Commonwealth

Commonwealth is a series of images depicting virtual landscapes, inspired by and made through the video game Fallout 4. This project is an experiment relating to the concept of naive realism, which proposes that reality itself is a flawed concept and therefore the practice of photography can’t depict the entirety of reality as humans perceive it. The series of images also depicts the journey of my character through the environment of the game world, the Commonwealth and my journey as a player into the gaming community. In addition to this, my series of images supports the discussions around considering video games as art and therefore considering the post-photography produced through video games as art too.

My practice could be considered post-photographic as it is challenging the historic analogue belief that photography represents the real, by deliberately capturing the unreal or virtual. In addition to this, the camera plays a different role in the practice of video games, it is the device through which the player sees and perceives the environment. Just as the viewer of the photograph perceives the world through the frame of the photograph, the player of video games sees the word through the lens of this virtual camera. However this lens is the only way through which an individual can interact with the world, which means that each player’s experience of the game is highly specific to what they see when playing.

Commonwealth is a visual project that aims to introduce the viewer to the world of gaming, through an experiment inspired by discussions around naive realism. Perhaps some viewers will look at the landscapes depicted and believe that they are real, however for some it may teach them to look closer and consider that not everything they see in an image is a version of reality, as reality itself is incredibly complex. Lastly I hope that fans of the game Fallout 4 will see these images, recognise the landscape and be reminded of their own experience of the game, their specific play through and their own relationship with the gaming community.

Below is a preview of the photo book Commonwealth and a downloadble PDF

COMMONWEALTH

Inspiration: Iain Sarjeant

When creating my series of images for the project Commonwealth, I took inspiration from the photography Iain Sarjeant and his portfolio of documentary images. I had been following Sarjeant on Instagram for a while and I always found his images inspiring and so pleasing to look at. His work is a very good example of what I would regard as a traditional documentary landscape photographer, capturing the environment in a way that allows it to speak. These subtle, well framed images place the emphasis on the structures and the relationship with the surrounding environment. The images below are from a series titled ‘Echoes of War‘, which is highly relevant to the images I am produced, of the post-war environment in Fallout 4.

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I studied the images from this series and other collections from Sarjeant’s work and identified details about his style of photographing, which I would regard as traditional documentary landscape photography. Firstly the composition, the subtlety of these images make the structures the most important and dramatic part of the image. The simpleness of the images create a very calm atmosphere, which allows the viewer to really consider the relationship between the structures and the surrounding environment. This quiet atmosphere also creates the impression that these images are timeless. Secondly I identified that through each series of images, there is a consistent colour palette, which really creates a sense of unity between the images. A clear narrative, story and journey is established through this shared coloured palette and I believe that this is an approach I need to take with my images. This consistent colour palette will really come into play when I am choosing the images and sequencing them. Lastly, although some of Sarjeant’s images do feature people, the majority of them only feature the landscape. I feel this is really effective is emphasising that is the environment, the landscape that is the important part. I am going to try and produce the majority of my images without any of the other characters in Fallout 4, partially to maintain the idea that my images are depicting the landscape, and partially because I feel that featuring any other characters would introduce the idea that it is their journey and not the journey of my character. It has been really beneficial researching what I would consider a traditional, documentary landscape photographer, as I have identified many techniques to include in my project, which will hopefully encourage the viewers of my images to consider them as traditional landscape images. Images of the real, when actually they are of virtual landscapes.

Why Is This Work Important?

Like many other individuals in the world today, I am becoming increasingly involved in the practice and the community of gaming. Fallout 4 is the first game that I have felt really connect me to the community, however when playing I felt extremely morally challenged by the questions being asked of my character and also me as a player. The entire story of Fallout 4 is complex and non-linear, due to the nature of the game, meaning every different player would experience the order of the story different and perhaps not experience parts of it at all. Whilst I appreciated I was playing a game, I also couldn’t avoid my emotional investment in the story towards my character and others. Suggesting that although the game is a fictional piece of entertainment, it could also be considered as a space in which to explore moral questions that might not, or couldn’t be asked in the context of material reality. There are on going discussions about video games being viewed as an art form, with sophisticated graphics that require a high level of computer literate artistry (Travinor 2009). A new emergent medium has been created through these video games, referencing photo-realism but building on it and creating a new stylistic world. The camera represents the device through which the game player both views and explores their world and more recently, through which the player can produce their own form of photographic-type artistry (Giddings 2013). It is this practice of videogame photography that I wish to produce, the images I intend to create will document the locations I associate with my play through of the story and therefore places I believe my character would most likely remember too. In addition to this I aim to capture the environment that my character travelled through in order to progress through the storyline, capturing these in-between places. My choice to engage with the concept of video games and video game art, is because I believe that gaming is becoming more and more important culturally. The industry is growing due to increased technology allowing for a higher calibre of games and because more individuals are becoming part of the gaming community, myself included.

As I have identified, the content in the games can also become an important part of culture as it prompts discussions about both current and futuristic issues, despite them happening in a fictional environment. Likewise, the practice of photography has been recognised as culturally important at engaging with current world issues. In the area of photojournalism and documentary photography especially, photography has served as the means to communicate where perhaps words couldn’t. There have been many iconic images that have stood out and served as the face of some of the most important stories, including but limited to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Kevin Carter’s image of a starving child and Nick Ut’s image of the girl fleeing a napalm attack. In many of these cases the photographer has been criticised for not intervening in the moment and helping the subject of the photograph, despite these images being the catalyst for social change. Whilst these iconic images may not have directly benefitted the subjects featured in them, in some cases they manage to incite cultural change, a great achievement for a singular image. However there are flaws in photography, past the photographer not always being able to directly help the subject they are photographing. Photojournalism and documentary photography have been the focus of much critical debate about the relationship between photography and truth. The practice of photography itself has historically been labelled as objective, with Walter Benjamin and Andre Bazin identifying the apparent lack of the human hand in the creation of the image, focusing on the mechanical production. However behind the apparently objective mechanics of the camera is an extremely subjective photographer, a human being that has been shaped by their own experience of life. A person that has their own opinion, design preference, style of photography and all of these are communicated through the image; whether the photographer wants them to be or not. Objective photography, in my subjective opinion, is impossible.

So what does a photograph represent if not the an objective truth? And if a photograph doesn’t or can’t represent the truth, then why do we still believe what is depicted in them? So, it would be foolish to suggest that all people believe what they see in photographs to be true. Audiences of images have become increasingly sceptical of the content following various editing scandals in popular media. The first identifiable cases of manipulation in the media can be traced back to the National Geographic Cover of the Pyramids, where the photograph taken was manipulated to bring the two pyramids closer, so that the image could work with the portrait orientation of the cover. The invention and increase of digital technology facilitated a wave new photographs that were altered, shaping certain genres of photography such as beauty; where it is culturally acknowledged that the photograph is probably altered. The theory supporting this scepticism is naive realism, which proposes that the reality we perceive in our own certain way, is definitely reality. In photography naive realism relates to a person looking at an image and believing the photograph to be able to represent the entirety of reality in one frame, despite there being many other elements to reality (such as movement and sound). Naive realism in reality, proposes that as humans we believe that our way of perceiving the world constitutes what reality is, that is because we can perceive colours we believe these colours are reality, despite other animals only being able to perceive shades of black and white.

