There is a strong social element to video games, regardless of the genre. Gamers like to share their thoughts and opinions with others via forums, blogs and videos because of their common interest. So, it is hardly surprising that video game enthusiasts like to take screenshots and preserve a record of their activities. Subsequently, the ability to capture an image from a game has now become an integral aspect of gaming culture and many titles now have a dedicated screenshot facility. This may range from a simple screenshot key to a comprehensive photo mode in which you can pause the game and pan the camera around the game environment. It’s a far cry from two decades ago when players would often have to rely on bespoke third-party programs such as FRAPS to take screenshots, or simply use the PrtScn button and then paste the image into a photo editor.
The MMO genre, with their rich persistent worlds, lends itself greatly to screenshots. Often the environments and the graphical design is reason enough to capture images. I have done this often in games such as LOTRO and STO and have folders filled with pictures of landscapes, vistas or battles. Screen captures also provide a convenient means to document achievements and social activities. Players will often take a group picture after a successful raid or at in-game events such as festivals. The convenience of this system also makes it ideal for collating data regarding builds and equipment. Taking a screenshot of your skills tree and how you’ve spent your points is so much easier than meticulously transcribing the details. And as game preservation and history becomes a more important subject, images taken over a period of years can be invaluable in documenting change. I have several hundred LOTRO screenshots taken over a period of nine years. Many show features and systems that have been altered or replaced.
There are specific aspects that contribute to a good screenshot. Like photography, these are based in composition, lighting and creativity. Furthermore, such images can be enhanced using standard photo editing software. Tweaking the brightness or contrast can make a difference and improve the overall presentation. However, in recent years, some games have gone a stage further and introduced a far more comprehensive photo mode that does more than just capture what is initially apparent. I first encountered this facility in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The player can pause the game at any time during proceedings, and then move the “camera” around the environment to either see the subject form an alternative angle, or as a means to explore aspects of the world not immediately clear. Different elements can be made the focus, while others reduced in clarity. The game UI can be removed, and the finished image framed with specific borders if chosen. There is a similar functionality in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and it produces some compelling screenshots.
However, there can be some problems associated with taking screenshots. Some contemporary triple A games have started using anti-tamper software that blocks third party apps such as FRAPS. I have experienced this with such titles as Star Wars: Battlefront II and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. One solution is to take a screen capture using the in-game overlay that is built into the client launcher, such as Origins or Uplay. The down side to this is that you have to customise settings of each launcher if you want to use a standard screen capture key. Alternatively, if you have a Nvidia graphics card then GeForce Experience software offers a universal screenshot facility. This not only works for games but can capture images from your desktop as well as videos played via VLC Player or similar software. But regardless of the technicalities as to how you take your screenshots, ultimately, they are a distillation of all the reasons why we game. Like conventional photographs they are a means of capturing a moment for posterity, that can later be shared and reflected upon.