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FPS's and Subjective Shots

by Ryne Hodkowski

This scene was mentioned in the Galloway book, but I would like to elaborate further on the scene and its relationship with first person shooters (FPS).  I apologize if any of this is slightly off, as my audio and video were not synched up perfectly for this clip.


What is of greatest interest to me is how although films use the subjective shot sparingly, FPS cannot help but use it.  Put more eloquently by Galloway, in FPS games, the “first-person subjective perspective is so omnipresent and so central to the grammar of the entire game that it essentially becomes coterminous with it,” (Galloway, 63).  Galloway differentiates subjective shots from POV shots by stating that subjective shots “mean to show the exact physiological or subjective sense,” (Galloway, 41).  Clearly, FPS’s use this subjective shot, even from their inception.


Wolfenstein 3-D, and Doom, both released by id Software in 1992 and 1993, respectively, are generally considered to be the first widespread and popular FPS’s released.  Even these original FPS’s cannot help but use subjective shots.  As you can see, both contain a HUD that displays Health, Armor, and ammunition.  More importantly, whenever something “happens” to the player, the screen flashes.  When the player picks up health, armor, or ammo, the screen flashes a greenish-yellow.  When damage is inflicted to them, the screen flashes red.  This could easily be described as the physiological sense that Galloway was discussing.  The replenishment of health, as well as the damaging of health are represented by flashing, but even something non-physiological, such as picking up ammo, is represented by a flash.  Thus, we have a subjective shot.  This is something that has continued to be a part of FPS’s through games such as Goldeneye, all the way up until the most recent releases. 


As graphics, game engines, and storylines developed, so too did the amount of subjectivity in the FPS’s.  While I cannot pinpoint a particular game that caused the greatest increase or shift in the FPS, I can attest to the fact that both the original Halo: Combat Evolved, and Half-Life 2 have a greater degree of subjectivity to them than the original id Software games.  While this may seem like common sense, being released close to a decade after their counterparts, allow me to elaborate.  Both games have a “boot-up process,” involved.  By that, I mean there is a certain amount of plot developed before you can take over your character.  Then, once you do, you’re given a mini-tutorial on the way things work.  This mini-tutorial is masked by the fact that it appears to be embedded in the storyline.  In Halo, you are given instructions to look around and are then released from your chamber.  Then, you are instructed to look at the glowing symbols, and decide whether you want to play with an inverted or regular style.  Then, your energy shield “test” is conducted, and your shield monitor is brought onto the HUD.  This is different from the original FPS games, where the HUD is non-diegetic, and not fully explained.  I argue that the HUD is diegetic in games such as Halo and Half-Life 2, since you are inhabiting a suit of some sort, and we are assuming that you would see these meters if you were really in the Master Chief’s suit, just as RoboCop or the Terminator see their graphs, symbols, meters, etc.  (In general, notice the similarities between the first time you take over Master Chief in Halo at 3:57 and the RoboCop scene).


In Half-Life 2, you are in control of your body, and are able to run around before you are told to enter your suit @ 5:23 of the uploaded clip.  When you do so, you see your hands for the first time, and the health monitor appears on your HUD.  You are then told to go to an energy outlet and charge up, and at this point your armor section appears on your HUD.  Again, I argue that these parts of the HUD are diegetic, since we are assuming that Gordon Freeman would see these somewhere in his suit’s visor or shield.  They do not appear beforehand, but appear once you enter your suit. 


It is interesting that Galloway mentions in describing his differences between POV shots and subjective shots, that the lens doesn’t “blink, blur, or jiggle,” (Galloway, 41). etc.  However, in this scene, at 2:32, a woman wishes RoboCop a Happy New Year, gives him a kiss, and leaves a smudge of lipstick on the camera lens/Robocop’s visor.  This is truly a subjective shot.  Receiving that kiss is no different than the screen flashing yellow or red when picking up armor or being damaged in Doom.  What is interesting is how the original FPS’s attempted to deliver a degree of subjectivity, even though it was unrealistic.  In Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, you play a human character, and if you were to pick up a piece of ammunition or a gun in real life, there would not be a yellow/green flash before your eyes.  We can argue that this could possibly be the case if you were inhabiting the suits from Halo or Half-Life 2, as we do not really know.


One final element that needs to be mentioned in the subjectivity of modern day FPS’s is the use of sound.  More recently, game designers have ingeniously used sound accurately.  That is, if our character were to walk away from the subject that was speaking, the speaker’s voice would diminish, and if they walked closer, it would increase.  Also, if the character turned away, the voice would come in only through the left speaker, or left ear, and vice versa.  This is something that is instantly noticeable in the original Halo game.  When you are released from you chamber, you are free to run around, and the sound dissipates and increases as you go further and closer to the source of the sound.


While I am simply agreeing with Galloway when I state that FPS’s not only rely on, but also demand the subjective shot, I find it interesting as to how far game developers go to deliver the most subjectivity possible.  Subjectivity was used even in the original FPS’s, and not necessarily in a realistic fashion.  As games progressed, sound became more faithful, and your inception into a suit of armor, and your HUD became part of the narrative.  Why has there been this necessity or push to make games more and more subjective?  While a greater amount of research on the topic is required, I would argue that since we are controlling the character, we desire the highest level of subjectivity as possible.  We watch a film, and therefore do not need the subjective shots, but since we are inhibiting a marine in Doom, the master chief in Halo, or Gordon Freeman in Half-Life, we want to have a subjective take on our atmosphere.  This is what makes FPS’s so unique and enjoyable.  If they weren’t, they would not have become the popular genre of video games that they are today.



I tried as hard as I could to upload these clips separately, but couldn't figure it out.  I've decided to link them here.  In order, they are:  1) Getting into your suit in Half Life 2 (5:23),  2) The intro of the master chief in Halo (3:55),   3) some Doom action,  4) taking out Hitler in Wolfenstein.  I hope this works and isnt too hard to navigate.


First person POV in film and TV

by Critical Commons Manager

The use of first person point of view is an often misunderstood cinematographic technique that has been a part of narrative storytelling since the classical era in Hollywood. The difference between a literal, lens-based simulation of seeing through a character's eyes and the narrative focalization (Gerard Genette's term) of a scene (or entire film) within the consciousness of a character is worth distinguishing. Early, extreme examples of literal POV include Lady in the Lake and the first part of Dark Passage, both from 1947. But these experiments quickly reveal their limitations as they conflict with other codes of Hollywood storytelling and character identification. As film scholarship has shown (e.g., Nick Brown's classic study of John Ford's Stagecoach), audiences do not identify with the POV of the camera, rather they are sutured (emotionally and perceptually) into a scene via identification with the subjectivity of characters on screen. This viewpoint may be multiple, allowing for fluid shifts of identification among characters, or it may focus on a single character by exposing viewers not to what a character "sees" necessarily, but to what a character knows. How successful are these examples of literal, cinematographic POV in building identification with a character vs. drawing attention to the artifice of the technique?

RoboCop Genesis

This clip captures RoboCop's first moments of consciousness.

from RoboCop (1987)
Creator: Paul Verhoeven
Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment
Posted by Critical Commons Manager