Video Games: SAAM's Indie Arcade

From our first Indie Arcade in December 2014. Photo by Darren Milligan.

Chris Totten, a professor at American University's Game Lab, coordinator for January 16th's Indie Coast to Coast Competition as part of SAAM's Indie Arcade, and head of the Independent Game Developer's Association (IGDA's) D.C. chapter, recently wrote about the intersection of video games and art.

"Are games art?" That's an interesting question, one that both makers and consumers of games have been wrestling with for a while. For many, video games are a fact of life: you save your allowance for them and put them on your list to Santa. Growing up, I drew Mario, Mega Man, and and other heroes, then created my own. They have always been creatively important. However, even with these audiences, games were battling for their own legitimacy the way comics and film had done decades before.

In the summer of 2005, I attended a concert of Nobuo Uematsu's score for the Final Fantasy game series. Afterward, I spoke with two elderly concert season ticket holders in the seats next to me. They were impressed by the music and began asking about the series and about games in general. At the end of the night, they commented that hearing Uematsu's score changed how they viewed the medium they had previously only thought of as toys.

Seeing this reaction to just a slice of a game has greatly influenced my own work, from finding intersections between architecture and game level design to making games with fine arts materials. The arts have also been influenced by games. Concerts are now commonplace and game exhibitions are appearing in museums, such as The Art of Video Games at SAAM in 2012. Game making is also much more accessible today than it was when I was young. No difficult coding is required. Now you can select from many pre-made game-making engines and release your work to a variety of app stores and online markets.

SAAM's Indie Arcade is the great combination of two worlds uniting around games. In 2014, the museum was trying to find the next game-related event to match the success of The Art of Video Games. Likewise, I was the leader of a local game development scene trying to find opportunities for our developers to engage a big audience. Thanks to many, we were able to unite and put on the first public indie game arcade in a cultural institution.

Now in its second year, we will have games from 17 states and 6 countries! While you will see some popular commercial indie games, you will also see a variety of unusual and niche games that are both entertaining and interesting works of media art. Our goal is to go beyond rating games by their graphics, sound, "fun factor" and other technical aspects and start asking the questions of them that we would of other artistic mediums. We hope this marriage of art and games brings new opportunities for developers to find success and motivates new and diverse creators to join in the fun!