A photography game is a form of video game in which taking photographs using the in-game camera system is a key game mechanic. Photography games often employ mechanics similar to a first-person shooter, but rather than using a gun to kill enemies, the aim is to use a camera to take photographs of the game world.[1] Depending on the game, the act might incapacitate or defeat enemies, or the player might receive points or experience according to the composition of the photograph.[1][2] The earliest game in the genre is Nessie for the Atari 8-bit family, published in 1985,[3] in which the goal is to take a photo of the Loch Ness Monster.

Photography elements can be the only significant mode of gameplay, as in Pokémon Snap or Afrika, or they can be used in combination with other gameplay modes such as action-adventure in Beyond Good & Evil or survival horror in Fatal Frame and Dead Rising.[2][4]


The first known photography game is 1985's Nessie for the Atari 8-bit family. It was written by Tom R. Halfhill and published as a type-in program in COMPUTE's Atari Collection Volume 1.[3][5] The accompanying article describes the concept:

The game was inspired by a TV documentary on Loch Ness which recounted the hundreds of attempts to photograph the monster. Almost all of these attempts have failed; there exist only a few controversial photos showing parts of fins, shadowy shapes, and blurred figures. The game simulates some of the difficulties faced by would-be photographers of Nessie.[3]

In Nessie, the player has a camera with a 20-exposure roll of film and multiple lenses to choose from. The goal is to get a clear photo of the Loch Ness monster and not be fooled by other creatures in the water such as fish and eels. After taking 20 shots, the film is developed and can be reviewed.

Later games

In Gekibo: Gekisha Boy, released in 1992 for the PC Engine,[2] the player controls a reticle representing a camera viewfinder moving over the screen. Another early photography game was the 1995 full-motion video game Paparazzi!: Tales of Tinseltown, although the limitations of the FMV format meant players had little control over what they photographed.[2]

The 1999 game Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64 – a photography game in the Pokémon universe using rail shooter mechanics – sold well and was critically acclaimed.[2] It inspired other safari and scuba diving photography games such as Endless Ocean (2007), Afrika (2008), Beyond Blue (2020) and a sequel New Pokémon Snap (2021).[6] Pictures from Pokémon Snap could be copied from the cartridge and printed at branches of Blockbuster Video,[7] while players of Firewatch could have the photographs on their in-game camera "developed" and delivered to their home.[2]

In survival horror, the Fatal Frame series (also known as Project Zero) debuted in 2001 and turned photography into an attacking move. Players are tasked with photographing aggressive ghosts, with well focused and composed shots doing more damage. The series has six instalments including one augmented reality game, Spirit Camera, that uses the real camera on the Nintendo 3DS.[2] Phasmophobia and the Outlast series are other survival horror games that give players cameras but no weapons – the aim is to record the monsters and escape without being killed.[8]

Several games with photojournalist protagonists implemented photography sidequests. These include Beyond Good & Evil (2003), Dead Rising (2006) and Spider-Man 3 (2007).[2][4] The Touhou Project series games Shoot the Bullet, Double Spoiler and Violet Detector used photojournalist protagonists to combine photography and bullet hell mechanics, with points awarded for the number of bullets in a photo.[9]

Some experimental indie games have used photography mechanics to change the level itself – photographs taken in one part of the level can be pasted elsewhere in order to create new paths and objects. Such games include the 2D Snapshot and the 3D Viewfinder (formerly Polaroid Effect).[2][10]

The genre saw a resurgence in the 2020s with the release of mostly independent games such as Sludge Life, Eastshade (which applies photography game mechanics to landscape painting), Shutter Stroll, Umurangi Generation, Nuts and Season. These fuse photography mechanics with the walking simulator genre to produce slow-paced games, often with environmental themes, as a response to the fast-paced and violent nature of shooter games.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Gordon, Lewis (23 March 2021). "Games Like Umurangi Generation Bring the Moment Into Focus". Wired. Archived from the original on 26 April 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jensen, K. Thor (2 May 2021). "Take a Picture, It'll Last Longer: The History of Photography Games". PC Magazine. Archived from the original on 5 May 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Halfhill, Tom R. "Nessie: A non-violent game for Atari". archive.org. COMPUTE! Books.
  4. ^ a b Lum, Jessica (18 November 2009). "8 Video Games that Feature Photography". Petapixel. Archived from the original on 7 May 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  5. ^ "Nessie". Atari Mania.
  6. ^ "'New Pokémon Snap': Nature photography in a world of wonderful monsters". Inquirer Technology. 19 June 2020. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  7. ^ d'Anistasio, Cecilia (16 January 2021). "The Bygone Glory of Blockbuster's Pokémon Snap Station". Wired. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  8. ^ Davison, Josh (26 April 2021). "10 Photography Centric Games Like New Pokemon Snap". Gamerant. Archived from the original on 8 May 2021. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  9. ^ "Double Spoiler". Moby Games. Archived from the original on 8 May 2021. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  10. ^ Balding, Jonathan (4 January 2020). "Take a picture, then walk into it, in this must-see game tech experiment". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2021.