Photo courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
“Super Mario Brothers 3,” Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, Hiroshi Yamauchi, directors; Satoru Iwata, executive producer; Konji Kondo, composer, Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990, Nintendo of America, Inc.
Sure, you’ve played an arcade game or two in your lifetime. Or perhaps tried to save the princess as Mario in Super Mario Brothers. But have you ever looked at video games as art? The Art of Video Games, an exhibit organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and on view at the Brooks Museum of Art through September 13th, urges you to do just that.
Video games have evolved immensely through the years, and the exhibit explores this 40-year evolution from an artistic perspective.
From the Brooks’ press release about the exhibit:
“The Art of Video Games traces 40 years of creative artistry and technological advances in digital entertainment. The progression of video games as an art form — from Pong, Pitfall!, and Pac-Man to Starfox64, Halo 2, and Super Mario Galaxy — will be revealed through playable games, still images, videos, historic gaming consoles, and interviews with 20 developers and artists. Unlike more traditional art forms, video games are an interactive experience, which draw the player into a context or narrative, giving them a chance to experience a virtual world on their own terms. The Art of Video Games focuses upon 80 video games, running the gamut from action and adventure to combat/strategy and target games.”
Flower, Jenova Chen, creative director; John Edwards, lead engineer. Developed by thatgamecompany, LLC, Playstation 3, 2009, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC. Photo courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Among the games the exhibit focuses on is Flower, a visually stunning and uniquely relaxing video game in which the player controls the wind, blowing a flower petal through the game’s virtual landscapes. Unlike many video games that rely on some form of dialogue to take the player through the game’s story and various levels of gameplay, Flower forms “a narrative arc primarily through visual representation and emotional cues.”
Another game explored within the exhibit is Heavy Rain, a cinematic, action-adventure “film noir thriller,” which finds the gamer playing as four different characters throughout. Each is involved in the mystery of the Origami Killer, a serial killer who takes advantage of extended periods of heavy rainfall to drown his victims. The game’s visuals are realistic, making it much like watching/playing a choose-your-own-adventure movie, as in-play decisions and actions can affect the final outcome of the game.
Heavy Rain, David Cage, writer and director, Playstation 3, 2010, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC. Photo courtesy of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Other games examined in the exhibit include Bioshock, Diablo II, Earthworm Jim, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Marble Madness, Mass Effect 2, Minecraft, Sonic Adventure, and Tomb Raider.
“Not just for gamers, art aficionados, or technology enthusiasts, this unique exhibition offers something for everyone,” said Dr. Stanton Thomas, The Art of Video Games site curator and curator of European painting and decorative art at the Brooks Museum. “Uniting traditional art forms like painting, writing, sculpture, music, storytelling, and cinematography, this exhibition explores the question of whether or not video games are art.”