Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Take screenshots in games to preserve memories and experiences that are often forgotten. It’s like looking back at old photos.
  • Game screenshots can show the evolution of technology and trends in the gaming industry.
  • Preserving screenshots is easier than ever with the share buttons on modern consoles and storage options like cloud storage.

You don’t think twice about snapping a photo with your smartphone, but how often do you take screenshots in games? Not often enough, probably.

Games Today, Gone Tomorrow

Games are typically well-preserved, despite concerns to the contrary and the increasing rarity of physical media. But the experiences we have while playing games are ephemeral. The time you spend with a controller or mouse in your hand is a snapshot in time.

You can always go back to an old game, but you can’t play that game for the first time again. Most of us rarely replay games outside of a handful of favorite titles. If you play even a handful of games in a year, you’ve probably forgotten most of the titles you played in the last half a decade. Some of us forget what we’ve played this year.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's whiterun guard with a bucket on his head.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Everything from the game you’re playing to the platform you’re playing it on, the people you’re playing with, and even the current version or iteration of a title is a transient experience. This is especially true of modern titles, games as a service, and so-called living games.

Many games don’t last. I’m not just talking about free-to-play titles like Rumbleverse that are shut down within a year of launch. Multiplayer-focused games in particular suffer the same fate. You can still boot up Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and even install the latest patches, but you’ll probably find it difficult to get a game.

Death Stranding's Capital Knot City.
Death Stranding
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

We take photos and record videos so we can look back on “IRL” events. We might forget about certain things, but a still image is sometimes all you need to prompt a strong memory. The good news is that the same is true of video games.

A Screenshot Tells a Thousand Words

If you spend a lot of time playing games, you should probably spend some of that time documenting your hobby. Games are experiences like any other, and it’s amazing what sort of memories you can attach to even a virtual experience.

It’s genuinely fun to scroll back through game captures, just as it is the photo library on a smartphone or computer. Sometimes you start to notice the cracks. Games that you thought looked incredible at the time start to fall apart as hardware advances, giving you insight into how the medium is evolving.

The start of a multiplayer match in Halo: Infinite.
Halo: Infinite
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

You can see the passage of time through these technological advancements. Sometimes, you will look back at a title that was genuinely forward-thinking or that sparked a whole trend. You will see these trends come and go. The grey-brown Gears of War sludge of the mid-2000s, the motion control craze of the Wii era, the post-Hades push to make everything a roguelite in the late 2010s, and the rush of casual Vampire Survivors clones of the early 2020s.

You can also see how your tastes have evolved. You might wonder how on earth you were ever able to get kill streaks in Call of Duty when all you do these days is spawn and die, or how much time you put into Microsoft Flight Simulator to the point of being able to land a commercial airliner using a gamepad. You might have played one too many Soulsborne games and now consider yourself done with the genre.

Flying over Westminster in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Video game photography can also be a creative outlet. With so many games now featuring a dedicated photo mode, you can get creative and push the limits of a game engine just for the fun of it. Even photography blogs like PetaPixel and Digital Photography Review have covered the topic in detail.

On the PC, mods and console commands can make video game photography even more adventurous. There’s the “small” issue of whether you as the content creator own the screenshots you take, but that’s a discussion for another time. There’s a lot you can derive from a capture, regardless of what the law says.

Which Games Have You Forgotten About?

Nostalgia aside, you’ve probably had that eureka moment where you spot an old game case or see mention of a game you used to play. Memories come flooding back not only of the game itself but that time in your life. These aren’t always good memories, but the same could be said of almost any photo you’ve taken.

Standing next to a waterfall in Sea of Stars.
Sea of Stars
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

I have fond memories of playing Sleeping Dogs on the floor of my new living room after moving into an apartment, since we didn’t have a sofa yet. My memories of playing Tears of the Kingdom are tinged by being horribly ill with COVID while feeling very thankful that I had such a breathtaking video game to take my mind off the coughing. Many of us will remember the dark times of March 2020 when Animal Crossing: New Horizons first released, and why we were content spending so much time collecting shells and digging up fossils.

Feeling ill in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

You may have very strong early gaming memories, like unwrapping a brand-new console on Christmas Day or playing a formative title for the first time, but do you ever wonder about the games you’ve forgotten? It was a lot harder to take screenshots back in the day, and even if you were a PC gamer there’s a good chance you’ve lost those files in the decades that have since passed.

I took screenshots of the scores I was proud of while playing Counter-Strike at the age of 14, but I have no idea where they are now (and they probably weren’t that good, let’s be honest). Did you ever take a group screenshot of your guild in World of Warcraft? Now that would be something to put on the fridge.

Kingdom: Two Crowns on the Nintendo Switch.
Kingdom: Two Crowns
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Maybe you’ve got a collection of cartridges and big box PC games cluttering up your attic, or maybe an unaware parent threw them all out. Maybe you let go of these things without realizing how much you’d miss them (or that they’d be worth a lot of money in 2024). Imagine you had a screenshot of every game you’d ever enjoyed. For some of us, that list would be huge and fascinating to look back on.

All Platforms Make This Easy Now

Preserving screenshots is thankfully easier than ever because of the world we now live in, with ample backup and cloud storage options available. Modern Xbox and PlayStation consoles push recent captures to their respective mobile apps, or you can simply plug in a USB stick and copy your media to flash memory.

Riding a bike in Seasons: A Letter to the Future
Seasons: A Letter to the Future
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

There’s a share button on the PlayStation 5, a capture button on the Xbox Series X and S, and a capture button on the Nintendo Switch. These buttons can be used to capture both stills and videos, depending on whether you tap or press-and-hold them. PC gamers can take screenshots too, including using Steam’s dedicated screenshot button.

Remember that screenshots barely take up any room, but you’ll have to be a little more mindful of storage when capturing videos of your games.

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By John P.

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