Snapshots: Making Virtual Memories


If pictures really are worth a thousand words, then I would have finished more than a few novels by now. Sitting alongside them, a short story or two, accompanied by a script to an altogether harrowing tale of journeys unseen.

In many ways, the images I do have are worth a lot of words. Maybe not that full thousand they're so often lauded for, but as someone whose mind is always churning, in search of that illustrious combination of words: poetic, rhythmic, eloquent. Sometimes a picture says it all.

If a single picture can say it all, then it's likely my ever growing collection has a little too much to say.

If a single picture can say it all, then it's likely my ever growing collection has a little too much to say. Their subject matter differs day to day as much as it does game to game: sometimes they reflect the mood I'm in, other times they reflect the game I'm playing, and at all times, I'm obsessed with finding my next shot as soon as I've taken my last.

In Videogames, I assume a new role every time I pull on my pair of virtual shoes – from bombastic soldiers to silent protagonists with a world to save. Yet while the roles I've played have been diverse, there's a constant connection between each and every one: a role I assume every time I pull on my figurative cape and let a virtual world wash over me. No matter the game or the rule set its touting, the boarding papers to every videogame escape are always the same for me, scribbled hastily at the bottom in red pen.

Profession: Tourist

When I finally land, I'm a foreign tourist with a twitchy trigger finger. Each shot from my direction, despite the analogous flash, is not from a firearm. Every pull of the trigger goes towards creating memories.

Why I feel that need to constantly capture scene after disparate scene is something I've always pondered. Why I'm constantly hunting for a reason to create where I could simply just consume. The devil, as they say, often lies in the detail. A flip through my virtual picture book reveals some interesting clues, as a common thread binds together otherwise unrelated images.

The recurring face amongst the crowd? Nearly every shot is from a singleplayer game. Sure, I snap the odd shot of a leaderboard or a skilful kill during a multiplayer session, but there's a big difference between a world built entirely for the function of those who play on it, and one constructed for exploration or slow discovery. For those who play in it. Singleplayer games themselves are so often very confined experiences. In a multiplayer realm, at least, you have friends to show off to, or a server to scream out to. When you're all alone? No one else hears that tree fall.

And more and more lately, it appears we all want someone else to hear that tree fall. Or at least, that's the message developers seem to be hearing, and acting upon, when you look at just how connected our singleplayer experiences are becoming. Take a look at an EA release schedule and you'll do well to spot a game not touting a "Battlelog" or "Autolog" in some form or another. Twitter and Facebook integration? They're there more often than they're not these days, as Singleplayer experiences begin to make that gradual step towards being a more connected beast. And with it, even more ways to share those usually solitary experiences.

It's a trend that appears to be mirrored in the real-world photographic counterpart. Just look at the recent rise in popularity of services such as Instagram. Not only are people now attempting to capture moments, but they're wanting to create history, no matter how small that piece may seem. The constant use of filters and effects to immediately transform those pictures in to historic, aged, yet stirring moments in the life and adventures of one person.

In many ways, it's a chance to derive further meaning from those moments; to give them a greater purpose and as evidence that yes, I was here, and this is what I did, for future generations to look back on. Videogames themselves usually face similar questions; of whether or not those hours spent staring back at your television screen or monitor, in the end, is actually worthwhile. Whether it is or isn't is always up to an individual to decide, but with the push for expanded connectivity, players, at the very least, have more to show for their time, and more ways to show it.

And so that's why I continue to, unabashedly, fill hard drives to the brim. In the same way players build their own rulesets for a playthrough – like a stealth-only walk through Crysis, or a no-death run of Far Cry 2 – I've managed to construct my own set of goals and rules. The role of virtual tourist is more than just a way to share experiences, but also a way to experience games in a slightly different light. Some may say, from an entirely different angle (pun completely intentional).

There's been more than one occasion where I've thrown in the towel in a multiplayer match, or plummeted to my death in a race car all in search of that perfect shot. Instead of shattering the virtual illusion as you might think it would, it manages to strengthen it in many ways, if not in others. Despite the fact that you're pulling back the curtain on what lies behind the flashy polygons shielding the 1's and 0's: the numerous console commands, all of the fiddling with the camera and time spent positioning yourself just right – it only ever manages to pull you in even deeper.

It's a connection with the virtual world in its rawest state. The time where the boundaries between the game world and our own is at its most transparent.

It's the game in its purest form. Gone are the on screen indicators. The incessantly flashing arrows and exclamation points. The distracting mini map and compass. The game is no longer filtering and drip feeding you information about the world or its environment on its own terms.

It's a connection with the virtual world in its rawest state. The time where the boundaries between the game world and our own is at its most transparent. One where there's more to a battlefield than the repetition of pulling a trigger. More to a race than jamming on the throttle.

It's just another way to be able to share my version of events with either myself or an audience, as a record of my journey. I've been here, I saw these things, this is ultimately how my world came crumbling down or how it built itself back up. This is what my Shepard looks like, this is the town I've built, and this is the Minecraft world all of my own.

As the lines between singleplayer and multiplayer experiences continue to blur, I'm sure other ways to share moments with players will arise, but it's never likely to dampen my enthusiasm. At its heart, its just another way to interact with a videogame: a way to examine its intricacies while exhibiting its bigger picture. "Tourist" will always be scribbled at the bottom of my virtual passport, because around every corner, there is bound to be another world. Another time. Another place. Another shot just waiting to be taken, no matter who's watching.