In my work, I will be using the concept of naive realism, to create a visual experiment. The images that I am producing could be perceived as reality if the viewer doesn’t look closely to pick out the details, some of them are closer to the reality we experience as humans and some of them focus on details that are unrealistic to us (as the game is set in a post-nuclear war environment. These images will aim to serve as an eye-opener for those who believe everything they see in a photograph, whilst appearing to be a normal artistic piece documenting landscapes. However whilst one purpose of this piece is to be a visual experiment on the concept of naive realism, I also want it to explore the sophisticated narrative experience of contemporary gaming. Fallout 4 is a choice-based game, which means that each player of the game has the potential to create a different storyline; from the order in which the player experiences the main storyline, down to the choices that can be made during conversations between characters. This dynamic means that each different player creates their own version of the Fallout 4 story. My set of images document the version of the story that I created through the specific choices I made my gameplay. This work is important because it engages with two concepts that I believe are currently very important culturally: the world of video games and naive realism. Combing these two concepts has allowed me to create a really interesting piece of work that both follows my character’s unique story in the game Fallout 4 and plays on the idea of naive realism, by attempting to trick the viewer into believing that the landscapes in the images are of a real world.

 

List of References:

Giddings, S. (2013) ‘Drawing Without Light, Simulated photography in videogames’ in

Travinor, G. (2009) The Art of Video Games. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell

 

Mother

Mother is a individual contribution of the volume The Person and Power, which collectively forms part of the post-digital publication:

The Social Netcessity

The Person and Power is a volume of the post-digital publication, which aims to explore and examine ideas around what it means to be a person in the world and their position according to their individual power. The individual elements of this volume engage with concepts such as moral exploration through fan fiction, creative expression through artwork and photography, the empowerment of the everyday parent, power dynamics gone wrong and the power of the humans through technology. Each individual contribution to the volume explores concepts in a different manner, from textual analysis to a series of visual artwork. This volume embodies the post-digital through the content and the presentation, as our works will be presented as a set of creative artefacts.

The other individual contributions can be viewed by clicking the links below:

After the Great Debate

Amber Alert

Domestic Violence Against Women

Two Faces

I was responsible for the creation of the publication known as Mother, which is a zine featuring Fallout 4 inspired fan fiction and video game photography.

 

Like many other individuals in the world today, I am becoming increasingly involved in the practice and the community of gaming. Fallout 4 is the first game that I have felt really connect me to the community, however when playing I felt extremely morally challenged by the questions being asked of my character and also me as a player. The entire story of Fallout 4 is complex and non-linear, due to the nature of the game, meaning every different player would experience the order of the story different and perhaps not experience parts of it at all. In essence, the game asks whether the creations called synthetic humans (or synths) should have a right to life, life independent from their creators. Whether the synths can, have or should have the same opportunities as the non-artificial humans of the world in Fallout 4. In my play through of the game, I opted to rebel against the creators of the synthetic humans and liberate the synthetic humans who wanted a chance at freedom, but at the cost of many other human and synth lives. Whilst I appreciated I was playing a game, I also couldn’t avoid my emotional investment in the story towards my character and others. Suggesting that although the game is just that, it could also be considered as a space in which to explore moral questions that might not, or couldn’t be asked in the context of material reality. There aren’t any synthetic humans as defined in the Fallout 4 universe yet; therefore in order to be able to engage with the concept of synthetic rights, the individual needs to be immersed in a world where this concept is a reality.

My position in relation to Fallout 4 is identifiable as a fan; I play the game, I watch YouTube videos of other people playing the game, Fallout 4 is my phone background and also features in my collection of laptop stickers. However in studying fan culture when self-identifying as a fan, it is important to acknowledge the need for critical distance, the need to be able to critique despite any emotional investment. Much like the researcher, the fan is also in constant conflict trying to decide what material is authentic fan produced material and what content aims to be received by fans as passive consumers (Lewis 2009: 52). Fans also approach the material itself differently, with some considering it to be an art form, others identifying it as an expression of their personal experience (Lewis 2009: 52). What has been noted however, is that fans take an affective approach in engaging with the content, an emotional investment in the medium or concept that inspires them to appropriate and create (Lewis 2009: 56). There are on going discussions about video games being viewed as an art form, with sophisticated graphics that require a high level of computer literate artistry (Travinor 2009). A new emergent medium has been created through these video games, referencing photo-realism but building on it and creating a new stylistic world. The camera represents the device through which the game player both views and explores their world and more recently, through which the player can produce their own form of photographic-type artistry (Giddings 2013). It is this practice of videogame photography that I wish to employ in my response to the post-digital publication, building on the moral questioning of the game Fallout 4. The images I intend to publish will document the locations I associate with my play through of the story and therefore places I believe my character would most likely remember too.

The immersive experience of video games, whilst adept in creating the notion of a virtual reality, means that the often graphic content of games seem much more life like (Travinor 2009: 8). The reality of the Fallout 4 game is that it is a first person shooter (FPS), which means that a large portion of gameplay involves the killing of other beings, from mutated animals, to other non-artificial human beings. In some cases, the deaths are extremely graphic featuring slow motion shots of heads exploding. Although the premise of the game and the ideology it engages with is extremely interesting and potentially relevant to the future of artificial intelligence, the countless acts of seemingly mindless killing is potentially damaging, not only to the story but also to the emotionally invested player. The idea of fiction providing the opportunity for moral exploration is being engaged with in Fallout 4, but the entertainment value of the game as a FPS stands in the way. In addition to the concept of videogames as art, the idea of the gamer is also being researched. The idea of playable technology can be translated across various different media practices, where the user can engage, remediate and adapt their identity presentations (Roig, Conrelio, Ardevoi, Alsina, Pages 2009). Combining the idea of fictional exploration and playable identities, I wish to explore the moral questions raised in Fallout 4 through the writing of fan fiction, specific to my character and my play through of the game. By bringing the moral debates away from the FPS dynamic I aim to explore the Fallout 4 world through my character and her position in it. After the liberation of the synthetic humans and the destruction of the organisation that created them, my character discovers and saves a synth that appears to believe he is her human son (who was kidnapped as a one-year old at the beginning of the game). The in-game reality however is that her son Shaun was kidnapped and eventually became the director of the organisation that created the synths, he perished when the organisation was destroyed. The synthetic version of Shaun appears to represent my character’s lost chance at being a Mother, as due to a period of cryogenic freezing, the human Shaun (or Father as he was also known) grew to be sixty years older than my character. The fan fiction I will be publishing will explore the post-post-war period in which my character negotiates the possibility of a life in the Fallout 4 world with her synthetic son.

The cultural prominence and importance of the videogame industry is increasing and many researchers are recognising this. I wish to acknowledge their theoretical work in my individual contribution to the post-digital publication in my creative response, titled ‘Mother’. Through self-created fan fiction and a series of videogame photographic images, I wish to explore the concept of the synthetic human in the Fallout 4 world and how I explore these moral questions through my emotional investment to the character. The fan faction will delve into the possible thoughts and feelings of my character when confronted with the prospect of life as a mother to a synthetic boy, whilst the images display a visual story where my character was faced with certain moral questions as a result of the game play. Both responses will aim to provide accessibility to the reader of the post-digital publication, whilst the content of the overall volume will contribute to their understanding of my section. Titled ‘The Person and Power’, the collective volume will aim to examine the meaning of what it is to be human and the associated power struggles. Whilst my contribution relates to the futuristic concept of artificial life, other parts of the volume engage with humanistic, current and essentially real cultural issues that are occurring. I acknowledge that to some readers, my work will not translate well, because not everyone is interesting in the videogame industry, however with the support of the surrounding contributions in the volume, I believe my contribution will accessible to those who are unfamiliar with gaming.

