TIME Asked War Photographer to Report on a Video Game

Ashley Gilbertson spent several days photographing scenes from computer game The Last Of Us.

Per request of TIME Magazine, conflict photographer Ashley Gilbertson got to play a video game titled The Last of Us Remastered. The publication assigned Ashley to use Photo Mode to document the game’s protagonists as they fight to survive in a zombie-infested world. His approach was the same as in real life — to enter each situation, or level, and work the scene until he was confident he’d gotten the best photograph he could before moving on. Yet, he found it was more difficult to do in a virtual reality because he had to kill other characters to get to the next situations. The brutality and realism of the scenes made it even more challenging. Josh Raab, a contributing photo editor at TIME, helped out by taking the controls and fighting his way through the different stages for Ashley.

As a result, the photographer had to admit that he lost the sense of momentum, “In a day of combat in Iraq, I’d generally file between eight and ten photographs per day. I only had hundredths of a second to make it before the situation changed and I had to move on. There’s one moment, one frame. Within the game, I could freeze time. I had unlimited time to experiment.”

The photographer also pointed out that none of the game’s characters showed distress. To survive in The Last Of Us, a player must be the perpetrator of highly graphic violence. But Ashley was interested in a more emotionally engaged type of photography where “the human reaction to a scene is what brings a story to life.”

“I departed from the experience having learnt a couple of things: that the work I usually do is an antidote to the type of entertainment this game represents and that I suck at video games,” Gilbertson concluded.

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