The Rise of Game Photography – The History

A brief history of Game Photography and Screenshots

Credit: Blake Patterson (blakespot flickr)

To understand where one is going, one must first understand where they are and how they got there. This series aims to provide an insight into the history of game photography – why screenshots and game photography were first created, the state of Game Photography now and where Game Photography may be going.

Part 1 of this series looks back in time at the history of game photography. Find out where  screenshots and game photography came from, why people first started taking screenshots and game photos, and how they influenced the way we play and interact with video games today.

The first screenshots on a computer were made in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s by projects from MIT and IBM. These projects defined a new way for people to interact with computers, through distributing screenshots of designs to people without access to the rare technology that we take for granted today. Interacting with a computer solely via screenshots may seem a far flung idea today, but in the 1960’s this was the only way people without access to computers could work with computers.

There was also a lot of debate caused by the use of screenshots, as it raised questions about how people interact with computers. Are they a tool like a calculator, or are they a partner in what we do? If the end of that debate had come out as computers being a tool, we might not have games as we know them today. We may owe more to the people distributing screenshots and using computers as a partner than we give them credit for.

Ivan Sutherland drawing on the “Sketchpad.” 1960s

It has been claimed that the first ever ‘screenshot’ was of a girl from an Esquire magazine, that a young man named Lawrence A. Tipton drew and then snapped in 1959. This was created on a $238 million military funded computer, so could very well also be the most expensive screenshot ever made as well!

Credit: Lawrence A. Tipton

The image above is a Polaroid of a screen, and not an actual screenshot generated by the computer. This method of capturing screens prevailed from the 1960s through to the late 1980s, as there was generally no software available to take a screenshot. Companies even created camera hardware and film specifically for taking photos of screens.

Polaroid Spectra Camera that had specific film for taking pictures of screens.
Credit: Tom Williams (timmythesuk flickr)

These days you can find true screenshots (i.e. not physical photos) of pre-screenshot-software computer and console games that have been taken with emulators, but if you look back at old gaming magazine photos you can see the line artifacts of the CRT monitors used to take the pictures.

Credit: Flickr user ArtemioUrbina via creative commons

The lengths that people have gone to for creating screenshots back before the 1980’s is mind blowing. What used to take hours to accomplish we can now do with the click of a button. The driving factor behind peoples desire to take photos led to how most of us interact with computers today – sharing your ideas, progress and experience with others. Screenshots were a way for people to show the world what they were doing and to express their interactions with a computer through images.

Not a lot about why we take game photos or screenshots has changed since 1959.

See The Rise of Game Photography – Part 2 here.

References and more details on this topic:

  • There is a Run Magazine issue with an article about connecting a Commodore to a VCR to make recordings that is interesting and on this topic, and also has photos of old games throughout it. Click here to visit.
  • https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/the-never-before-told-story-of-the-worlds-first-computer-art-its-a-sexy-dame/267439/
  • https://www.academia.edu/30813929/Representing_Computer-Aided_Design_Screenshots_and_the_Interactive_Computer_circa_1960_Perspectives_on_Science_24_6_
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screenshot
the authorRobbie


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