 

List of References:

Giddings, S. (2013) ‘Drawing Without Light, Simulated photography in videogames’ in

The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. Lister, M. Florence: Routledge, 41-54

Grossberg, L. (2002) ‘Is there a Fan in the House?: The Affective Sensibility of Fandom’. in The Adoring Audience by Lewis, L. Florence: Routledge, 50-65

Roig, A. Cornelia, G. Ardevoi, E, Alsina, P., and Pages, R. (2009) ‘Videogame as Media Practice: An Exploration of the Intersection Between Play and Audiovisual Culture’. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 15 (1), 89-103

Travinor, G. (2009) The Art of Video Games. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell

A Snapshot of Social Media: Camera Phone Practices

This short piece of text was cowritten by Larissa Hjorth and Natalie Hendry, it is only a couple of pages long including the references, but it provides a really good starting point and summary of the relationship between the camera phone and social media. The ideas raised in this short piece of text, will both give me ideas to research and think about in relation to my research project and I can also use this reference section to identify other texts for me to read. In this blog post I have identified important quotes and ideas from this text and explored how I can relate them to my research project.

 

Contemporary social media just compress and spread ideas in a more accelerated and data heavy manner

Instagram as a social media encourages succinct visual expression, posting a singular image or video and an accompanying caption. The posting has become more free with recent updates and the development of accompanying apps which allow explorative video editing and the collage of multiple images. I have before likened Instagram to the dynamic of a postcard, particularly when the user has posted an image from the travel genre. However the digital form of this postcard dramatically changes the speed at which the material is received by the intended viewer, where a postcard might take days or weeks if the post is slow, with a sufficient internet connection an Instagram post can be made and uploaded within seconds. It is the speed of photography that has changed the nature of the practice and has encouraged some practitioners to revert to the slower process of analogue photography. Instagram has acknowledged this retro revival of the analogue image in the development of the app by offering a set of editing filters that apply a particular aesthetic to the image.

 

second generation camera phone apps can be understood in terms of “emplaced” visuality. Emplaced visuality puts a theory of movement at the center of our understanding of contemporary media practice.

This is where Larissa Hjorth has focused on her own ideas from a separate paper, which she wrote with other author Sarah Pink. First generation social media would resemble platforms such as Flickr, that were designed for users who had digital compact, bridge or SLR cameras, whereas second generation social media, such as Instagram are designed for users who take images using their camera phone. Rather than the social media being hosted on a website like Flickr and redeveloped to become an app, Instagram was designed to be an application for a smartphone before then being redesigned to be accessed from a laptop. Emplaced reality is closely linked to the portable nature of the smartphone/cameraphone, whereas photographers with cameras would go out to shoot and then come back home to edit and share, cameraphone users have the ability to shoot, edit and share in that one device. The fact that the device can connect to the Internet in almost any location, means that places that were previously dedicated to banal rituals of waiting such as travelling, have been changed to represent explorative periods of creativity.

 

Just as young people collaged fanzines or decorated their bedrooms with posters, they also use platforms like Tumblr to creatively visualize and “circulate everything”: their intimate, consumer and aesthetic desires; personal politics; and endless animated gifs

Although limiting, the bedroom wall metaphor points to the ways that young people predominately “renovate” their spaces, and, in turn, their identities and relationships

The bedroom wall metaphor is a really interesting idea to describe how young people creatively express their identity, it really reminds of the video game Life Is Strange, where the main character Max takes a self portrait of herself in front of her wall of photographs.

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The ritualistic idea of the college or university student creatively decorating their room to express their identity is recognisable in popular Western culture. Despite the fact that the occupant knows their occupancy of this space will only be temporary, this may have been the first chance they have full control to express their personality in a space that they effectively own for the duration of their stay. Social media and the user’s profile/newsfeed represents this chance at freedom, the platform and their profile is their four walls, which they experiment with in order to express their personality to those who choose to visit/those who are allowed to see. However despite the physical constraints of a bedroom meaning that only a few people could see the decoration of the bedroom at a time, social media can be accessed and seen by a global audiences of millions simultaneously.

 

The histories of young people as a population under surveillance are remediated through camera phone practices as new anxieties and moral panics are revealed

Photos exchanged through Snapchat, Instagram and Kik convey a sense of being with each other and reinforce shared emotional experience across time and space

These statements both ask and answer a similar question, it is undeniable that with the increased focus on treating mental health that there has been a massive increase in the diagnosis of such conditions, especially in young people. The number of 15-16 year olds with depression has nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s according to mental health statistics from youngminds.org. However a rise in awareness of mental health is not the predominate reason why so many young people are now being diagnosed, it is this age of the smartphone and surveillance that makes many feel like they are under pressure to fulfil unrealistic expectations. Selfies can be considered as a narcissism that has developed as a response to increased insecurity about body image, as young people feel encouraged to look and act much older than their age, with resultant risk of minors being sexualised.

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However for every young person that is feeling this sense of moral panic, social media also appears to provide a link to other people feeling the same, hence the creation of memes. People share their moral panics on social media in order to get a response, which can support them and tell them that are not alone. However equally this offering of vulnerability could become a target for Internet users that thrive on making hostile, personal attacks on other users, known as trolls.

 

As Daniel Palmer notes in his study on iPhone photography, cameras have colonized the mobile phone over the past decade. Nokia has reportedly put more cameras into people’s hands the in the whole previous history of photography

This is statistic that explains the changing nature of photography completely, despite a number of professionals still using top level SLR cameras in their work, the majority of photographers in this age are using smartphones to take pictures. The mobile phone industry have recognised this want for better cameras and developed phones that often have better camera than some compact digital cameras. In addition to this, the front camera has continued to develop in order to allow people to take self portraits or ‘selfies’, helped along by add on inventions such as the selfie stick. It is the smartphone/cameraphone that is the tool behind the increase and also the change of social photography in the digital era, as it collapses and combines the photography, editing and sharing in one portable device.

 

This piece of text despite the shorter length has given me a great starting point and encouraged me to consider other ideas to research in relation to my research. The bedroom wall metaphor is a concept that I feel is so relevant, as it describes the nature of creativity and the relationship between creativity, identity and self expression in a way that people can really understand. However I feel that this metaphor might only be relatable to the Western population, where moving out and going to university or college is central cultural concept. If I am going to use concepts that relate to Western culture, I need to begin thinking about shaping my research to Western culture as well. My position as a young, white, Western individual means that I can understand this example in relation to my own creativity and self expression, therefore I will be able to supplement this research idea with my own experience. However I have to consider that if I narrow my project down to engage with Western users of Instagram, I am excluding other subjects which have been traditionally othered by academia.

