Are video games art?
Tue, 26 Jun 2012 1:39p.m.
By Rita Braver
It’s no secret video games provide entertainment for millions, but are they art?
People have been pouring in, in record numbers for a celebration of video games through the years. But where they’re playing is what’s unexpected - the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Museum director Betsy Broun says the video game exhibit - the first ever at a major American museum - has caused so much excitement it will travel to 10 other cities, illustrating a growing understanding of the public fascination with games.
“One time a single game was offered for sale and sold six million copies in one day… So when you begin to understand how pervasive it is, I guess the bigger question is, why did we wait so long?” she says.
When you look at some of the images, they can resemble moving paintings, from abstract to figurative.
There’s one reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts, and another that’s been compared to an M.C. Escher work.
But fans say it’s not just how video games look that makes them works of art, but also how they engage the imagination and stimulate players to think about what moves to make.
“Video games, by their nature, by their interactive nature, can help us find connection with deeper questions that we may have inside of ourselves,” says game developer Chris Melissinos.
“There has never been another form of expressive media that has captured multiple generations as quickly as video games have.”
The exhibit begins with 1970s and ‘80s action-adventure games like Pitfall, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders.
Mr Melissinos says the artistry in Pac-Man was what lead it to become one of the first games to appeal to women, who now represent 40 percent of gamers.
Released just a few years later, in 1985, Super Mario Brothers introduced a much more complex world and a video hero, as players manipulated Mario to find and rescue a princess.
Because technology was such an important factor in the games, the exhibit showcases some of the playing devices used during four decades. But along with better technology, there has been criticism of video games as a very violent medium.
“We live in a world where not including some of that would be unrealistic. But really I think you’ll find in these games a a deeper message,” says Mrs Broun.
In fact, games like 2010’s Heavy Rain which explores the boundaries of parental love- do aim to touch our emotions. And if there’s one thing the exhibit illustrates, it’s that for video game creators the journey is just beginning.
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