museum review - 40 years of play
Written by Oryx
The Art of Video Games is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, until September 30 – one of the first major exhibitions to explore the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium.
The exhibition shows the emergence of video games as a means for storytelling, the influence of world events and popular culture on game development, and the impact games can have on society. Chris Melissinos, former chief technology evangelist and chief gaming officer for Sun Microsystems and founder of PastPixels, is the guest curator of the exhibition.
The exhibition features some of the most influential artists and designers across five eras of game development, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. In the same way as film, animation, and performance, video games are a compelling and influential form of narrative art, using player participation to tell stories and engage audiences.
“Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society,” said Melissinos. “In the 40 years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. Video games, which include classic components of art, offer designers a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences by including a new element, the player, who completes the vivid, experiential art form by personally interacting with the game elements.”
The exhibition features 80 video games for 20 gaming systems – ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3 – that demonstrate the evolution of the medium. The games are presented through still images and video footage. In addition, the galleries include video interviews with developers and artists, historic game consoles, and large prints of in-game screen shots.
New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments while keeping common game-play elements. Five featured games, one from each era, are available in the exhibition galleries for visitors to play. The games – Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower – show how players interact with the virtual worlds, highlighting innovative new techniques that set the standard for many subsequent games.
Visitors to the exhibition are greeted by excerpts from selected games projected 3.6 metres high and accompanied by a chipmusic soundtrack by 8 Bit Weapon and ComputeHer, including The Art of Video Games Anthem recorded by 8 Bit Weapon specifically for the exhibition. An interior gallery includes excerpts from interviews with 20 influential figures in the gaming world, and a series of short videos showing the range of emotional responses players have while interacting with games are also presented in the galleries.
From Pac-Man to Mass Effect
A companion book, The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect, accompanies the exhibition. It is written by Chris Melissinos, with a foreword by Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and an introduction by Mike Mika, head of development for Other Ocean Interactive and a prominent advocate for the preservation of videogame history. It includes more than 100 composite images of games, created by Patrick O’Rourke.