Why Picture Taking in Games Needs to Make a Comeback

One of the most underappreciated conventions in video games is the use of a camera within the story campaign. No, I don’t mean camera angles or controls. I mean an actual camera you take pictures with (we used to use them back in the olden days before smartphones).

Now, why would I bring up a random convention like this? Because of what it adds to a game.

Taking pictures in games might seem a bit weird and useless, but when it’s implemented right, it’s pretty cool and uniquely satisfying.

It allows you to absorb the world around you, in a way. Instead of pointing a gun and instantly shooting everything that moves, suddenly you’re tasked with discovering things and appreciating them in a different way. It’s almost the complete opposite approach to the norm, actually, and it allows you to observe and enjoy the game in a new way you might not have previously considered.

A game that does a great job with this is Beyond Good and Evil. Taking pictures is central to progressing throughout that game, and it allows you to keep a log of species and discover new and interesting creatures in the environment. It also allows you to observe your surroundings and enemies and document the goings on with the bad guys. What made this cool is that it was oddly challenging to actually capture a good photo of creatures in real time, and you wouldn’t get paid if you weren’t able to get a clear shot. You also weren’t of much use to the rebellion if you couldn’t provide good, documented evidence to them in their quest to expose the conspiracy. What if stealth games today implemented the same sort of system? Combat was a part of Beyond Good and Evil, yes, but the fun of it was in taking the pictures and outing the evildoers.

Taking pictures also adds tension to a game. For a great example of this, look no further than Fatal Frame, a Japanese horror game that tasks players with capturing photographic evidence of ghosts and spirits in the real world to help them figure out what happened to the main character’s brother.

The camera had a special ability to see ghosts and drain them of their energy. It forced players to walk around and explore the rooms of this haunted mansion in a game that was both terrifying and atmospheric, earning it the nickname of “Resident Evil Snap” after both Resident Evil and Pokemon Snap.

And speaking of the devil…

Pokemon Snap proved to us during the N64 era that camera conventions could also encourage a strong replay value. Within Snap, players were meant to take the best pictures they could of Pokemon in their natural environment. The better the pictures, the better your score, and some pictures couldn’t even be taken without the aid of items found later in the game. Because of its nature, the game kept players coming back for more time and time again, trying to beat their personal bests and take better pictures every time. It became one of the most unique Pokemon games on the market, and adds another reason to long list of why camera conventions are something that need to be brought back to into games again.