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Long exposure photography is an intriguing photographic technique that involves slowing a camera's shutter speed, thereby allowing light more time to strike the film. The technique often produces otherworldly images in which there is a sharp contrast between stationary and moving objects -- perhaps you have seen long exposure photos of cars at night, their headlights melting into long streaks of color. Because long exposure photography often reveals hidden patterns, its applications can go far beyond generating simple eye candy.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to do research on interactive digital media (read: video games) at the University of Rochester, and I thought it might be fun to try some long exposure photography within my favorite game, World of Warcraft. Rather than do real long exposure photography, however (difficult when one has no camera!), I opted to emulate the effect using video clips captured with Fraps and processed with a program called Exposure. Both of these programs have free versions available.
Gallery: Long-exposure WoWtography
I started out with some "artistic" shots, of course. A rogue's Fan of Knives became an enormous pinwheel, a paladin's Consecration transformed into a supernova, and a quick bout against a training dummy could only be described as a small-scale nuclear explosion. The training dummy shot made me realize how many visual cues the player is bombarded with every second and how quickly the player must process this information.
Player patterns revealed!
I next turned the "lens" towards other players. Long exposure shots revealed that despite the open and spacious nature of WoW's cities, players remained in very small areas of interest and traveled on very tight channels. Players wasted nary a step as they beelined between the auction houses, mailboxes and banks ("Time is money, friend!"). I wonder how many players would be able to draw a map of every mailbox and reagent vendor but would have difficulty describing the intervening architecture!
My final long exposure exercise involved doing a shot of myself leveling a mage from level 1 to level 2. I had no idea what to expect, and I was surprised when the shot revealed my apparent habit of "lining up" the enemies I was about to attack in the upper-right quadrant of my screen. I had never noticed this habit before, despite many hundreds of hours of play. It appeared that I was transferring my own right-handedness to my character! I suspect that I am not the only one who does this, and I am interested to know if others in the community find themselves playing "handedly."
I think that long exposure photography (or at least, a technique designed to simulate it) has the potential to reveal some interesting things about World of Warcraft. I am excited to see what the members of the WoW.com community can do with these tools. Farewell, and happy shooting!
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