They’ve come a long way since the man who would be Mario set off to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong and Pac-Man gobbled up as many dots as he could before the ghosts caught up with him.
But really, are video games art? Absolutely, contends a major exhibition that opened Friday at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington that celebrates gaming’s rich creative side and the people behind a medium that’s still in full bloom.
“The Art of Video Games” spans the 40 years since video games moved from amusement arcades into homes around the world, evolving in leaps and bounds with ever-more-sophisticated graphics, interactivity and story-telling. “While this exhibition is not the first exhibition that actually uses video games, it is the first I believe that actually looks at video games themselves as an art form,” curator Chris Melissinos told AFP.
“This is not about the art within video games,” said Melissinos. “This is about video games themselves as an artistic medium.”
The exhibition comes nine months after the US Supreme Court said the First Amendment covered video games, in a landmark ruling that put them on par with books and other forms of artistic expression. “The Art of Video Games” spotlights 80 hit games created for 20 different gaming systems, from the Atari VCS of the 1970s to today’s PlayStation 3, that Melissinos calls “the touchstones of their generation”.
Five games — “Pac-Man”, “Super Mario Brothers”, “The Secret of Monkey Island”, “Myst” and “Flower” — are booted up with their original joysticks and motion controllers for visitors to play on wall-sized screens. Long obsolete consoles like the ColecoVision that powered “Donkey Kong” and the Commodore 64 that made “Attack of the Mutant Camels” possible are encased in Plexiglass display boxes like pharaonic Egyptian artifacts.
A richly illustrated 216-page catalogue rounds out the exhibition that opens alongside GameFest!, a weekend of talks, open game playing and game-inspired music, and runs until September 30 before touring 10 other US cities.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2012.