Smithsonian scores with ‘Art of Video Games’ exhibit

March 19, 2012 | 8:05 a.m.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is presenting an exhibition of video game art in Washington, D.C. Let's take a look some highlights. First up: Pitfall!, 1982, David Crane, Atari VCS, Activision Publishing. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Super Mario Brothers 3, 1990, Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, Hiroshi Yamauchi, directors; Satoru Iwata, executive producer; Konji Kondo, composer, Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo of America Inc. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Earthworm Jim, 1994. Doug TenNapel, original concept, character designer and voice actor; Tommy Tallarico, composer; Steve Crow, lead artist; David Luehmann, producer, SEGA Genesis, Interplay Entertainment Corp. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Tomb Raider, 1996, Jeremy H. Smith, executive producer; Toby Gard, Heather Gibson, Neal Boyd, graphic artists; Jason Gosling, Paul Douglas, Gavin Rummery, programmers, SEGA Saturn, Square Enix Co. Ltd. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei, 1996, Yukio Futatsugi, Manabu Kusunoki, original design; Kentaro Yoshida, art director, SEGA Saturn, SEGA. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Einhander, 1998, Tetsuo Mizuno, Tomoyuki Takechi, Shinji Hashimoto, executive producers; Yusuke Hirata, producer; Tatsuo Fujii, director; Yuji Asano, lead design, PlayStation, Square Enix Co. Ltd. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Diablo II, 2000, various artists. DOS/Windows, Blizzard Entertainment Inc. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Rez, 2001, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, producer; Jun Kobayashi, director; Katsumi Yokota, art director and lead artist, SEGA Dreamcast, SEGA. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, 2006, Shigeru Miyamoto, executive producer; Eiji Aonuma, director; Satoru Takizawa, art director; Eiji Aonuma, Satoru Iwata, producers. Nintendo Wii, Nintendo of America Inc. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Okami, 2006, Atsushi Inaba, producer; Hideki Kamiya, director, Playstation 2, Capcom Entertainment Inc. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Bioshock, 2007. Ken Levine, creative director and executive producer; Paul Hellquist, lead designer; Dean Tate, senior designer and artist; Scott Sinclair, art director, Microsoft XBox 360, images courtesy of 2K Games Inc. and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, 2008, Stephen Cakebread, game design and programming, Microsoft XBox 360, Bizarre Creations. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Flower, 2009, Jenova Chen, creative director; John Edwards, lead engineer. Developed by thatgamecompany LLC, Playstation 3, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Heavy Rain, 2010, David Cage, writer and director, Playstation 3, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The dawn of popular video games can be traced back to a small white square ponging back and forth across a basic black screen. A few generations later, games have transformed into full-throttle cinematic experiences with orchestral scores, stunning visual effects, creative narratives and in-depth player interaction.

Though some may debate the validity of video games as an art form, the Smithsonian American Art Museum is celebrating the medium with “The Art of Video Games.” The Washington, D.C., exhibition explores the 40-year evolution of the form with images and videos from 80 classic games voted on by the public online last spring. Those that made the list include Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy and Super Mario Galaxy.

Sketches, digital photographs and several gaming systems representing classic machines from their respective eras, such as the original wood-grain Atari VCS console and Sony’s PlayStation 3, are featured.

Chris Melissinos, curator of "The Art of Video Games" (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

“Video games today stand as this extraordinary art form that is an amalgam of all traditional art from sketching, painting, sculpture, music and narrative,” said curator Chris Melissinos. “It gives the opportunity to anyone to have an expressive voice.”

Melissinos, former gaming officer for Sun Microsystems, sees video games as a fusion of computer technology and art. Three distinct voices are involved: The designer or artist who is telling the story; the game itself (how the mechanics and controls are presented); and the player, who brings his or her own perspective and personal experiences to the game.

“This is where the game becomes art,” he noted, citing 2009′s Flower, as an example of players’ choices (in this case, which way the wind blows) creating different feelings. Touted as a video version of a poem, Flower was co-created by China-born Jenova Chen, who grew up in very urban Shanghai. A move to California, with its lush hills, inspired him to try to evoke that emotional response.

Initially, the process of creating video games was a task for one person who produced the coding, audio, graphics, box art and instruction manual. Leap ahead a few decades and game production now can involve 200-member teams collaborating on one vision. “It’s a process not unlike a massive movie production,” Melissinos said. Electronic Arts’ recent release, the multiplayer online game Star Wars: The Old Republic, had an estimated $200-million price tag.

Marble Madness, 1992, Mark Cerny, Steve Lamb, SEGA Master System. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Many game designers are influenced by traditional fine art. Visual and sensory elements in Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez were inspired by Wassily Kandinsky. Echoes of M.C. Escher are evident in Marble Madness.

In addition to five playable games (Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, the Secret of Monkey Island, Myst and Flower), a performance of video game music by the University of Maryland’s Gamer Symphony Orchestra is scheduled, along with a discussion by the father of electrical gaming, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 30, then travels to 10 venues across the U.S., though, currently, none are in California.

– Liesl Bradner


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One Response to Smithsonian scores with ‘Art of Video Games’ exhibit

  1. Coffee beans says:

    I wished, if I could be a part of such an exhibition.

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