Video Games at the Smithsonian?

That’s right.  Next year the prestigious Smithsonian Art Museum will be showcasing an exhibit called The Art of Video Games.  The exhibit’s curator is Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels, an organization dedicated to the preservation of older video games.

The goal of the exhibit is to explore video games as a legitimate artistic medium.  This is something that non-gamers have been unwilling to accept for the most part.  From what I’ve experienced, most people still hold the opinion that gaming is still a predominantly child-focused market (I think it’s the name.  Video games.  We need to change it.  Maybe Visceral Entertainment?).  If that were ever the case at all, it certainly isn’t now.  According to an Entertainment Software Association 2011 survey:

  • the average gamer is 37
  • the average gamer has played video games for 12 years
  • 82% of gamers are over 18
  • 42% of gamers are female
  • Women over 18 is the fastest growing demographic group (thanks in large part to the rise of social & “casual” games like Farmville & Peggle)
  • More adult women than teenage boys play video games (37% v. 13%)
  • 29% of gamers are over 50, an increase of 9% from 1999
  • 55% of gamers play on handheld devices

Whether we like it or not, gaming has become a part of our culture.  Heck, even my own parents have dabbled with Wii Sports, & they’re some of the most technologically illiterate people you’ll ever find.

But what are video games?  Is it just a form of entertainment, or can it really be considered art?  According to Melissinos, yes. 

The Art of Video Games wants to explore the evolution of games through its visuals, technology & its influence on our society.  The displays are divided by eras, going all the way back to Atari (surprisingly Pong isn’t included).  Melissinos & an advisory board chose a list of games as options for the exhibit.  This board was made of experts, developers & journalists who have more than a passing knowledge of games.  It included Ed Fries (former vice-president of Microsoft), Steve Meretzky (co-creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Ray Muzyka (CEO of BioWare), John Romero (id Software co-founder), Tim Schafer (founder of Double Fine Productions) & Kellee Santiago (producer of Flower).  Clearly these are people who understand the art of gaming.  The list of games were then given to the public to vote which ones should be displayed.

Here’s a list of the games that will be displayed:

Era 1: Start! 70’s-early 80’s

  • Atari: Space Invaders, Pitfall!, Pacman & Combat (ET was in the list, but thank God it didn’t get chosen to represent games)
  • Colecovision: Zaxxon, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, Donkey Kong & Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
  • Intellivision: Star Strike, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Tron: Maze-atron & Utopia

Era 2: 8-bit, 83-89

  • Commodore 64: Attack of the Mutant Camels, The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate, Jumpman & Sid Meier’s Pirates!
  • NES: 1943: The Battle of Midway, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros 3 & Desert Commander
  • Sega Master: After Burner, Phantasy Star, Marble Madness & Spy vs Spy

Era 3: Bit Wars! 89-94

  • Sega Genesis: Gunstar Heroes, Phantasy Star IV, Earthworm Jim & Dune II: Battle for Arrakis
  • SNES: Star Fox, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World & SimCity

Era 4: Transition, 95-02

  • DOS/Windows: Diablo II, Fallout, Doom II & StarCraft
  • N64: Goldeneye 007, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64 & Worms Armageddon
  • Dreamcast: Rez, Shenmue, Sonic Adventure & ChuChu Rocket!
  • Sega Saturn: Panzer Dragoon II Zwei, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Tomb Raider & SimCity 2000
  • Playstation: Einhander, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid & Final Fantasy Tactics

Era 5: Next Generation, 02-current

  • XBox: Panzer Dragoon Orta, Fable, Halo 2 & Splinter Cell
  • 360: Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved, Mass Effecct 2, Bioshock & Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II
  • Windows: flOw, Fallout 3, Portal & Minecraft
  • Gamecube: Star Fox Assault, The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes & Pikmin 2
  • Wii: Boom Blox, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy 2 & Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbados’ Treasure
  • PS2: Gradius V, Okami, Shadow of the Colossus & Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
  • PS3: Flower, Heavy Rain, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves & Brutal Legend

The games that were chosen by actual gamers does seem pretty representative to the evolution of gaming, not just as entertainment, but as an art form all its own.  Some are classics that have influenced the culture (because I do believe gaming has a culture unique to itself, that people who don’t game can’t quite understand) while others have shown what is capable in design, story, gameplay & multiplayer experiences.

The Art of Video Games is scheduled to run from March to September 2012, after which it will tour several other museums around the country.  If you plan to be in the D.C. area, this is a definite must-do for anyone who’s ever called themselves a gamer.  It’s bound to be an interesting & enlightening experience to see where we’ve come from & where we’re going side-by-side.

– GamerDame

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1 Comment

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One response to “Video Games at the Smithsonian?

  1. This post was very interesting and gave me more insight into gaming as a whole. Keep up the good writing!

    -Zach

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