Screenshots and the digital humanities

The deadline extension for the first Australasian Association for Digital Humanities meant I had time to work on a collaborative panel pitch and get my own abstract together at the last minute. I thought I might post the abstract here as I’m keen to follow up on the ideas regardless of the submission outcome for the conference in Canberra next March.

The screenshot as virtual photography, digital tool and media object

The ‘screenshot’ is a form of virtual photography, a digital image capturing a computer’s visual display in a singular instance of its operation. The ability to record the mobile or desktop screen, where the display acts as both frame and lens for the video or static rendering, has become an important component of online communication. A simple tool with an almost ubiquitous presence as a media object on the web, the screenshot is a convergence of hardware and software technologies; a digital media object produced via an arrangements of human and machine operations, graphical standards, hardware permissions, software rights, and digital formats.

Screenshot images serve multiple purposes, including documentary evidence and archival or instructional material , but it is the virtual tourist’ ‘snapshot’ of online game worlds and the recording of in-game events that has popularised the screenshot as a remediated form of photography. Websites, like Flickr and Imgur, are host to millions of images generated by gamers communicating their experiences and producing their online identities through the visual medium of the image. From the digital vistas of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games to the frantic action shots of First Person Shooter (FPS) games, game screenshots function as crucial components in the production and management of the online gamer ‘persona’.

This paper considers two dimensions of virtual photography, examining the screenshot, first as a digital research tool and second as a media object, as they are positioned within the broader methodological and interdisciplinary scope of the Digital Humanities. It draws attention to the screenshot as a tool for the dissemination of information and a means for collecting, curating and analysing digital visual images produced from screens. Further, it explores how the screenshot is enmeshed in other valuable research tools. To exemplify this regard, the second aim of the paper is to present a case study analysis of the construction of an online gamer ‘persona’ via screenshots. Examining this use of screenshots, as they move across multiple social media platforms, the paper maps the image based practices and networks managed by the gamer in the production of their online identity.

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