Screenshots and video

The DIGRA mailing list recently hosted a very interesting discussion on the use (and relevant laws in various countries) of images from videogames in academic work - a good suggestion was that DIGRA should lobby the industry to allow reproductions of visuals. Given that a number of Gameology contributors and visitors are writing theses or articles, and given that videogames are such a highly visual form, I was wondering just how people are using screenshots or video footage in their written work? Is anyone submitting a video component, perhaps a CD with footage taken from a gameplay session? Maybe some links to Quake Done Quick or Garry's Mod on YouTube? How appropriate is that for a formal piece of academic output such as a thesis? Do you include things like level or stage where appropriate in citing such things?

I sort of assumed that these questions were trivial, but now that I'm thinking about how to best put together everything so that people who may never have played a videogame in their lives (such as nonplussed thesis assessors) have a chance of understanding what I'm writing about, they seem a bit thorny.

Also, can anyone recommend any good techniques for taking screenshots and footage on a modest budget?

FRAPS is a screen capture

FRAPS is a screen capture utility that's been around for ages. It can do both screenshots and in-game video capture.

My experience with screenshots

I think that screenshots/video clips are essential components of work done in game studies. Perhaps it's because my first game studies project was done in a webpage format, but I tend to like video clips much better, since they are a step closer to capturing the gaming experience than a mere picture. Gaming is so much about performing actions that it seems silly not to get as close to that action as possible when illustrating a point.

That said, video files are also much less portable than pictures and impossible to insert into a printed publication.

If you're interested in saving money, I would highly recommend checking your institution out to see if they have a video editing lab that would loan equipment or enable you to use tools (like a VCR) that you already own. I used the resources at my university to do a lot of my editing before I assembled the things I needed to get it done at home.

I deal mostly with Nintendo console games, so here are some of the techniques I've investigated/used for the footage that I capture.

Video Camera: This was my first experiment in getting video clips. Rice's electronic resource center happened to have mini DV cameras with component cable inputs, so I just recorded it onto a memory stick (it would not record component to DV tape) and transfered the data to the computer for editing. Possibly pricey unless you already have access to a camera.

VCR: The old-fashioned way! I got this idea from Metroid speedrunners who used VHS to record all of their footage. Has the benefit of being cheap and easy if you have a VCR, but not useful if you don't have access to equipment to digitize the footage.

DVD Recorder: My current method of capturing video clips. DVD recorders have become a lot more popular and dropped in price tremendously lately, but I must say you'd be surprised how well "Hey mom, I need this for school" works around Christmas time! =) It is a pretty roundabout way to get footage onto a computer for editing, but I like the fact that it leaves me a physical archive that I can peruse at will. I like to archive way too much to put it all on a hard drive. Also, it requires no time in computer labs digitizing footage, so I can do everything at home. I do have occasional image-quality issues when trying to capture stills from recorded footage.

Video Capture Card: I think this is probably the most direct way to put console footage onto your computer for editing. I've seen some very cheap external capture cards that are supposedly easy on less beefy computer systems. I can't vouch for the quality or ease of use since I haven't personally used one, though. It may be worth checking out if you have the hard drive space to work with.

Emulators: I lied. THIS is probably the most direct way to get it onto your computer. It didn't occur to me at first because they are of questionable legality. Also, there are occasional issues with sound and picture distortion, so you may not be getting the actual game footage. And I'm not sure about recording emulator video, though I'd imagine some of them have the function built in.

As for handhelds, the Gamecube Gameboy Player works very nicely for original Gameboy and Gameboy Advance/SP games, if you don't mind the little frame on the borders of the game screen made by the emulation software. Could have the same distortion issues as unofficial emulators, but with handhelds you don't really have any other options.

If anyone knows of a way to capture DS footage, I would be eternally grateful!

That's about all I know.


When I said "component" input, I meant "composite." So don't worry if you don't have fancy component cables for your consoles!

A wealth of information!

A wealth of information! Thanks, Amanda.

Screenshots and video

What joshq and Amanda said. (I've used the free trial version of FRAPs for capturing WoW screenshots and video; it's worked pretty good, though it wouldn't take more than 30 seconds of video, which got tricky for capturing the opening video clips for the various races in WoW.)

You raise great questions, Darshana. Regarding permissions, has anyone ever asked and been denied by a particular gaming company? I suppose lobbying would be in order if that was the case... but I would guess that the companies would be okay with scholars using pics/vids from their games. Maybe I'm being naive.

As for "nonplussed thesis assessors," I think it's immensely helpful to use pics/vids to illustrate your work. Plus, it's cool and hypertext-y. And what's unprofessional about making something fun to read? Have you asked your committee if they would accept an electronic thesis? Ultimately, I suppose, you gotta make the stamp-holders happy - including the bureaucrats in your Graduate School, who may have stricter rules about formatting than your committee. (This is the case at my school; my diss director and I are looking into ways to bend the rules.)


I've also had pretty good success with FRAPS, but of course that only works for PC games (and maybe emulated console games). I do have a TV card for capturing video output from consoles, but the results are pretty mediocre. One problem is that it just has a single coaxial cable connection, or a video (the yellow one) component input. So in order to capture something with sound, I had to run my console into a vcr, then take the cable out from that into my TV card. Lots of degradation, in other words.

I've also recently been taking photographs or footage of my TV, since what I'm talking about depends on the specific effects of the CRT monitor to make sense.

From what I've seen, I think the DVD recorder is the way to go for getting content out of consoles, and getting that content is indeed important for the kinds of scholarship we do.

At UF, we're fortunate that all our theses and dissertations have to be electronic (they archive a print version, but the primary submission is electronic), so it's possible to include media files. I had several sound clips in my thesis, for example.

Regarding the question of permissions, I'm a pretty strong advocate of Fair Use, and I think that in almost all cases, using screenshots from video games should be producted under the 4 guidelines for (US) fair use. That said, there are circumstances where you do need to ask, like if you want to use a game character or screen image on a book cover.

I've only tried the permission-asking route a couple of times, but my experiences have been pretty varied. I'm currently waiting for Activision to get back to me (about an image I want to use on a book cover), but I think I've heard that Nintendo always says no. Or maybe it's that they'll say something like "We can't grant permission, but as long as what you're doing is Fair Use we won't sue you -- but we can't tell you if it's fair use or not unless we sue you, in which case it isn't." I have an impression that Konami is pretty cool, but I can't remember what I'm basing that on. I think Laurie may have dealt with them and received permission once before. Laurie?

Excellent topic.

Excellent topic.

I have been rather frustrated lately looking for a potential place of publication for something I wrote that deals with close analysis of a variety of short machinima videos. Without these videos as reference, due to their obscurity, the analysis would not have any impact.

While the practice of including screenshots in submissions is rather common at places like Game Studies, you do not often see embedded videos. It seems you open yourself up to a variety of complicated permissions issues, as well as hosting problems. This is in addition to the fact most publications do not support the posting or distribution of video.

Working with this essay has also caused some copyright questions to arise: is it fair use to save a machinima video from another author to your own YouTube profile so you can embed the video in an essay submission (this is for practical purposes of course to ensure the video does not disappear)? How do you offer credit of authorship? Who is the author? etc. etc. etc.


Screen capture software

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