Smithsonian: even violent video games are art


Sony’s M-rated psychological thriller “Heavy Rain” is included in the Smithsonian’s “Art of Video Games” exhibit.

There are still plenty of people in the world who say video games — particularly violent video games — are, at best, a waste of time, and, at worst, a form of homicide training.

And then there’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum, whose new exhibit, “The Art of Video Games,” firmly says otherwise.

Here’s their introduction to the exhibit, which runs through September:

“The Art of Video Games” is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3.

The show features 80 games, selected from a ballot of more than 240 titles by 3.7 million video-game fans across the world. Among those games are a number of controversial and M-rated games, such as:

Doom II
Fallout
Diablo II
Metal Gear Solid
Halo 2
Fable
Bioshock
Mass Effect 2
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 2
Heavy Rain
Brütal Legend

These are, to be clear, games that have been demonized and reviled in the public eye, particularly a game from the Doom franchise, which many have (mistakenly) blamed for the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.

These games offer more than senseless violence. They offer rich stories, characters, and a chance to explore other worlds and experiences. They are a chance to understand an alternate reality, and bring that understanding back with you.

As game developer Mike Mika puts it in the show’s trailer:

Your skill while watching a movie might be eating popcorn. Your skill while playing a video game night be that you’ve succeeded at learning something, and you’re GOOD at it.”

The show also comes with a calendar of exciting live events, from a Gamer Symphony Orchestra to a live talk from curator Chris Melissinos.

Will the Smithsonian help video games gain recognition as a form of art? Why or why not?

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3 responses to “Smithsonian: even violent video games are art

  1. “Your skill while watching a movie might be eating popcorn.” Unfortunately, this is just as shallow a view of movie going as non-gamers have of video games. Movie viewing is only as passive as you let it be. Just because you are watching doesn’t mean you’re not learning, or possibly changing who you are. Great films can move people to great action. It may not be a “skill” to have passion arise from within you to push you toward being a different person or striving toward a better world or striving to become and achieve things you never would have otherwise, but to throw out the movie-going experience (especially a shared movie-going experience with a crowd of like-minded movie lovers) as just watching some pictures go by on the wall while you munch some popcorn is as careless as dismissing all video games as childish and violent.

  2. Well, I am admittedly a little sensitive about it. 🙂 (But I am delighted that the Smithsonian is doing this, btw.)

    I was a little sad to not see Marathon on the list, but not surprised.

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