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"The Art of Video Games" Opening at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

From March 16th though September 30th, you can get a peek into 40 years of gaming history.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: January 17, 2012
We've been doing this whole video game news thing for so long now that it's easy to forget just how much games have slid into the mainstream. When the site started at PSX2.com almost 15 (!!) years ago, video games were still very much part of the outside. Sure, most of the folks our age were playing them en masse, but as an artistic medium and a source of cultural impact, the industry as a whole was still waiting for mass market acceptance.


Well, it's happened, and even from the inside, it almost feels like it's happened overnight. The massive runaway success of franchises like Call of Duty, Halo and of course Grand Theft Auto -- to say nothing of the first-party efforts from Nintendo and Sony, have left indelible marks on the American zeitgeist.

Even with game sales eclipsing other mediums, though, games themselves are often seen as something of a distraction, and waved away as ultra-violent activities without actually acknowledging the truly breakthrough moments that got us to this point. That's why we're so elated to learn that the Smithsonian American Art Museum (yes, the one in Washington DC) will unveil "The Art of Video Games" in March. Guest curated by PastPixels founder and Sun Microsystems' "former chief evangelist and chief gaming officer" (we weren't aware Sun had one?) Chris Melissinos, the exhibit truly seeks to paint the history of the industry in an artistic light on par with other mediums like film, performance and animation.

That's some seriously high honors -- the kind of stuff that sort of makes you feel proud to have experienced first-hand, and by all accounts, the exhibit itself is meant to awe not just gamers, but everyone who steps through the doors of the museum. Clips of games will be projected 12 feet high and backed by chiptunes composed by 8 Bit Weapon (including "The Art of Video Games Anthem," a track composed just for the exhibit) and ComputeHer. Video interviews with 20 industry legends, stills and video footage will seek to chronicle not just the artistic side of games, but how that blends with the interactive elements and storytelling attempts to create something unlike any other artistic medium.

20 different consoles "ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3" will be showcased, along with 80 video games -- five (Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst and Flower) will be playable in limited snippets for museumgoers. The games themselves were selected by Melissinos and an advisory panel of game journos (hey, where was our invite?!), designers, pioneers and developers -- 240 in total -- forming a base pool that was then whittled down by the public early last year. 3.7 million votes by 119,000 people took place between February 14th and April 17th to the current exhibit.

"Video game designers are engaged in creating a world, as are all artists," lavished Elizabeth
Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The
Smithsonian American Art Museum recognizes the designers and developers who create these
beguiling worlds in this exhibition. Contemporary video games have taken this creative expression to a whole new level, and we are eager to explore this popular global phenomenon."

"Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society,"
added 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."

Though the exhibit will stay in DC until the end of September, organizers plan to send it on a tour of other museums across the country. Not all venues have been confirmed, but the tour -- as well as a wealth of additional symposia, free public programs, books and more are all available in detail at The Art of Video Games' official site. Head on over to check it out, and make sure to tell 'em TotalPlayStation sentcha!