Mall contemporary video games include a ‘photo mode’ to allow the player to pause the action, position a virtual camera, and take a snapshot of a scene (and then, the designers surely hope, publish online results, thus enabling proximity marketing). However, few make photography the very object of the enterprise. Nintendo’s recent Pokémon Snap asked us to capture footage of his mythical animals doing remarkable things on safari-style tours, before noting the results. Generation Umurangi, another rare example of the genre, is less interested in making value judgments on your virtual photography (“Art is subjective,” the game’s tutorial says); instead, you’re taken to a series of highly stylized scenes, and you have 10 minutes to collect a specific set of shots for a tight briefing: seven birds, two boomboxes, a mountain, and more.
The world is rendered in jagged polygons straight out of a late 90s PlayStation game (early-era 3D has now replaced 80s pixel art like the trend back in games), the loan of each image produced a nude-vintage appeal. Framing and focusing shots is elegantly simple, as is switching between lenses. You can jump, crouch, rotate the frame, and using three sliders, adjust color, tint, and exposure in seconds.
Generation Umurangi is as much a game of hide-and-seek as it is of photography: as much time is spent exploring the scenes of the wilderness in order to locate the next item in the brief. Those with an eye for detail will notice that there is more to this world than a series of chic settings: the game is steeped in Maori influence (developer Naphtali Faulkner is a member of the Ngāi Te Rangi iwi, or people, in New Zealand), and tells the story of a militarist occupation, in an ambient way. The result is a game that is as unexpected and compelling in its message as it is in its moment-to-moment challenge.