Review: The Art of Video Games Exhibit

Review: The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian

When my mom asked me if I wanted to check out “The Art of Video Games” exhibition at the Smithsonian, of course I said “hell yes”.

I love the Smithsonian and I love video games. It’s a total win-win. But it was also validation for all the arguments I have gotten into defending video games as an art form.

I mean, when the Smithsonian Institute says it art, who is going to dispute it?

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With giddy anticipation I grabbed Scott and headed to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see what this exhibit was all about. To make it interesting, I brought Mom along. She has never understood my love of gaming. Maybe this would finally shed some light. Besides, after being subjected to the opera on her behalf, I thought it was only fair.

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As we got off the elevator, the exhibit was easy to find. At the end of a softly lit marble hall, the explosion of color from the projection of game play against a blank wall was hard to miss. As we walked up to it, I started saying “I have played that, and that one, and that one, ohhhhhh and that one. I loved that one”. My mom, slightly dazed, didn’t actually believe me. So of course, I started naming them. After a half dozen, mom believed and with a shake of her head, we proceeded in.

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The first room is dedicated to the “art” of video games. Concept sketches of various games litter the walls. The centerpiece of the room was a row of screen showing the 5 “stages” of video games through time. From Combat to Mass Effect 2, you see the jumps video games have made. Realizing this has all happened within 40 years, you can’t help but look at it and wonder, “What do the next 40 years hold”? This room also held streaming video of different people playing video games. Posted next to it, was this quote, “Gamers: Video games trigger a range of emotional responses. It is in the playing of a video game that it becomes an expression of art”. Brilliant! I will be using that one in the future.

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The second room was dedicated to the playing of video games. 5 stations are arrayed around the room, were people can play games first hand. Scott took a turn at Pac-Man, while I was content to read the explanation of each game and watch for a bit. I tried to convince Mom to play Flower. Flower is the game I tell anyone to play who doubts that video games are art, and told her as much. Unfortunately she didn’t bite, so we moved on to the next room.

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This third room was clearly dedicated to the history of video games. Displays lined the walls, and each display contained a machine (or software package, pc-gaming is represented too). Along was a chosen selection of games made for that machine. The games were categorized into one of four genres (Target, Adventure, Action, and Tactics), and you can listen to audio explanations about what makes them worth noting. I’m pretty sure every console ever created was on display. From Combat and Pac-man on Atari 2600 to Portal 2 and Heavy Rain on PlayStation 3, and everything in between, it was pretty damn impressive.

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Unfortunately that is where it ended. The exhibit was only 3 rooms, and seemed small to me. I don’t know what I expected, but I just thought there would be more. Video games are just as cool as dinosaurs, and I have seen the Smithsonian’s exhibit on those. Slightly dejected, I went and found the others. Gathered together and taking a seat, we shared our thoughts. It was lovely discussion, and I won’t bore you with the finer details. As we ended our tour and headed for the gift shop (because I was getting the over-priced exhibition coffee table book, damnit), I was left with this.

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First, video games are awesome! Yes, the exhibit might not be dinosaur-worthy, but that is not important. This exhibit is the first one I know of, and that is what really matters. Video games and gaming are being acknowledge by a larger, more mainstream group. This is a way of life for us now. Kids marvel as parents remember, and everyone begins to see. This is not a fad, something that will fade away. Barring zombie apocalypse (or whatever other civilization destroyer might happen), video games are here to stay! Second, before we left, Mom asked if we had something she might like playing, just so she could try it herself. That, my friends, was the sweet sound of victory.

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So if you find yourself in Washington DC with a couple of hours to kill, take a trip to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Art of Video Games exhibition will be on display until September 30 and definitely worth checking out. As for me, I will be going through my video game collection. Mom will be coming over in the next week or two. She thinks I will forget, but I won’t. I am going to try and bring her over, if even the slightest bit. Maybe I should tell her there will be cake.

Exhibit 3.5/5

– AKrazeeKat

The Art of Video Games at The Smithsonian Art Museum

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