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Dote Night: Videogame Photography

Instagraming Games

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na'Vi's Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.

This week I wanted to share something a little different when it comes to Dota 2. It's not based on scientific research or a pet theory; it's about bringing a hobby from the physical world into a game world. A game within a game, perhaps.

My game within a game uses screenshots and image editing apps on my phone. In real life I take a hell of a lot of pictures, both using my phone and using a real proper grownup camera. It's the phone which is winning out at the moment in terms of regular use because of the wealth of image editing apps – things like Instagram with which you'll probably be familiar, but also slightly more obscure programs like Glitché and Tales of Us – a photo layering app released by Goldfrapp.

Over the last couple of years I've been trying to treat gaming content in the same way I would regular photography. I spend so much time in those worlds and it started to feel odd not to approach them as I would any other place where I spent dozens of hours – with snapshots and Instagrams and weird deconstructed stitched images. It's a bit of a convoluted process at the moment which runs contra to the simplistic appeal of tinkering about with pictures on my phone, but it's had some curious results.

How it works at the moment is I take a screenshot in Steam, then crop the image to a size my phone can deal with and upload it to imgur. That way it's easy to find at a later date (and doesn't require me to address the fact that my Dropbox is more than 150% over capacity and needs drastic digital pruning). Then it's just a case of running the image through a heap of image editing apps and seeing what works best.

Mostly the results have been shots of heroes in various poses which are then highlighted, cropped or tinted. A big part of this is because a lot of screenshots are taken to capture a particular play or bug or impressive moment. These shots aren't. They come from watching the game in cinematic mode, phasing out the commentary and the implications for the meta in order to focus on elements of composition I ingested as part of an art history degree I accidentally ended up taking.

Where's the subject? How can I position the in-game camera to make a Lightning Revenant obey the rule of thirds? Can anything be offset in some way? How do I use the trees for framing effect? What's the direction of the action? Whose abilities are the most aesthetically pleasing or work best with the Radiant jungle colour palette?

It's something which also opened up Dota in a different way – as an aesthetic experience rather than a mechanical one. The camera positioning is entirely different – a foreign language in some ways. The same is true for combos. It's not about watching for a team to execute the most efficient and devastating wombo at their disposal, it's about knowing that Lifestealer bursting out of Razor as the latter sets off his plasma field ability looks spectacular from directly overhead even when it happens in the middle of the jungle for no good reason. It's also about swearing because someone on your own team got a last hit on a creep and utterly ruined the balance of the image.

Dota 2 is often a stressful game to play, and can be nerve-jangling to watch. By bringing in one of my external hobbies, it's also become something unrecognisable; soothing. There is a downside to all of this (aside from being "that Instagram Dota dick") though. I've chucked nearly 1,500 hours into that game and I've now found a way to up that even further.

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