Post-Photography Project Development

INITIAL DISCUSSIONS

As the lectures on the post-photographic module continued, I was increasing my knowledge on the idea of what a post-photographer could be, from a theoretical and a practical view. Paul Smith’s lectures showed visual examples of photographers through history producing photographs that challenged the boundaries of the current practice. Acknowledging the frame of the photograph and how this can both make and limit the practice of the photographer. From the most simple editing technique such as cropping, which can be done when taking the photograph and when editing afterwards, the photographer can have a dramatic impact on what the images says to the audience. In addition to this, the development of digital technology offers a huge range of different process to photographers, and has allowed them to create images that wouldn’t be possible in the analogue world.

In my previous studies I acknowledged that the photographer has such an important role when producing visual material, and this responsibility manifests itself in different ways. The Phonar (Photography and Narrative) module explored photographic practices where the process was more collaborative between photographer and subject. The subject felt powerful and free to have a say on how their story was told by the photographer, which is very different to practices such as traditional documentary, where the photographer had to make an informed decision on what photograph could represent a concept as large as a war. These images are what we often describe as iconic, because they attempt to describe so much in one frame. In contrast the collaborative projects often focus on the smallest details in order to tell a detailed story about the subject themselves. There is a tension between these two approaches, because each attempts to achieve what the other could not. There is no real way to tell which approach is ‘better’ because often these images have been produced for very different outcomes.

In the lectures from Spencer, we approached the practice of photography from a theoretical perspective, considering the flaws behind the the practice and how this could affect the work we make as photographers. To begin with, the ontology of photography as discussed by Andre Bazin stated that the human species has a such a strong desire to produce the most realistic and accurate representation of themselves possible. If they can achieve this realistic visual replication, then humans need no longer fear death. For death itself is split into two elements of disappearance, the physical body disappearing from the world, and the visual evidence of that body disappearing too. Bazin described the loss of this evidential, visual memory as the Second Spiritual Death. Bazin also worked to separate photography from the other arts, commenting that despite photography achieving the most accurate representation of man, that the presence of man in the process was missing. According to Bazin, the artist or craftsman is lost in the practice of photography, this view is very similar to the ideas of Walter Benjamin, who discussed the loss of aura and originality in the practice of photography, as it can produce multiple copies of the same material.

In addition to the ontology of photography, there is the idea of photography representing the truth, which is a concept I have explored previously in my photographic studies in relation to photojournalism and manipulation. However this discussion changes with a theoretical approach, with the introduction of the term naive realism, which describes the tendency of the viewer and even photographer to believe that photographs represent the truth. The photographer believes that they are capturing the truth of what they see and the viewer believes the representation that the photographer presents them with. The limitations of the single frame are discussed often in the context of photography, so why do we still put so much faith in the practice of photography to produce truth, when reality itself is so complicated? According to Plato, reality is split into the realm of physical forms and objects and the realm of spiritual forms, which are eternal and perfect. Physical objects are those we can identify as occupying the same physical space as us, like the sofa that I’m sitting on writing this blog post. Spiritual forms are the elements we can’t see, but that we believe that be in force in the world, such as love, hate and trust. We can’t prove what these forms are but they are universally accepted in the world, the most common evidence of this is the creation of words in each language to describe them. When you consider how complicated reality actually is, can photography hope to try and represent it visually in one frame?

These discussions can lead to a very pessimistic view of photography, however I would argue that if the photographer accepts these notions and reflects on them in their work, then photography can be a practice that comments on reality, rather than trying to represent it. The key idea the photographer absolutely HAS to accept, is that the images they produce are not likely to be received in the way that they intended. The meaning will differ depending on who is looking and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Different viewers can build and extend the original meaning of the images and perhaps link them to discussions the photographer never thought of. There is the danger of course, that the images will be read in a completely different way than the photographer intended, which could be potentially damaging, to the subject or the subject matter. Therefore we come back to the responsibility of the photographer, to have an understanding of their practice.

When considering all the lecture material in relation to my own practice, I feel that it embodies much of the ideas I have explored in previous projects. For example for the Phonar module, I attempted to create a post-photographic portrait by reverse assembling the metadata scattered across the Internet from one individual, in order to demonstrate how much information we willingly give to the Internet. For my degree show project, I attempted to challenge the representation, the Internet and the photographic portrait again but this time taking portraits of people and exhibiting them as binary code. This represents the fluidity of information on the Internet and the idea that people are being increasingly viewed as information and statistics, rather than real people. My work aims to comment on current issues, it aims to be the inspiration behind a discussion, an experiment to see how people react. This experimentation with the photographic practice could be combined with the notion of the post-photographer, to produce work that is interesting but also informed by cultural theory.

 

DECIDING SUBJECT MATTER

As my field of study has changed from my BA, from photography to communication, culture and media, it is likely that my projects will shift to engage with different ideas. There is an idea that I am becoming increasingly aware of due to both my own personal engagement and from an academic approach, which is the gaming industry and community, most specifically the genre of story games. There are more and more games being released yearly, that have captivated players with the stories that they tell.

With developing technology, the games themselves have become sophisticated pieces of storytelling media, with which the user can engage and have a power over how the story progresses. This power can vary from game to game: with structured campaigns that require the player to move through the game in a specific linear way and open world games that allow the player to explore the environment at their own pace, choosing the engage with the main storyline when they wish to advance with the plot. Aside from story-based games there are games that pursue different objectives such as direct competition between players or encouraging them to build communities. The dynamic of the game does have an impact on what sort of experience the player will have: First Person Shooters (FPS) encourage the player to move through the environment, target and neutralise hostiles, whereas adventure video games encourage the player to engage with the characters and environment in order to find out more about the main storyline. Different game dynamics often share objectives, such as moving through the environment in order to find objects; in a FPS that object would be ammunition or a new gun whereas in adventure games the object is likely to be a piece of information that helps develop the detail of the storyline. The main purpose of the game however is to be enjoyable when played, to encourage the player to come back and play the game multiple times and perhaps then buy other games from a particular franchise or company. As games are situated in the entertainment industry they are made to appeal to the public, however there is no denying that games are becoming significantly more important in a cultural context.

In the module Open and Social media I am also considering gaming, examining how the game Fallout 4 encourages the player to engage with possible future cultural issues. The game features the invention of a synthetic human (synth) which is effectively an artificial human, made to replicate an organic human in every way possible. The most advanced synths appear to have a personality, their own sense of humour, their own likes and dislikes, therefore they appear to actually be human. Different factions within the game have differing opinions on the synthetic human, one believing them to be nothing but property, one believing all the synths should be destroyed and one believing the synths should be liberated and have a chance for an independent life. The player has to make a decision to ally with one of these factions, as there is conflict between all of them. This means the player must make their own decision on what they think synthetic humans actually are and whether they should be considered as property, dangerous/unethical technology or independent beings. However the fact that Fallout 4 is a FPS shooter is a problematic element as in the same time the player might be thinking about important cultural questions about civil rights, the game could spawn multiple enemies that the player has to kill, effectively reducing the other characters in the game (often human) to targets that need to be eliminating. When the player has to think about whether an artificial life could be considered as important as a human one, it seems incredibly counter-productive to dehumanise the existing humans in the game. As my definition of the post-photographer was built using the knowledge I had built up around the post-digital publication through the Open and Social Media module, I decided it could be interesting to produce a photographic response that would link to this module. This would also give me the opportunity to include photographic work in my response to the Open and Social Media module. However instead of concentrating on the synthetic human in my photographic project, I wanted to focus on the game experience itself, how my character moved through the Fallout 4 environment and created my own version of the story through my actions and decisions.

