Should We Call This a Screen Capture or a Photograph? Hint: Neither (at Least for Now)
Honour Mcmillan has a very interesting post and reader comment thread about images like the one you see above, which she took in the 3D virtual world of Second Life. Generally this means it would be called a screen capture or a screen shot, but then, as she explains, that doesn't convey the artistry she brings to an image like it, or the fact that what she's doing isn't too dissimilar from what an artist in, say, Focus, an art photography magazine, does. As she puts it:
In my mind “screen capture” implies no thought. I’m old enough that this function is synonymous with “screen print” – the mindless touch of a button on the keyboard designed for showing forms and fields and writing user manuals. I have enough trouble reconciling the fact that the content is created by real artists and I just capture it... However, I don’t want to continue pretending that I’m a “photographer”. It’s not right.
Her thoughts attract a fairly adamant reaction from readers, many of whom adamantly insist that of course she's a photographer. I don't have a strong opinion either way, and looking back at recent posts, I use the terms interchangeably, depending on the context: I described this highly artistic SL fashion image as a "screenshot" just days after saying the online game DayZ has a war "photographer". However, if I was to register an initial opinion, it'd go something like this:
"Photography" is generally understood to mean images that are direct reproductions of the physical world. And while I understand why SL artists want to elevate what they do as photography, that feels like an act of co-opting a term by fiat, and subtly re-defining it. Which can only cause anyone outside their relatively small community confusion, rather than comprehension. (Describe the image above as a "photograph" of a fence, for instance, and almost everyone will incorrectly assume that it's of an actual fence, and not thousands of pixels programmed to simulate one.) It's quite possible images created in games and virtual worlds will gain enough widespread recognition to be considered a kind of art photography (indeed, that's already starting to happen, if slowly). Until there's a broader consensus, however, I'd highly recommend trying to be clear about what is happening, and not obscure.
In other words, if you must, and if you really want to be taken seriously, don't call it photography -- call it virtual photography.