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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Video Game Photography: An Examination of Reflective Gameplay


Video game photography is the practice of creating images of game worlds – through incorporated readymade in-game tools, hardware mechanisms, modifying the game, screenshotting or even photographing one’s screen. This practice is growing in popularity in one of the most widespread media in contemporary society – video games – it is a perfect example of new forms arising out of the new knowledge economy. With an ever-increasing level of complexity of game worlds, now even further with the forthcoming next generation of console technology of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, an engagement with the world’s AI and the methods available to the players for engaging with the game world merit further exploration. 

The premise of this project is simple and twofold: first, we posit that photography is more than a practice of producing images and is, in fact, a discourse that requires a context in which to operate – in this case, in relation to the new knowledge economy (Unger, 2019); second, we claim (Rizov, 2021) that video game photography should be understood in terms of gamic action and narrative in the sense of Alexander R. Galloway’s work on games (2006). Video game photography is central to our understanding of video games, interactions with AI, and the production of images. Moreover, a study of its development and use could provide more insight into both AI (Giddings, 2020), the new knowledge economy and the production of virtual (and physical) smart spaces. 

To achieve its objectives, the study is using an innovative digital method and qualitative social research methods to compare the discourses and sense-making practices of the key stakeholders, both on the front-end and back-end of the video game, i.e. both developers and players. The method used will be a combination of semi-structured interviews and ‘interaction elicitation’ (Spokes and Denham, 2019), the latter of which is a video-game-based development of ‘photo elicitation’ (Harper, 2002). In particular, the semi-structured interviews will ask participants to reflect on their use of video game photography prior and post gameplay, while ‘interaction elicitation’ seeks to elicit responses from participants while actively immersed in gameplay. Our framework is rooted in the work of Donald Schön and his concepts of ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’ (1983). The study will explore how to develop methods for understanding a rising in popularity form of gameplay, in the sense of both playing a game (an immersive activity, see Galloway, 2006) and photography (a reflective activity that requires the suspension of gameplay, see Rizov, 2021) in the context of the knowledge economy.

Galloway, Alexander R. 2006. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis, London: MIT Press. 
Giddings, Seth. 2020. “The achievement of animals: an ethology of AI”. In Markus Spöhrer & Harald Waldrich (eds) Being In-Play: Processes and Situations of Digital Gaming / Einspielungen: Prozesse und Situationen digitalen Spielens. Springer. 
Harper, Douglas. 2002. “Talking about pictures: A case for photo elicitation”. Visual Studies, 17(1), pp. 13–26. doi: 10.1080/14725860220137345. 
Rizov, Vladimir. 2021. “PlayStation Photography: Towards and Understanding of Video Game Photography”. In The Architectonics of Game Worlds, ed. by Marc Bonner. Heidelberg University Press. 
Schön, Donald. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith. 
Spokes, Matthew and Denham, Jack. 2019. “Developing Interactive Elicitation: Social Desirability Bias and Capturing Play”. The Qualitative Report 24 (4). 
Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 2019. The Knowledge Economy. London: Verso. 


Principal Investigator: Dr Vladimir Rizov

Co-Investigator: Dr Seth Giddings


Outline bid for AHRC Research Networking Scheme.

Papers in development for The Sociological Review; Games and Culture; and Crime, Media, Culture.
Project cited in Rafe McGregor’s (Edge Hill University) recent book ‘Critical Criminology and Literary Criticism’ (Bristol University Press, 2021)
Potential for future publication in Haywire Magazine and Heterotopias Magazine.

University of Coventry; Central European University; University of Cologne; and University of Malta.
Industry magazines: Heterotopias; Haywire; Guerilla Games; Lost in Cult; and A Profound Waste of Time; 


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