Just like photography in the gaming environment the player ‘sees’ through a frame, however in gaming the camera becomes the only way through which the player experiences the world. This virtual reality can only be seen through playing the game unlike reality, which the photographer sees before choosing to frame it. This conscious choice to frame the scene happens less in video games, as the player is often confronted with other choices such as where to go, when to shoot etc. There are games that do involve a conscious moment where the character frames the scene, one is called Fatal Frame an Indonesian horror game. The player has to take pictures of spirits to damage and destroy them, ‘framing’ the spirits is fatal to them.

Another game is Outlast where the protagonist is an investigative journalist. The character has a video camera, which the player can use to record important moments in the game as evidence, however the camera is also used in the scarier portions of the game where the night-mode of the camera is used to see in the dark.

In the game Fallout 4, which my project will be examining there is a choice to play in First Person Mode or Third Person Mode. First Person mode is as if you are seeing through the eyes of the character, whereas third person mode is effectively you following your character through the environment. For players used to playing shooter-type games, the First Person mode will be more natural to them as it is generally considered to be easier and more accurate to shoot. The third person mode would be better for people used to playing typical story-type games, or adventure games that include some elements of combat such as Tomb Raider.

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First Person Mode

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Third Person Mode

For the purpose of my project, I will experience the Fallout 4 environment through the First Person Mode as it makes what I see and what my character sees exactly the same. The distance between me and my character is reduced and I feel that it is my story as well as my character.

Overall I feel that choosing gaming for my post-photography project will allow me to explore themes I haven’t yet explored in my own photographic practice, whilst still engaging with similar themes that I have explored before. The use of the game Fallout 4 for my project could be considered as me using appropriated material, which is an approach I have often taken in my most recent projects. However whilst my two previous projects have used appropriated material to make a comment on how much information users give to the Internet, in this project I will be using appropriated material to comment on how virtual reality has become similar to actuality.

 

THE PROJECT

As explored in the previous section, I will be examining Fallout 4 and the experience of the player in creating and shaping their own unique story. This story is their journey from moving through the gaming environment, to progressing in the storyline, even to levelling up and getting stronger as a character. My project will be exploring the sophisticated storytelling capability of modern video games and how virtual reality is becoming ever closer to reality. Although there will be some obvious differences, like the fact that Fallout 4 is set in a post-apocalyptic future, the basic elements in the gaming experience are becoming closer to reality. Despite the addition of radiated beings, synthetic humans and robotic devices, the landscape and the buildings in the Fallout 4 environment are recognisable and similar to that of my reality. My response to the assignment will link to the idea of naive realism, where the viewer and the photographer believe that a photograph can represent the entirety of reality. Combining the idea of naive realism and the developing sophistication of virtual reality, my project will aim to try and fool the viewer into thinking that the virtual reality of Fallout 4 could actually be reality. The project will be built of of shots of the screen from when my character is moving through the Fallout 4 environment. These images will be made in the locations that are the most important in the game, where my character has had to make certain choices and complete questionable actions. My photographs will be a play on naive realism, because they will try and make virtual reality seem like reality, commenting on the idea that viewers often believe what they see. If I present these images in a manner that references traditional artistic photography, then these images could be perceived depicting reality.

My project will hopefully link with the ongoing debate over whether video games can be considered as art. As I will explore in my project, the environment created by game designers are often so close to reality that the eye could potentially be fooled. There is so much detail put into tricky aspects such as water, clouds, wind and elements like the character interacting with the environment. The talent and craftsmanship of these game designers have been praised by many, and some artists have used games as a basis for producing their own imagery, just as photographers use reality to create their own work. However aside from the graphics and game design, the actual games themselves and the stories that they tell are also being debated over. Games such as Life is Strange and The Last of Us have created and told such detailed and emotional stories, that have been likened to the cinematic art. In the latest game Quantum Break, there are 25 minute cut scenes where live action is used to portray the shifting storyline, before the game play begins again. The live action characters are the same ones that are in the gameplay, allowing the player to engage with an incredibly advanced story, that when viewed can be seen as a movie-type experience. Then there are the people who make art from video games, more and more artists are using the game environment to make their own pictures, often through screen shots of the game when they are playing. However when someone has created the environment you are photographing, there could be issues with the ownership of that art, as the game designer could easily claim that the content within the image was theirs because they created the environment in the first place. This is the approach I want to take when creating my images, because it allows me to make a personalised series of images that relate directly to my character and my story. I will also be bringing the conscious framing from photography into my gameplay experience, when deciding which moments to take pictures of.

 

MAKING THE IMAGES

As I play games on my Xbox One, I don’t have the same advantage that PC Users have to be able to take a screenshot. I attempted to take a screenshot on the Xbox One of Fallout 4, but it only captured a picture of the menu screen, because the game interpreted my action as a reason to pause the game. I quickly realised I needed to either adopt a PC set up and replay the game to get to the point I was at, or find a new way of capturing images from the gameplay using my Xbox. Replaying the game on PC wasn’t really an option for me, as I wouldn’t be able to afford a whole new gaming set up and I wouldn’t be able to remember the order in which I discovered the Fallout 4 world, what I said in each conversation, what perks I chose first etc. There would be no way I could follow exactly the same journey, therefore I had to find another way to produce imagery. I decided that because I was bringing the nature of photography into the gaming environment, that it could be a really interesting idea to actually use my camera and take photographs of the screen. I would be interacting with the virtual reality just like I would be if I was photographing reality. However as I would if I was photographing reality I needed to make sure that I adjusted my camera settings to suit the content that I was photographing. I needed a shutter speed that was slightly slower than I would use normally, to make sure that my images wouldn’t show the frame rate of the game, which produces a distorted image. I also needed to make sure I was photographing the screen from straight on, not above or below, which would also change the appearance. I found that a particular spot on the sofa in the living room would provide me with this good angle, so I always shot and played from there in order to keep my images looking consistent. I also had to think about the lighting conditions in the living room when I was photographing, making sure that no sunlight was on the screen. If I was photographing in the evening, the artificial lighting would make the images have a slightly yellow hue, and often it meant the images would be too dark or grainy. I therefore tried to shoot all the images in periods of daylight, between sunrise and sunset, to try and replicate the same lighting for each image. Therefore the only variation in the lighting conditions of the images, would be when the times of day and the weather changed in the virtual reality of the game.

So I started taking photographs of the screen when playing, and uploaded them to my computer. Immediately I was met with my first design decision, my character observes the environment like I would observe reality through a set of eyes, however because I am playing a game that involves shooting, travelling to different locations, keeping track of my health – there were various different icons on the screen. I had to decide whether to keep them in the image, or whether to crop the whole image smaller so that they weren’t there. There is also a pointer in the middle of the screen, with which the player can interact with the environment, if you put the pointer over an item you can pick it up, when you are shooting that pointer becomes your aim. I needed to decide whether to keep the pointer in the image as well, or whether to take steps and Photoshop this element out.

The two images below show the two different options I had available to me, the first one features all the elements of the gameplay including the compass and health points whereas the second one is cropped to remove those elements and Photoshopped in order to remove the green pointer.

