Screenscapes

A photobook of video game screenshots

Phil Kikawa is an avid modder of Skyrim, the open world RPG video game. He has added dozens of modifications to the game’s runtime code to make it look spectacular, in both life-like photorealistic ways, and in ways that are abstractly idyllic.

These images are of a genre I call “screenscapes.” This style of photography treats the screen not as a flat canvas but as a landscape with depth. It is a type of photography that requires deep meditation and mediation into the complexities and beauty of a virtual environment. It acknowledges the screen by going into it and feeling it. It does not accept that space can be boiled down into pixels.

All of the images in this book are composed by Kikawa which he captured over a period of years.

Some of the images he captured are of hillsides which elegantly carve the surface of the sky into an anti-alias horizon. Some of the images are abstract macro shots which seem so alien it’s hard to believe they come from a human-made video game. Some of the images oscillate between feeling real and feeling like they are from a far away alternative history.

The emotion these screenshots present is unlike most images of video game worlds today. They are not marketed, they are not demoed, they are not monetized on YouTube or Twitch. They instead surface a side of video games that is often ignored by players so immersed in flow, completing tasks for their quest, grinding for points, and not stopping enough to just look around. These images capture a slow video game. They demonstrate a matured and deep appreciation. They invite a long soak in these virtual landscapes whose vivacity can only be unveiled with a delicate eye. I believe Kikawa, through imagery, speaks to an alternate way of gaming and being in a virtual world. His work validates an artistic presence in the game space.

As the real world itself is continually gamified (in the workplace and at school) it is not far fetched to suggest that the game space is encroaching on real space. It may be that the slow mode of being in a video game yields lessons on how to be in the real world: gentle, observant, and welcoming of the landscape. This photo series, Screenscapes, offers itself as a user manual for this endeavor.

A student of Media Ecology. More work at https://www.instagram.com/tywensnotes/