Video Games Become Art at the Smithsonian


The Smithsonian American Art Museum will turn video games into art through the exhibition Art of Video Games, which debuts in March 2012. In the meantime, the museum is polling the gamer world for ideas. Gamers are invited to vote which games should be featured in the exhibition in order to reflect the four-decade evolution of the video game as a form of art.

The Smithsonian set up the website where video game fans can influence the content of the exhibit by voting their favorite games. The voting process is open until April 7. According to the Smithsonian, games are just as much a form of modern art as movies and animation. They tell stories through images, immerse audiences into their world just like any other form of narrative art.

Until September, the exhibit will present video games, installations, videos and other additional features. Exhibition visitors will be able to play five iconic games for a few minutes. The playable games are Super Mario Brothers, Myst, Pac-Man, The Secret of Monkey Island and last but not least World of Warcraft. Some of the gaming world’s biggest trend setters will have their own spot in the exhibition – from developers of the early days such as Warren Robinett and David Crane to present day designers like David Jaffe and Kellee Santiago.

On, video game players can choose 80 games from a museum-assembled list of 240. The 80 “winners” will be featured in the exhibit. The games are grouped in five ages, twenty gaming platforms, and four genres. Visitors will be presented with groups of three video games and they will be allowed to vote for one game in each group. The Smithsonian urges visitors to vote for those games that they feel were most innovative or spectacular.

The 240 nominated games were selected by Chris Melissinos, the founder of the Past Pixels website, and their nomination was approved by a board which included executives and developers from the video game world, as well as press and academics.

Melissinos said that the aim of the voting process is to make sure that the exhibit will represent the voice of the game world, of which players are an integral part. As such, they must find their most relevant gaming experiences in the exhibition, he added.

The Museum Develops a Habit

The exhibition was first announced in 2009, and it is not the first time the Smithsonian flirts with the world of video games. In 2006, the creator of the Magnavox Odyssey, Ralph Baer, gave away all his production models, notes, schematics and game test units to the Smithsonian.

Ralph Baer is the parent of video games as we know them. He started to look into ways to play games on TV in 1966. Together with Bill Rusch and Bill Harrison, he created several units for video game testing from 1967 to 1969, and the result of their work was the “Brown Box”, the first multiplayer system. The system was later licensed to Magnavox and released in 1972 as Magnavox Odyssey and creating the source point for later video game systems.

All of Ralph Baer’s papers are stored in the Smithsonian’s Archives Center. The museum has about 137 million items in its gaming collection. Among the most notable are a Pac-Man Gumball bank and an original Game Boy.