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After considering both of the images, I decided that the second version would suit the ideology behind my project. If I am trying to replicate and reference reality in my images in order to try and fool my audience, I should make sure that the images don’t have these obvious gameplay elements, as this would give it away immediately. Although I am expecting the audience to realise that these images aren’t actually of reality, that there are some details that are slightly different, I don’t want them to realise straightaway. I want the audience to look carefully at the images to be able to pick out the details that don’t compare to their reality, in order to see that these images are of a virtual reality. If the audience don’t look carefully and just glance at the images, I want there to be a possibility that they could believe that the images are of reality.

Once I had the right aesthetic and design to my images, I began a series of shoots in the Fallout 4 virtual environment. These shoots varied in nature, in one session of gameplay I would aim to retrace the steps my character made, beginning from Vault 111 and following what the main storyline was for my version, but in other sessions of gameplay I simply roamed the environment freely, capturing the moments of that gameplay session that I felt was important to my character. I steadily built up a catalogue of images that depicted both important locations in the game in relation to the story and important moments that I experienced in relation to my discussions of Fallout 4 in my Open and Social module. Interestingly enough, most of the images, if not all of them depict a scene where I would have just killed a human, super mutant, synth or wasteland creature, making each image depict a sort of virtual graveyard. Despite the beauty of this virtual environment and the important moral questions the game asks the player, the fact that this game is still a FPS could perhaps detract from the moral gameplay experience. Contact sheets of all the images I created after a series of shoots can be seen below.

ContactSheet-001 ContactSheet-002 ContactSheet-003 ContactSheet-004 ContactSheet-005 ContactSheet-006 ContactSheet-007 ContactSheet-008 ContactSheet-009

Because this project has generated so many images, I had in mind that I wanted to create a photobook or zine type publication, as I didn’t want to have to narrow all of these images down to a number below ten (which is what I might have to do if I was presenting these images as a series of prints). These images are made in a consistent manner and would suit being presented in a consistent style as well, meaning a photobook would suit the project as these images could be presented in a linear consistent manner. However I identified that this number of images would most likely be too much and I had already acknowledged that some of the images weren’t as strong as the others. With this in mind, I started to identify which images were the most important in the series, in relation to the moments in the story they referenced. These images depict the vault, my character’s old house, the Red Rocket, the museum of freedom, Diamond City, The Castle, The Railroad HQ, Virgil’s cave, the teleporter I built in Sanctuary, Bunker Hill, the site of the Institute (after it is destroyed) and the destroyed Prydwen, which was the HQ of the Brotherhood of Steel. These locations mark important moments in the storyline where my I had direction of my character to make certain decisions as to where the storyline progresses. These moments happened in a particular order, which would most likely be different when compared to another player, therefore I had to remember and establish that order in which I completed the storyline and position the photographs accordingly.

THIS NEXT SECTION CONTAINS FALLOUT 4 SPOILERS!!!

01

Vault 111 – where my character took refuge when the bombs fell, joined by her husband Nate and her baby Shaun. However the inhabitants of this Vault were actually tricked into an experiment in cryogenic freezing. My character and her family were frozen for around 100 years before the vault was manually overridden, allowing a group of people to open the chamber with my character’s husband and baby. The group stole the baby Shaun and shot the husband Nate, before refreezing my character for a period of time. My character awakes when the cryogenic chamber stops working, to discover the dead bodies of everyone else in the Vault. My character escapes the vault and begins the adventure to try and find where Shaun has been taken to.

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Sanctuary – the images depicts where my character’s old house was, my character returns to find the household robot Codsworth trying to keep up his cleaning duties. Codsworth seems affected by the radiation, but informs my character that 210 years have passed since the nuclear attack on America. Codsworth tells my character to start the search for Shaun in the nearest town Concorde, but warns that there are people who did survive the nuclear attack who could be potentially dangerous.

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The Red Rocket – this truck stop is on the way to Sanctuary, it is here that our character meets the first companion of the game, a dog named Dogmeat. The Red Rocket also provides our character with a potential base, as there are various work benches that allow the opportunity for weapon/armour development and the ability to cook food for health points. Dogmeat now accompanies my character through the game and helps defend against enemies, as well as being able to hold items.

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The Museum of Freedom – in the city of Concord, our character meets the first faction of the game known as the Minute Men. Our character saves the last known Minute Man and the group of people he his protecting from radars and a Deathclaw. The last Minute Men, Preston Garvey tells our character about the faction which has nearly died out, their ethos is to help anyone and everyone that needs help, with the hope that they can build a huge support network. It is through Preston Garvey and the other members in the group that our character finds out Diamond City would be the best place to visit next in order to find Shaun.

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Diamond City – this is a developed settlement, made up of humans (there are no synths, ghouls or super mutants allowed here). Here my character meets Piper, the editor of a newspaper that comments on the many disappearances of people. Piper explains that an organisation known as the Institute is rumoured to be kidnapping people before replacing them with artificial copies. After Piper my character meets Nick Valentine, an early model synthetic human, which the residents accepted into their community after he saved the Mayor’s daughter. Valentine is a detective and begins to help with the search to find Shaun, directing my character to go after one of the kidnappers who they are able to identify as Kellogg.

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The Castle – My character builds a strong tie with the faction known as the Minute Men, with Preston Garvey suggesting that my character becomes the new General and leader. In order to fully re-establish the Minute Men in the Fallout 4 world, Preston recommends that my character helps retake the old HQ of the Minute Men, known as the Castle. This was one of the most important moments in my play through of the game as I worked really hard to defeat a really strong enemy, the Mirelurk Queen. I didn’t have very good weapons and my armour wasn’t very good so I needed many tries to defeat the Mirelurk Queen. Once I finally did, I got a real sense of achievement, although my character didn’t really benefit from this win, as a player I felt accomplished.

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Virgil’s Cave – when my character finds Kellogg we manage to find out that he does know about Shaun and that Shaun is indeed with the Institute. However before we can find out more, Kellogg turns hostile and my character has to kill him, to avoid being killed. We salvage important parts from Kellogg’s body, finding that he has synthetic technology in his body, which has allowed him to live longer. In Goodneigher we analyse this hardware that was embedded in his brain to find out more about the Institute, my character learns that a scientist named Brian Virgil actually left the Institute. My character travels into the Glowing Sea (an area full of radiation where the nuclear bomb was dropped) in order to find him. When my character finds Virgil we discover that he is a Super Mutant, which allows him to live safely in the glowing sea. Virgil is sympathetic when he hears about the kidnapping of Shaun and gives my character a schematic to make a teleporter, which is the only way into the Institute.

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The Rail Road – between finding out about the teleporter and making the teleporter, my character comes across the faction known as the Rail Road, after following the Freedom Trail to find an old church. The Rail Road HQ is down in the basement, after a mission with Rail Road member Deacon, we are accepted into joining them. My character learns that the Institute is responsible for the invention and creation of synthetic humans, however they only view them as their property. The Rail Road believe that because synthetic humans have been created to be so close to real humans, that they do have independent feelings and personalities and therefore they have a chance at living life away from the Institute. In addition to this, the perception of the Institute as the synths being their property, is very similar to that of slavery. The Rail Road seeks our help in liberating the synthetic humans that want freedom within the Institute, asking my character to make contact with their inside man in the Institute if my character manages to make it in.

