SAAM Arcade 2023 – Thinking Musically
Turn the volume up for SAAM Arcade 2023! Music and sound design are essential elements in the gaming experience. A soaring soundtrack engages players and draws them into the game narrative; a charming 8-bit tune reminds players of hours spent with friends and family, overcoming challenging puzzles and defeating extraordinary opponents. Music can act as a building block for game worlds and a mechanic for navigating those worlds through rhythm and repetition. This year’s Indie Showcase will highlight games that use music and sound design in engaging, experimental, and inventive ways, from rhythm games to musical instrument simulators to groundbreaking soundtracking.
This year’s Arcade is presented in celebration of the exhibition Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies, opening June 16, 2023. The exhibition explores the powerful resonances between recent video art and popular music. The works on view use musical tools to explore the American experience, including lyrics, scoring, improvisation, and cultural references. Like the works of video art highlighted in the galleries, games employ the same toolkit to evoke emotional responses and communicate the game’s story, values, and goals.
SAAM Arcade will take place in person on July 22, 2023 from 11 am to 7 pm at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Stay tuned for more information about the Indie Developer Showcase!
What is an Indie Game?
At SAAM, we define an indie game as a game that has not been produced with support from or published by a major games publisher. However, we like to keep our definition broad and invite a variety of developers—from single individuals who create in their spare time to game development teams or studios with existing ties to the industry—so everyone can participate in and enjoy SAAM Arcade’s Indie Developer Showcase. At past SAAM Arcade events, we’ve hosted games from university game labs, developers who are still in high school, professional game developers, and artists who create interactive experiences.
Learn More on the Blog
Read more about the current and past SAAM Arcade programs, explore the themes, and and learn more about what makes a game jam on the Eye Level blog.
Read About Previous SAAM Arcade Events
SAAM Arcade 2022
Saturday, July 30, 2022 at 11:30 a.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET
SAAM Arcade returns to the Kogod Courtyard this year! Join SAAM for our beloved annual celebration of creativity and innovation in games. This year, we’re welcoming visitors back to the museum, featuring the 2022 Indie Developer Showcase and a curated selection of eight indie games presented by their developers! Visit the museum for a day full of new games as well as classic arcade and console games from MAGFest. A special scavenger hunt that connects video games and SAAM’s collections will be available at the information table.
For video game lovers who can’t make it in person, we’re also excited to announce our 2nd annual SAAM Arcade Game Jam!
Centered around the theme of Color, Line and Form, SAAM Arcade 2022 explores the essential elements of visual expression. Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky said “abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.” When we break something down into its most basic features, innovation and creativity emerge in new and unexpected ways. Game developers use these same essential elements to create an interactive experience for players, relying on color, line and form to tell complex narratives and engage broad audiences.
SAAM Arcade has always centered around questioning the boundaries of art, and 2022 is no different! If Color, Line and Form are the essential elements of visual expression, what are the essential elements of a game? Is it the code or the control? What about the rules or rewards? SAAM is proud to display independent games that reimagine how color, line, and form can be used to create unique experiences for developers, players, and observers.
SAAM Arcade is made possible by the generous support of Events DC.
SAAM Arcade 2020
Online, Saturday August 1 – Sunday August 2, 2020
In 2020 SAAM moved its annual SAAM Arcade activities online. During this two-day virtual program, participants were able to explore how video games act as a medium for expanding the way Americans tell and experience stories. We offered exclusive limited-time access to play the latest independent games featured in our Indie Developer Showcase. Additionally a special screening of the feature-length documentaries Indie Game: The Movie and Not for Resale premiered online. Finally, families were encouraged to let their creativity shine with step-by-step instructions for video game–inspired crafting at home.
2020 SAAM Arcade Indie Developer Showcase
The 2020 SAAM Arcade Indie Developer Showcase honors the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women suffrage. Each of our featured games explores the role of women in affecting major change in society, the political sphere, and the gaming industry.
The struggle to change the status quo has always been present in video games. Many of the most notable relationships in game narratives are centered on the underestimated individual, striving against the dominant force. The most iconic game characters—Mario, Lara Croft, Ms. Pac-Man—face ongoing struggles that can only be overcome by a combination of resourcefulness, skill, and tireless dedication. The American mythos shares this legacy with video games. Our nation’s greatest heroes go against the grain, fighting to create a better world for themselves, their friends, families, and the American people.
