The Art of Video Games

By Johnson, Mark M. | Arts & Activities, May 2012 | Go to article overview

The Art of Video Games


Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities


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The Smithsonian American Art Museum has created and will tour an exhibition on a most unusual but extremely popular art form--The Art of Video Games.

As one of the largest and first of its type, this exhibition will document and explore a 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative effects of new technologies. Chris Mellssinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, is the curator of this unique exhibition.

In an effort to present the widest variety of video games--and to attract a widely diverse and enthusiastic audience--an exhibition website was created which offered participants an opportunity to help select the best video games to include in the exhibition. Each participant was allowed to vote for 80 games from a pool of 240 proposed choices in a variety of categories. The winning games are presented in the exhibition as screen shots and short video clips.

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The games on the voting site were selected for their graphic excellence, artistic intent and innovative game design. "Playing video games involves many personal choices, so, in keeping with the spirit of the exhibition's content, we want to involve the public in helping us select games for the exhibition," said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

"I want this exhibition to include the collective voice of the video game world, which is not limited to the developers, designers and artists, but also the game players," said exhibition curator, Chris Melissinos.

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"It is important to me that when gamers visit the exhibition, they find the experiences that most matter to them."

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Video games utilize imagery, actions and, most importantly, player participation to present a story that to varying degrees, engages the player. Like film or animation, video games are considered a compelling, influential and engaging form of narrative art. The earliest screen games included "Tic-Tac-Toe," programmed on a vacuum-tube computer with a cathode ray tube display, and "Tennis for Two" that played on an oscilloscope. Games like "Spacewar!" were created for computer use, vintage 1960s.

The arcade game "Pong" was created in 1972, and a couple years later Atari released it as a home video game. The initial home systems were equally successful, even though the graphics and animation were simple and basic. In the mid-1970s they seemed quite sophisticated. However, the initial excitement for home games declined as the quality of arcade games increased. By the mid-1980s, Nintendo sparked a revival in the home video game market that continues today.

Since then, hundreds of new systems and thousands of new games have been invented to be played on ever-changing and improving technology systems, with increasingly spectacular animation, graphics. sound and three-dimensional effects.

The Art of Video Games features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early developers such as David Crane and Warren Robinett, to contemporary designers like Kellee Santiago and David Jaffe. New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments, while staying grounded in traditional game types.

The Art of Video Games presents 80 games and 20 gaming systems, ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. …

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