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The Teleporter in Sanctuary – as a player, you can choose where you build the teleporter and which faction you choose to help you. I didn’t want to pledge allegiance to either the Rail Road or the Brotherhood of Steel, which have very different ideologies. I decided to go back to my home town Sanctuary and ask Sturges (a member of the Minute Men) to help me get into the Institute. I do manage to get into the Institute, where I find a synthetic version of Shaun. The real Shaun is actually 60 years old, my character was frozen for longer than we realised. The real Shaun is known within the Institute as Father and he is director of the Institute, as well as being the subject DNA of all the synthetic humans. It was his DNA, safe within the Vault and free from radiation, which was why he was kidnapped. Father asks my character to align with the ideology of the Institute, to try and see that they are improving mankind by making a new version.

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The battle of Bunker Hill – this was the moment where I had to decide which faction I was going to ally with, Father sent me to try and recapture some escaped synthetic humans from Bunker Hill. However the Brotherhood of Steel also learned about the escaped synths and had the aim of destroying them all, the Rail Road were responsible for the escape of the synths in the first place and wanted to protect them from both the Institute and the Brotherhood. I decided to protect the synthetic humans from the Brotherhood of Steel, which made me enemies with them. I was still allied with the Institute,  in order to to help my main allies ,the Rail Road who were attempting put together a plan to liberate all of the synthetic humans in one go.

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The Destroyed Prydwen – Following Bunker Hill, my character became enemies with the Brotherhood of Steel, who attempted to eliminate the Rail Road by attacking their HQ. This prompts the Rail Road to want to destroy the Brotherhood, the Institute also want the Brotherhood removed because of their interference with the Institute’s technology. Although I didn’t really want a violent solution, it seemed that the story had escalated too far to not remove the Brotherhood, as they continue to attack my character and the other factions. The two images above depict the wreck of the airship known as the Prydwen, which is where the Brotherhood were based. My character placed explosives in the airship before escaping and detonating them, the ruin of the Prydwen remains explorable in the site where it crashed. Although I interacted with the Brotherhood of Steel before this moment in the storyline, I felt that the ruins of the Prydwen really represent the hard choices I had to make as a player.

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The ruins of the Institute – following the removal of the Brotherhood,my character continues to do tasks for the Institute while the Rail Road puts their plan into place. One of these tasks involves fixing and restarting a nuclear generator, which would help the Institute power their research in new ways and new scales. The Rail Road’s plan is to target this nuclear reactor and to blow the Institute up, after rescuing all of the humans and synths that want evacuation. This plan is put into action, the Rail Road is teleported into the Institute and they begin evacuating synths and other humans. My character goes to find Shaun, but he is on his deathbed because of a terminal cancer, Shaun is disappointed in my character but explains how my character can disable the synthetic humans that are attacking anyone who is trying to escape. My character then comes across a synthetic boy who looks like a 10-year-old Shaun, who believes that he is my character’s human son. As a player, I chose to take this synthetic version of Shaun and all of the Rail Road leave the Institute. My character is teleported to a rooftop overlooking the site where the Institute is underground and presented with a button to detonate the Institute. The image above is part of the crater where the Institute used to be, a site filled with radiation that is similar to that of the Glowing Sea, where the original nuclear bombs were dropped. It is here that you realise this play through of the game, simply replicates the war that created this post-apocalyptic environment in the first place – as the title sequence states ‘War Never Changes’.

These images resemble the main moments in the storyline, these are fixed and will appear in the order that can be seen above. The rest of the images I sorted and sequenced to fit around these main points in the story, the other images represent free play and travelling between the important locations. The sequence of the images can be seen below.

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OUTPUT

With the images and the sequence decided upon, I needed to decide on the output. I had already identified that I wanted to create a photo book because of the number of important photographs that make up this series of images. Although the total of images exceeds the 10-15 specified by the brief, I feel it would be detrimental to the narrative of the project, if I didn’t include all of the images. This journey is a complex and detailed account, which is specific to my play-through of the game Fallout 4. In order to establish my complete investment in the game and the storyline, I feel I have to feature the entire visual story. I chose to make a digital photo-book online with the creator Blurb. I recorded a preview of the book and downloaded a PDF for people to be able to view offline at their leisure.

One of the last decisions for the project was the title. I had a few ideas, which can be seen below:

  • Lily
  • Charmer
  • Lily of the Commonwealth
  • Charmer of the Commonwealth
  • Commonwealth Lily
  • Commonwealth Charmer
  • Commonwealth

Lily was the name I chose my character from the beginning of the game, when I also chose what I gender I was going to play as, what she was going to look like and what strengths she had. From the beginning I chose to work on the elements such as charisma and luck, which would make sure that my character can persuade other characters she meets to bend to her will. This choice to go for charisma informed the decision behind the second title: Charmer, which was the code name I selected when joining the Railroad. I decided to use the reference to my game strategy when choosing the name Charmer, as my character was charming her way through the game environment. The fictional world that the Fallout 4 game is set in, in the former State of Massachusetts, however it is known only in the game as the Commonwealth. Therefore I started playing around with combinations of the character names and the name of the game world to try and make a good title.

My final decision was to choose ‘Commonwealth’, as it refers specifically to the environment that is depicted in the landscapes. I was able to get a really good image of a flower in the wasteland, I might have included the name Lily and used it to refer to my character in the wasteland. However this implies that my character is much better than the other characters, my character is definitely not perfect and is effectively a mass murderer, so I felt trying to liken her to a perfect flower would be false advertising. The title ‘Commonwealth’ was short, succinct, effective and relevant and worked really well for the minimalistic appearance I wanted to achieve, in order to try and convince the viewer that the landscapes are actually real.

Lastly, I decided to make the cover for the photo book a blue that references what is known as ‘Vault-Tech Blue’. Vault-Tech is the company that made the Vault in which my character was protected from the nuclear bombs and is the first place my character sees when beginning her journey through the post-apocalyptic environment. Therefore I felt that featuring this specific colour of blue would help frame the journey from start to finish. In addition to this, the colour palette in many of the images appears to be blue, therefore the cover sets the tone and there is a consistent colour theme throughout the images.

A summary of the project, the video and the PDF can be viewed HERE

The Institute [SPOILERS]

The Institute are the organisation that were responsible for the kidnap of your son Shaun. The story of Fallout 4 is built around the idea that you are searching for him to try and get him back, as you move further through the story, you gradually find out more about the Institute. It is common knowledge in the Commonwealth, that the Institute created and is responsible for their creation of the synthetic human or synth. The people of the Commonwealth all have something to say about the Institute, but no one seems to know where the Institute is actually located, this unknown element appears to heighten the fear the Institute hold over the Commonwealth, as no one really knows the true extent of their power. Many of the Commonwealth reject the idea of the Institute and the synthetic humans, with many synths being destroyed or driven away from human settlements. The organisation known as the Railroad has dedicated their time to liberating synths that want freedom and breaking down barriers between the synths and the other members of the Commonwealth. However the latter is difficult to accomplish considering the Railroad themselves have to keep their organisation as covert as possible to avoid being attacked by the Brotherhood of Steel and/or the Institute.

