Appreciating the Art of Cinematography in Video Games

Cinematography is an under-appreciated art form not just on the silver screen, but also in other areas where it is applied.

Video games are a great example of this, as many players won’t realize the effort that has gone into perfecting the look of the games they love.

Of course to be able to recognize the impressive cinematographic achievements in video games, you need to know what to look out for, so let’s go over a few of the things that define this practice in the world of interactive entertainment.

Focus & depth of field

For cinematographers, the camera lens is their main tool, and it can be used to both alter the look of shots, and also interact with audiences in an overt or a subtle way.

For example, adjusting the focus can do everything from drawing our attention to a particular part of the screen, or giving the image a sense of depth that correlates with the backdrop, or is chosen to gel with the narrative at that moment in time.

In games, these same techniques come into effect both in cutscenes and during normal play. Depth of field is a particularly easy-to-spot instance of this, cropping up whenever you use the iron sights on a weapon in a first person shooter.

For example, or when Nathan Drake or Lara Croft make death-defying leaps, as the danger behind them is blurred and the focus is sharp on their dynamic forms.

These elements can even be used in much simpler games; everything from side-scrollers to online casinos can adjust the focus to impact on the player. And since you can enjoy Canadian casinos reviewed by experts, it shouldn’t be difficult to identify modern examples of cinematography regardless of your preferred genre.

Chromatic aberration

This is a more controversial artistic choice in video games, yet one which has its roots in cinematography and traditional lens-based camera technology in particular.

Game designers obviously don’t have to put up with the physical limitations of lenses, but they can either emulate their imperfections, or overcome them and move in the opposite direction depending on the artistic vision of the project at hand.

In this case, chromatic aberration describes the addition of edge-based smeariness that sees the three fundamental colors separated out by an artificial lens effect.

Most commonly encountered in action games that want to look gritty, realistic and akin to the classic war movies they are so clearly inspired by, chromatic aberration is not loved by everyone, as mentioned. 

However, it can also be used in reverse, to smooth out the points at which colors intersect, and create cleaner-looking visuals in games as well.

Lens flare

First seen in video games in the 90s, and still a staple of their presentation today, lens flare is another intriguing cinematographic feature which gives gamers the impression that they are viewing the digital worlds they explore through a physical camera, not a virtual one.

Lens flare occurs in the real world when bright light sources are reflected and distorted within the multiple glass layers of a camera’s lens. 

This is obviously not a problem in video games, but it is an effect that is put to good use as a means of implying that a source of light is much more intense than its surroundings, even if this isn’t otherwise obvious from the player’s perspective because of limitations in monitor technology.

So as you can tell, the art of cinematography is present in almost every frame of modern games, and it won’t take much to spot the signs of the silver screen’s influence.

Written by Austin Crane

Austin is the principle web director for Untamed Science and Stone Age Man. He is also the web-director of the series for the High School biology, Middle Grades Science and Elementary Science content. When Austin isn't making amazing content for the web, he's out on his mountain bike or in a canoe.

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