Game Philosophy: The Importance of the Camera

I’m ready for my close-up!


Today’s topic:
The Importance of the Camera

Let’s be honest here, people, there’s a huge overabundance of first person games nowadays.

Even if they’re not shooters, they’re still in first person.

And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that, I would even like to point out several advantages to making a First Person game:
– You never have to deal with losing sight of your character.
– You never have to deal with a camera being stuck in a wall.
– You can save up on the animation costs of your character.
– You never have to worry about the player complaining about being attacked outside the screen, since it’s their own fault for not looking there.

However, there’s a very specific reason for using first person that I would like to point out that many people seem to be missing, and as a result either miss out on an alternative and better suited camera angle or cause stagnation in recent games by all doing the exact same thing as a result.

Now, to understand my point I would have to give some basic cinematography lessons here.

This is what’s called a Wide Shot (also referred to as a Long Shot or a Full Shot):
Long Shot
It’s a camera angle where the whole character or the whole object is visible in the view. In cinematography this is generally to bring the audience in an observational state where they would look at the character as well as the environment equally.

Now the next picture is also a Wide Shot, but from what people would call a Bird’s Eye View:
Bird's Eye View
This view is generally used for an establishing shot, making the audience look at the environment more than the character or object.

Now we go to the Medium Shot:
Medium Shot
Compared to the Wide Shot, this is starting to be more personal. You care more about the character than the background now.

And then finally there’s the First Person View:
First Person
It kinda goes full circle now, where you now care about the character automatically by literally putting yourself in the character’s head, yet now you look almost completely at the background instead.

So in general the simplified way to put it is that the closer the camera is to the character, the more you sympathise with the character rather than the environment, all the way until you’re the character themselves.

So, you might be asking, what’s wrong with this approach in the First Person View in video games, then?

It’s simple, it limits the emotional spectrum of the player to either “Look how awesome I am” or “Look how awful I am”.

Everything in the story is personal, you never observe the main character’s own emotions, you always relate it to yourself.

And that’s a problem, because now every time someone complains about the character not being deep enough, it’s almost a personal statement, like the game is misrepresenting YOU.

In comparison nobody complains about Mario being an undeep character (Okay, some, but generally they’re just missing the point).

Mario in-game is always in a Wide Shot:

Good god, can you imagine going through this level?!
Good god, can you imagine going through this level?!

You don’t say you ARE Mario, you say Mario does this and that.

And that’s kind of the key here, the amount of First Person games kind of spoil the current generation of gamers to feel empowered themselves, rather than observing a great character in their own right.

I understand that games got their success from giving it’s customers the feeling of escapism, but people seem to forget that escapism and empowerment are two different things.

Take for example Batman:

A game which by the way uses the Medium Shot...
A game which by the way uses the Medium Shot…
... and a Wide Shot with a Bird's Eye View... Hmmmmm....
… and a Wide Shot with a Bird’s Eye View… Hmmmmm….

When playing as Batman in the Arkham games, you’re in an escapist fantasy of an awesome super hero who beats up bad guys either through combat or stealth. But the game doesn’t make YOU empowered so much as it makes you witness the awesome that is Batman.

This is also enforced in the combat system.

You’re not completely in control of Batman’s animations as he does those awesome moves, all you say is “Batman! Counter that attack!” and Batman just does an elaborate counter attack that makes you go “Oh DAMN! That must’ve hurt!”.

In a different game where you have more control over the comba-…


Goddammit, Ninja Gaiden II, I didn’t even get to your name yet and you’re already back!

Well either way, Ninja Gaiden II gives a different feeling with it’s camera angles and combat.

Where Batman Arkham Asylum’s combat simply makes Batman give a different punch, kick or counter animation depending on the situation, every attack animation in Ninja Gaiden II happens precisely as said in the combo list.

Besides that, the big difference is that in Batman Arkham Asylum in combat you generally stick to the Bird’s Eye View to make the experience rather observational and makes you say “Oh wow, Batman is so awesome”.

Whereas in Ninja Gaiden II, this is what happens when you do an Obliteration Technique:


The camera zooms in to give you a visceral emotion of “BOOT TO THE HEAD, MOTHER-bleep-ER!”.

This is more personal and actually gets closer to the feeling of “YOU did this!”.

But even then, it’s still not as personal as the First Person View.

And that’s the thing, different camera angles can give different moods and give the players different emotions to the event.

The moment your game is chosen to be a First Person game, the more difficult it becomes for you to change around the camera angle in gameplay, thus limiting yourself more about what emotion you can give to the player.

If your game is a Third Person game instead, it’s less jarring to change the view from a wide shot to a medium shot or a close up for the sake of adding emotion to the scene. The character becomes more of a character rather than a vehicle for the player to insert themselves in it.

So next time you come up with a story and you want to emphasise how awesome and deep your main character is, think carefully before you decide to use the popular First Person Perspective.

Is your character awesome because the event is something the player can relate to personally and have to experience it directly through the eyes of the character?

Or is your character awesome because they’re an interesting and unique person who has their own reasons for reacting a certain way to a certain event?

Published by Huy Minh Le

Huy Minh Le is a Video Game Enthusiast, Movie Lover, Writer, Content Marketeer and regular TvTropes reader! His studies in Game Design, Art, and Writing has led to a very creative, yet analytical mind.

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