 

Kellogg

Conrad_Kellogg

Kellogg is the Institute’s man on the surface, who carries out missions for them that needs a human touch. Although Kellogg himself is not 100% human, he has elements of the synthetic humans inside him, which prolong his life and make him stronger. When you were in Vault 111, you saw Kellogg kill your husband (or wife depending on which gender character you chose to play as) and kidnap Shaun. Therefore as soon as you know where Kellogg is hiding, you choose to seek him out for answers. Unfortunately Kellogg doesn’t want to give up the Institute and you end up having to kill him, taking the synthetic brain implant from his body and take it to the settlement Goodneighboor to have his memories analysed. It is through this action that you hear about Dr Brian Virgil, a scientist who escaped from the Institute. However you don’t know if Virgil is still alive, as the Institute sent a courser after him (coursers are effectively the Institute’s version of assassins or special forces).

 

Dr Brian Virgil

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If you dare venture into the glowing sea, you might make it far enough to find Dr Brian Virgil. The top picture shows him as you would first meet him, a slightly intimidating visage and just as unwilling to talk means you have to do some careful persuading to get him to trust you. If you succeed then Virgil tells confirms suspicions that the Institute is using teleportation to travel in and out of their base. He then provides you with a set of plans, which in the right hands will enable a teleportation device to be built, that can lock onto to the Institute’s signal and enable passage into the organisation. Virgil gives you this information on the promise that you retrieve an experimental serum he was developing when he worked in the Bioscience Division in the Institute. Virgil doesn’t make his opinions on the synths clear and equally he doesn’t let you know why he left the Institute – this is something you have to find out for yourself when you visit the Institute. The image below depicts Virgil after he has taken the experimental serum, if you manage to retrieve it from the Institute, proving that Virgil was making progress in his work before he felt he had to leave. When visiting the Institute, you can find a holotape in the room with the experimental serum that details how Virgil was working on a project about a virus called ‘FEV’, this project was increasingly taken out of his control and was being developed in a way that he felt was highly unethical and irresponsible. For this reason, he decided to leave the Institute at great personal risk to himself. Dr Brian Virgil is a good reminder when you are in the Institute, that the organisation is and will be hiding a lot of information with you, so can you really trust them?

 

Liam Binet/Patriot


Liam_Binet

Liam Binet is the Railroad’s man on the inside, who is responsible for the escape of lots of Institute synths, the Railroad refer to him as Patriot. If you choose to inform the Railroad about your venture into the Institute, they will request that you make contact with Liam Binet and deliver him a message. This message prompts Liam to arrange a meeting with you, he introduces you to another synth Z1-14 and the three of you conspire a plan to evacuate not just one, but thirteen synths at the same time. Liam requires you to get some information for him, which prompts another side mission where you have to make your way through a laboratory. Liam appears to really care about getting the synths to safety, however he is very reluctant about the idea of anyone getting hurt. For this reason, you have to tread carefully around him and not tell him anything that might make him think synths or humans are in danger. It is unclear whether Liam is a synth himself, as there are other humans working in the Institute. If he is a synth, this would explain why he is so keen on getting the others to freedom. If he is a human, then his motives are completely selfless and he is risking a lot for a individuals that are not even of the same species or kind as him.

Z1-14

Z1_14

Z1-14 is Liam Binet’s synth ally in the Institute, he is responsible for communicating messages to the other synths in order for them to escape. The Railroad asks you to see whether Z1-14 can arrange for all the synths to be evacuated from the Institute, not just the thirteen agreed on in the plan with Liam Binet. Z1-14 asks around the synths and confirms that a large number of them would fight for their freedom, however there is a real possibility some of the synths might get destroyed, even with the help the Railroad promises to offer. This is a piece of information that you should think carefully about in terms of telling Liam Binet, as he doesn’t agree with the idea of violence and could back out of the plan and alert the Institute. If you work with z1-14, you can secure that the synths will have an adequate amount of weaponry to take on oppositional forces when the time comes to evacuate. Because z1-14 is a synth, it is understandable that he wants himself and the other synths to have a chance at freedom. It is worth noting that he seems to only have a minor role in the Institute, appearing only to be tending to the plants on the main floor. Perhaps if he had a higher station in the organisation then his opinions might be a little different, it seems that as of now Z1-14 doesn’t have much to lose by engaging with Liam Binet and the Railroad.

 

Dr Madison Li


Madison_Li_Fallout4

Dr Madison Li is a scientist working in the Institute, however before she found the Institute she used to work for the Brotherhood of Steel (BOS). Elder Maxson explains that she left her project and that the Brotherhood need her back in order to get the project back on track. However the full details about the project are not obvious, Maxson only tells you that it is something to do with nuclear process possibly nuclear weaponry. The Brotherhood sets you a mission to persuade Dr Li to leave the Institute and rejoin the Brotherhood. I didn’t really get an opportunity to back out of this mission, as I accidentally spoke to Dr Li before I realised that she was the one the BOS wants. Although I tried to select the least persuading options in the conversation, Dr Li decides to return to the BOS. I haven’t seen any immediate impact from this mission, but I imagine that the BOS will be a lot more powerful if Dr Li does help them develop a nuclear weapon. The thought of the Brotherhood possessing nuclear weaponry is very unsettling, since it was nuclear annihilations that caused the war in the first place.

 

Father/Shaun

Fallout-4-Father-1

This is where the story gets slightly confusing – when you teleport into the Institute, you come across a small boy who you believe to be Shaun. However the boy doesn’t appear to recognise you and becomes visibly distressed, calling out for ‘Father’ to come and help him. An elderly man appears and reads out a code, which appears to shut shaun down. It is then that you realise that the version of Shaun you were trying to talk to is actually a synth. The elderly man, is the individual who is known as ‘Father’ – and he is actually your son. He explains that when he was originally kidnapped from the vault, we were refrozen for another 60 years, so weirdly your son is actually physically older than you now. Father/Shaun is the head of the Institute and he explains that he was taken because the Institute needed DNA that was free from radiation in order to make the synthetic humans. Father is named so because all the synthetic humans are made using DNA, therefore technically they are all his children. You learn that you were released from the Vault for two reasons: Father wanted to see whether you would survive in your attempt to find him and he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Shaun is entering the last stages of his life and wanted you to find the Institute so that you could take over from his as the leader of the Institute. Naturally Father is invested in the work of the Institute and views the synthetic humans as the property of the Institute. Therefore when any synthetic human escapes from the Institute, he feels he has the right to send coursers after them and eliminate any members of the Commonwealth that seek to prevent him taking the synths back. When talking to the Railroad, there are links made between the ideology of Father and that of slavery – these synths are being labelled as property, not individual beings with rights of their own. Father gives you the opportunity to be in charge of the Institute and as a player this allows you to either take down the Institute from the inside, or take your place as the leader and eliminate all the other forces such as the Railroad and the Brotherhood of Steel.

 

In my personal experience, I have found Father/Shaun as a character that I can’t relate to. The synths in the Institute appear to be in awe of Father and worship him, but I can’t help but think this is because they know he has the power and authority to have them destroyed if not. This poses two options: either these synths are programmed to have a devout appreciation for Father, or they recognise how valuable their life is, therefore they are taking action to protect themselves and keep themselves alive. I have chosen to ally with the Railroad, Liam Binet and Z1-14 in order to try and save any of the synths that want to be liberated as I feel they have never been given the choice to live away from the Institute. Despite my character’s personal relationship with Shaun, I don’t feel like he embodies any of my morals as a player therefore I won’t be taking his side if it comes to a fight. However I will play along for as long as it is needed for the Railroad to take action. This will also allow me to find out more about the Institute as an organisation, the ideology, the human members and the synthetic members.