Vladimir Rizov

Vladimir Rizov: Virtual Photography, Immersion, and Boundaries in Grand Theft Auto V.

Photography is a visual practice that deals with the production of images. Images, be it digital or analogue, moving or still, are consistently framed in a particular material artefact. Furthermore, most perspectives tend to see the image as a singular, material final product that is deeply rooted in a teleological framework. However, such perspectives clearly omit the richness of the concept image, as this conference rightly raises the issues of materiality, multimodality, and mediality. In order to demonstrate the inherent multisensory aspect of an image, as well as its rootedness in a practice that is not necessarily teleological, I will explore instances of photographs taken in-game by Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) players.

The element of virtuality in the game will reveal several aspects of the image. First, the disembodied element of virtuality poses an interesting relationship between image, medium, and the body (Hansen, 2004). This relates heavily to issues of embodiment and agency, where the two practices of photography and gaming meet. While gaming is widely seen to be concerned with immersion, photography can be conceptualised as a practice of seeing. Second, because images exist dependent on a medium, the contrast between the moving images of the virtual game world of GTA V and the still photographs created will provide opportunity for reflection on the concept of image in its multiple forms.

As Vivian Sobchack writes ‘electronic presence has neither a point of view nor a visual situation, such as we experience, respectively, with the photograph and the cinema’ (2000: 151). However, what happens when the third person experience of GTA V coincides with a POV use of a virtual camera? As Galloway points out, shooter games already have expanded the ‘definitional bounds of the subjective shot’ (2006: 63), but the POV use of a virtual camera seems to not only be expanding the experience of the virtual world, but simultaneously questioning it; both allowing for further immersion and potential detachment from the in-game world. This is particularly interesting, since games are widely considered ‘an active medium’ (Galloway, 2006: 83) that involves a player’s physical input and multisensory experience. However, while Galloway claims that ‘the primary phenomenological reality of games is that of action (rather than looking, as it is with cinema in what Jameson described as “rapt, mindless fascination”)’ (2006: 83), the case of virtual photography in-game problematizes this by converging action and seeing into a singular experience.

 

Vladimir Rizov is a doctoral researcher in sociology at the University of York, United Kingdom. His research is on the practice of documentary photography, its history, and its relation to space, both physical and virtual; a key place in his research interests occupies the work of Walter Benjamin.

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