The best picture I’ve taken so far in New Pokemon Snap is almost entirely dust.
It’s supposed to be a Skorupi. I mostly missed Pokemon’s fourth generation, so it’s not like I have any particular love for the bulbous little bug. But in the desert level these oddly-shaped insectoids get swept up in sand tornados. Catching the moment on camera gives a higher “pose” level. Though it’s harder to get a good mark from my photo mentor Professor Mirror in other categories, since the pocket monster is whipped around so quickly. The shot I ended up with barely shows the Pokemon at all, in fact. All you can see is a single purple lump peeking out from the obscuring grime. And it’s great.
It’s true that Professor Mirror has a bizarre picture scoring system. It ignores even basic real-world photography techniques like the rule of thirds. As Fanbyte’s Kenneth Shepard wrote, “The [photos] I submit to Professor Mirror for review are not usually my favorite shots.” But unlike Ken, with his actual photojournalism skills, the ones that are my favorites are, objectively, bad.
This isn’t just a New Pokemon Snap thing. Generally speaking, taking bad photographs is a point of pride for me. That may seem like a paradox, but it’s also something I think a lot of people struggle against. There’s the constant drumbeat of capitalism hammering home that you should — that you must — monetize your hobbies. There’s the fear of sharing your art because it’s not as good as it could be, or as good as someone else’s.
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But, to paraphrase a Tumblr post I think about a lot, the point of doing a thing does not have to be to get good at a thing. And to quote a certain TikTok I also think about a lot, the solution to getting trapped in that fear is to do it badly on purpose.
For me, photography is the easiest thing to do badly on purpose. I like birds, which don’t often stay still long enough for me to compose the perfect shot. I like taking quick snaps with my phone when I’m happy, so that I can remember the moment. I like sharing them with people who might want to see a little bit of sunshine or a weird tree I found just… because. These are the alternatives to perfection that break through the block of worry in my brain.
The fact that New Pokemon Snap allows for the same experience was a surprise at first. I played the original as a kid; I have all these memories of Professor Oak ruthlessly deleting old pictures for ones that were technically “better” (at least according to his Mirror-like, big-and-center scoring system).
But New Pokemon Snap is a lot more forgiving. First, there’s the pose system, so your fancy shot of a ’mon doing something dramatic doesn’t automatically overwrite that cuter one of them just standing around. But whether or not a photo gets a good score, or even if it doesn’t feature a Pokemon at all, you can always save and share it on your own terms, thanks to the Nintendo Switch share function totally removed from the game’s rules.
You can also edit and improve them at this point if you want, but there’s no need. A lot of the timing, posing, and general design of the game leads itself to getting comedic shots which don’t need much help to be joyful. Some folks are also displeased with how the game exports pictures, automatically imposing ugly black bars and a prominent watermark, which is completely reasonable. But for me, it only removes more pressure by automatically “ruining” any shot whatsoever.
In fact, there’s not even much nudging in New Pokemon Snap to try hard. I’ve been submitting photos to Professor Mirror as a formality. In that time I haven’t been paying any attention to what marks I’m being given. But I’m still unlocking new courses fairly rapidly. I know that, at some point, he’ll start asking me to engineer specific shots for his research purposes, but I’m not there yet. I’m luxuriating too much in the dust and the mess. It’s a completely different way to play the game than the one I expected, but I’m really glad I could make it for myself.
Sorry, Professor Mirror. We’re not here for the same reasons. Your productivity and science will have to wait while I do things badly on purpose.