The Nintendo Switch console has been around for over five years now, and almost every child and gaming enthusiast seems to have one. A year ago, Nintendo released a remastered version of one its most loved Nintendo 64 games, Pokémon Snap.
This photography-based game is one of my absolute favorites to play regularly, and I loved the original version too as a child. We've been raving about this game on DCW since it was first released, and the growing popularity of photography-based video games doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.
This got me thinking... could the New Pokémon Snap game be the perfect safe gateway into educating the next generation of younger photographers? Of course, nothing will ever beat actually getting out there with a film or digital camera and practicing composition and the rule of thirds – but I don't think this game gets enough credit for the teachings and photographic aspects it employs.
For example, during the game players are encouraged to capture images of Pokémon by searching every possible angle, high and low, hiding in trees and soaring the skies, with some appearing behind you. It's important having fast reactions, a good eye for spotting interesting moments, and adapting to different locations.
Gamers are awarded points and given a total end score based on things like positioning and pose of the subject, background, size, and direction. There's a request section in addition where the game's characters will ask you to photography certain things or moments in exchange for a reward. The game provides helpful photography tips during its loading screens, too!
Players are given the choice to use elements such as an apple "fluffruit", a light orb, and playing a repetitive sound to encourage different reactions from the Pokemon they encounter, and in turn snap interesting photos of subjects eating, dancing, running away or looking extremely angry if you hit them with an apple.
The point of the game is to fill up your 'Photodex' album with at least four images of each Pokémon species that you come across, each image is given different star ratings (up to four) for the complexity of the image or motion happening, and you should aim to capture one of each rating.
The challenge truly lies in that you can constantly improve upon your photo score, course score, and images by replaying the different courses, and as you level up, there will be new pokemon to photograph, different behaviours happening and side routes that you can discover. There's even a feature when viewing your photo album called "Re-snap" where you can adjust and reposition an image you've already captured and apply filters, similarly to how most in-game photo modes work.
I think this game teaches the perfect core elements of photography for those just entering the field or younger children with a Nintendo Switch. You can only compare your images in-game with ones you've previously taken - which when applied to the context of photography is a great way to see how we've improved, without being disheartened or becoming overconfident by comparing our work to others, which I'm sure many of us can agree is a bad habit to get into.
Although, Nintendo did encourage gamers to share and compare their pokémon Snap images by sharing their screenshots online when the game first released, which can be a pleasant and positive experience. It also emulates the community aspect of photography groups and sharing images and constructive feedback that exists for "real world" photographers.
That's not to say that gaming or virtual photography isn't "real" photography, as many people have made a career and a living from gaming and screenshot photography, but that's a separate article.
I would go as far as to say that playing Pokémon Snap regularly on train journeys and at home has actually helped improve my photography. It's made me more alert when shooting moving subjects, more engaged with searching my surroundings and constantly on the lookout for photogenic scenes or moments happening.
As someone who has spent nearly 20 years (almost my entire life) in education, and having studied photography at a masters level, the only thing I was really 'taught' in my photographic education was how to use the dark room and photo studios, which I greatly benefitted from. Mostly though, we were encouraged to study famous practitioners to drive inspiration and guidance from their work.
While some elements of photography are crucial to learn in understanding the fundamentals, and can't be learned from a video game, it could be argued that photography as a practice isn't really something that can be taught past a certain extent, and a personal journey of developing your skill and finding your style is what makes a photographer successful, and everyone does it differently.
My earliest memories of being shown the exposure triangle at school, aged 11, stayed with me as a visual resource and helped me understand manual shooting far better than anything I was taught at a higher level moving forward. Maybe visual and interactive learning is a better method for some, myself included, which is why YouTube tutorials and video workshops can be a blessing.
While Pokémon as a franchise might seem childish to some, and gaming certainly isn't for everyone, I really do believe that interactive photography games and courses such as Pokémon Snap, amongst others, are the future of educating younger children and aspiring photographers as a first step, acting as a perfect way to train and engage your photographic eye in a virtual setting as it were.
My 6-year-old nephew now has a keen interest in photography, just from playing Pokémon Snap, and even asks if he can use my camera in the garden to take photos. I don't let him use my expensive one and the rule we have is that he must use two hands at all times - but seeing his thought process and how his eye for composition and framing the subject (usually snails) works is amazing to witness.
If you're a photographer who has never played Pokémon Snap, either the new or original versions, I strongly recommend that you give it a go. Purely for fun. You won't be disappointed - and there's ways of playing the original for free online too if you're familiar with emulators.
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