The fight for women’s suffrage was not the first fight for American rights, nor was it the last. To this day, we look to great reformers and activists as American heroes and celebrate individuals who stand up against tyranny and injustice and work toward a better future for themselves and their descendants.
The games featured in our Indie Developer Showcase are either made by women, feature women’s narratives, or memorialize women’s history in America. Check out each of these game-changing developers and the stories they share through their work.
Each game featured in the Indie Developer Showcase is appropriate for all ages.
Developers: Elizabeth LaPensee, Nichlas Emmons, and Weshoyot Alvitre
When Rivers Were Trails is a 2D point-and-click adventure game that reveals the impact of colonization on Indigenous communities in the 1890s. Developed with the collaboration of two Indigenous women, Elizabeth LaPensee and Weshoyot Alvitre, this game features gameplay focusing on strong women and two-spirit Indigenous characters. Over thirty Indigenous writers contributed to character scenarios, each speaking to the importance of recognizing Indigenous voices in video games.
Developers: Catherine Croft, Keegan Herschel, Gabriel Lewis, Elizabeth Cherry, Lisa Harrison, Eeshan Joshi, Xander Schaaf, and Oliver Steenman
Starsmith is a dice-rolling battle game where players act as popular constellations from the night’s sky to capture elements from the galaxy to build their own stars. Players take on the role of constellations with female and male namesakes who duel each other through dice rolling and card drafting. Embedded within the game are concepts of chemistry and STEM, which allow players to learn without realizing it throughout the game. Created by a female neuroscientist and game designer with a passion for board games, this creative, non-violent battle game represents gender equality, with equal distributions of roles despite the overwhelming dominance of male-attributed constellations present in the night sky. Play Starsmith online or print-and-play with a ten-sided die.
Developer: Emma Kidwell
Half is a text-based game that touches on the struggle of identity growing up mixed-race, where players walk through the experiences of a mixed-race woman. Half examines the nuances and complexities that come with being on the fringe of two identities through personal anecdotes. Developed using the open-source tool Twine, this text-based game emphasizes plot and storytelling as a vehicle for progress gameplay. This model allows the developer’s story to take precedence over aggressive gameplay mechanics and visuals.
The Girl With The Gray Hair Awakens
The Girl With The Gray Hair Awakens is a game of perseverance and resilience. Play as a girl who wakes up in a room with no memory, forced to investigate her surroundings to piece together what previously transpired. Inevitably during gameplay, the player will encounter a death scene, forcing them back to the main menu. When the player starts again, the character and surroundings shift slightly. Only by playing through multiple times and persevering through multiple failures will the girl, and the player, finally reach the true ending to accomplish great things.
Developers: Tabea Iseli, Dominik Wolfinger, Dragica Kahlina, Stjepan Lukac, and Lauren Moses
AVA is a tarot card game that features puzzles hidden within a picture, which must be solved. There is an emphasis on aesthetics, story, and music while the game mechanics are kept simple. The game’s fairy-tale narrative explores issues of gender, discrimination, prejudice, and mental health. Players will be able to engage with topics and subjects raised by the game in a passive and safe environment and use online social systems to invoke discussion and debate among players. AVA shows that games can be poetic, nonviolent, and tell a wholesome, touching story that promotes empathy and understanding. Available for download in the IOS and Android app store.
SAAM Arcade 2019
Kogod Courtyard, Saturday, August 3 – Sunday, August 4, 2019
The SAAM Arcade 2019 theme, “breaking barriers,” showcased projects that recognize and relish the diversity of gaming audiences, allowing a wide-array of players to see themselves and their interests reflected on screen.
At SAAM, we believe that video games are a medium that has a great capacity for expanding the way Americans tell and experience stories. We also believe that this potential will only be fully realized when game makers, players, characters, companies and cultures are diverse and when all participants receive equitable and respectful treatment within these communities. SAAM Arcade strives to highlight traditionally underrepresented segments within the gaming world by celebrating diversity within this artistic medium.
2019 Keynote Talk
2019 Blog Posts
Eye Level, June 27, 2019, "SAAM Arcade: Breaking Barriers"
Eye Level, July 11, 2019, “SAAM Arcade: Empathy in Gaming”
Eye Level, July 30, 2019, “SAAM Arcade 2019: Representation Matters"
Eye Level, August 15, 2019, “Game Over: Images from SAAM Arcade 2019"
For more information, email us at SAAMArcade@si.edu
For more information about IGDA DC and technical assistance during the SAAM Arcade 2022 Game Jam join the IGDA DC - SAAM Arcade Discord server. The server goes live soon.