The Art of Video Games

March 15, 2012 — September 29, 2012

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, NW)

Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society. In the forty years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. An amalgam of traditional art forms—painting, writing, sculpture, music, storytelling, cinematography—video games offer artists a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences.

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. Eighty games, selected with the help of the public, demonstrate the evolution of the medium. The games are presented through still images and video footage. In addition, the galleries include video interviews with twenty developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles. Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, is the curator of the exhibition.

Developments in hardware and software, as well as the advent of the internet, have given artists an ever widening palette of tools with which to create, while common game-play elements can be seen throughout. Five featured games, one from each era, show how players interact with diverse virtual worlds, highlighting innovative techniques that set the standard for many subsequent games. The playable games are Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum invited the public to help select the video games to be included in the exhibition. The 240 games on the ballot were selected by Chris Melissinos, who worked with the museum and an advisory group consisting of game developers, designers, industry pioneers, and journalists. The games were selected based on a variety of criteria, including visual effects, creative use of new technologies, and how the game fit into the narrative of the exhibition. Voting took place between February 14 and April 17, 2011. More than 3.7 million votes were cast by 119,000 people in 175 countries! See which games were voted into the exhibition, or check out the original voting website.

Photos

For more from The Art of Video Games, check out our photo album from the 2012 Gamefest and the exhibition group photo pool.

Podcast

Listen to "The Art of Video Games” on iTunes U for free. 

National Tour

After the exhibition closes in Washington D.C., The Art of Video Games toured across the country to a number of museums, including: Boca Raton Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida (October 24, 2012 – January 13, 2013); EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington (February 16, 2013 – May 13, 2013); Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona (June 16, 2013—September 29, 2013); Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York (October 25, 2013 – January 19, 2014); Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York (February 15, 2014 – May 18, 2014); Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio (June 19, 2014 – September 28, 2014); Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, Michigan (October 25, 2014 – January 18, 2015); Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia (February 13, 2015 – May 10, 2015); Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee (June 6, 2015 – September 13, 2015); and The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami, Florida (October 9, 2015 – January 25, 2016). Learn more about our traveling exhibitions program.

Credit

The Art of Video Games is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Entertainment Software Association Foundation; Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins; Shelby and Frederick Gans; Mark Lamia; Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk; Rose Family Foundation; Betty and Lloyd Schermer; and Neil Young. Promotional support is provided by the Entertainment Consumers Association. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.

Publication

A companion book, The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect, accompanies the exhibition. It is written by Chris Melissinos, with a foreword by Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and an introduction by Mike Mika, head of development for Other Ocean Interactive. The book is available for purchase online.

 

The following games topped the public vote and were featured in The Art of Video Games exhibition. In addition to the 80 games below, five playable games were be included in the exhibition: Pac-ManSuper Mario BrothersThe Secret of Monkey IslandMyst, and Flower.

  • Atari VCS
    Pac-Man (Action), Space Invaders (Target), Pitfall! (Adventure), Combat® (Tactics)
  • ColecoVision
    Donkey Kong™ (Action), Zaxxon (Target), Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (Adventure), Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (Tactics)
  • Intellivision
    TRON: Maze‐Atron (Action), Star Strike (Target), Advanced Dungeons and Dragons(Adventure), Utopia (Tactics)
  • Commodore 64
    Jumpman (Action), Attack of the Mutant Camels (Target), The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate(Adventure), Pirates! (Tactics)
  • Nintendo Entertainment System
    Super Mario Brothers 3 (Action), 1943: The Battle of Midway (Target), The Legend of Zelda(Adventure), Desert Commander (Tactics)
  • SEGA Master System
    Marble Madness (Action), After Burner (Target), Phantasy Star (Adventure), Spy vs Spy(Tactics)
  • SEGA Genesis
    Earthworm Jim (Action), Gunstar Heroes (Target), Phantasy Star IV (Adventure), Dune II: Battle for Arrakis (Tactics)
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System
    Super Mario World (Action), Star Fox™ (Target), The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past(Adventure), SimCity (Tactics)
  • SEGA Saturn
    Tomb Raider (Action), Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei (Target), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Adventure), SimCity 2000 (Tactics)
  • DOS/Windows
    DOOM II (Action), Diablo II (Target), Fallout (Adventure), StarCraft (Tactics)
  • PlayStation
    Metal Gear Solid (Action), Einhander (Target), Final Fantasy VII (Adventure), Final Fantasy Tactics (Tactics)
  • Nintendo 64
    Super Mario 64 (Action), Star Fox 64* (Target), The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time(Adventure), Worms Armageddon (Tactics)
  • SEGA Dreamcast
    Sonic Adventure (Action), Rez (Target), Shenmue (Adventure), ChuChu Rocket! (Tactics)
  • PlayStation 2
    Shadow of the Colossus (Action), Gradius V (Target), Ōkami (Adventure), Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Tactics)
  • Microsoft XBox
    Halo 2 (Action), Panzer Dragoon Orta (Target), Fable (Adventure), Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell(Tactics)
  • Nintendo GameCube
    Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Action), Star Fox™: Assault (Target), The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Adventure), Pikmin 2 (Tactics)
  • Modern Windows
    Portal (Action), flOw (Target), Fallout 3 (Adventure), Minecraft (Tactics)
  • Microsoft XBox 360
    Bioshock (Action), Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (Target), Mass Effect 2 (Adventure), Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II (Tactics)
  • Nintendo Wii
    Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Action), Boom Blox (Target), The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess(Adventure), Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (Tactics)
  • PlayStation 3
    Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Action), Flower (Target), Heavy Rain (Adventure), Brütal Legend (Tactics)

*Goldeneye 007 was the winning game in this category but cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions. Star Fox 64 received the next highest number of votes.