You know those moments when driving a long straight in a racing game, and you simply have to mess around with the third-person camera for a while before the next curve? I do.
Okay, the sudden 360-degree camera spins can create confusion from a gameplay standpoint, but aside that, they provide this bizarre aesthetical pleasure at the same time – and exclusively in a third-person view.
In fact, I basically never fall into a same type of excess, unnecessary camera-play when playing from a first-person perspective. It just doesn’t happen. Moving the camera around in a first-person view usually serves only one function, which is to make a sense of the environment by scanning it with your field of view. Of course, sometimes you take another look if there’s something cool happening on the screen, but nevertheless, I would argue that this said playfulness that’s often present in a third-person view is completely absent in a first-person mode.
I believe what explains this split is the fundamental difference in how the virtual space unfolds through these two viewing paradigms.
We all know, when rotating the camera in a first-person view (while being still), you could in theory replace the polygon-based 3D environment with 2D imagery and have basically the same exact result. For instance Google Street View operates solely on 2D images that are only distorted so that it looks like you are in the middle of the road – and no single polygon, shader, or texture is needed to achieve that.
However, a third-person view requires always a certain level of real-time imagery to work even in principle. So, when spinning the camera around in a third-person view, it brutally reveals the underlying structure of the imagery, and in a way, celebrates it in a process. Indeed, such a circular trajectory of a camera emphasizes exactly the depth and spatiality of the image (the reason why Michael Bay uses it in his films so much), plus really brings dynamic graphical entities like reflections to life.
I would then argue that people, who have this tendency to play around with the camera in a third-person view, represent – without putting myself up on a pedestal – the deeper, more “medium-aware” layer of the gaming, even if the person him/herself doesn’t acknowledge that.
So, what may look like a random act of silliness, can actually be a profound, philosophical journey to the very fabric of the real-time medium itself.
Or it can be just that: silliness.