapters and not read the whole thing).

  11. @ Marilyn, it’s always nice to be introduced to a new art form and game photography is undoubtedly that, so thank you for this pleasure!

    @ DC, so sorry to hear about your apartment woes. Hope the situation can resolve itself today somehow.

    Today I went to my first ever Tai Chi class as I kind of know the guy who runs it and my physio said it would be a good thing to do. I dunno, I didn’t feel I was getting much out of it in my spinal-fracture-impaired state, but I was glad I went and it’s a cool thing he’s going on there in that little room: lots of far-eastern music playing, that kind of thing. I’ll be ready to go back once I can manage standing up unaided for longer periods.

    I’m very happy to report that Andrew has delivered the goods and I now have all ART101 episodes secure in my possession. I can send these to the Filmwinter fest guys next week and right now the Stuttgart trip is most definitely on!

  12. Excellent beautiful post. I love this stuff and will be happily investigating this topic further.
    Yesterday was cool, had no idea some of those were released on DC.
    Re your convo with New Juche, I was lucky to see Dirty Three several times and they were indeed magnificent. And speaking of New Juche – NJ if you are reading I have been consuming some of your work lately and it is very impressive.
    ZFE is incredible. I may have to drop you a line with some thoughts/questions. Love it.

  13. Thanks everyone for your comments and thanks again to Dennis for giving me a good space for my piece. Dennis, I’ve made a video using a Second Life model you may want to check out actually, set to a track from my partner. The character is a bit like a boy from your international male escorts posts gone possessed: https://vimeo.com/192871498
    @Toniok – I hadn’t seen Postcards from Home actually so thanks for sharing that, and @Raymond, Harun Farocki was also new to me. There’s still so much to explore and I’m excited to do so. @Bill some of the images have been edited; using an emulator tool to change the way the game renders or editing in Photoshop afterward. The two black and white images were taken with a 35mm camera pointed at Second Life, one of them purposefully motion blurred slightly to create a dreamy effect.

  14. Yesterday and today’s posts are great. Thank you, Dennis and Marilyn.

    Sorry about your apartment, Dennis. I think stable housing is important for one to stay productive, so that really sucks. I’m so sorry.

    I’m kind of afraid of looking at your buche post as I’m on strict diet to lose weight mostly for a gender thing, but will look forward to it if you are excited to make one for yourself/us.

    Oh, by the way, I talked to school people about my gender thing rather directly as I’m in NYC now, and they seem supportive, but my health doesn’t keep up with my transition steps, so I feel quite conflicted about it. And feminist peers are not happy about my transition direction with respect to sexual orientation, so I’m quite mute about what I desire at this time.

  15. Hey Marilyn, thanks for the piece! Have you played Firewatch? It has an interesting photography element in which you get a disposable camera and can use it however you like in a fairly open world national park. It’s only vaguely if at all part of the plot, and at one point if not still, at the end of the game you could get physical prints of the photos you took mailed to you. You’re mostly only able to take photos of landscapes and living spaces and a little wild life, as you’re the only human character in the game with an on-screen presence, but I still find it fascinating to think of the infinite network/collage of photographs taken by everyone who’s played the game.

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