Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Art of Video Games

When I was teaching my class on video games, we ended up in an interesting discussion one day that I had not foreseen or put on my syllabus-- whether or not video games could count as art.  To be honest, I hadn't even thought of this as a topic, and now I can't say whether it was because I assumed they did, assumed they didn't, or hadn't really thought about it.

My students mentioned an interesting editorial Roger Ebert wrote last spring, where he declared that "Video Games Can Never Be Art".  It was an interesting statement to make, considering that he later admit that the last video game he played, and which he didn't have the patience for, was Myst, released in 1993.  Ebert later issued another blog post, after further thought and after reading the very extensive comments left on his first post, saying, "I may be wrong, but if I'm not willing to play a video game to find that out, I should say so. I have books to read and movies to see. I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place."  Personally, I think this was the only way for him to get out of the conversation gracefully, and I respect him for being willing to admit that his first post was a mistake, although the post title "Ok, kids, play on my lawn" does still have a bit of a crotchety ring to it.

I don't critique film because I don't know film, and Ebert's attempt to critique video games when he hadn't played one in over fifteen years was poorly thought out.  Especially because it now appears that The Smithsonian American Art Museum disagrees.  They are currently putting together an exhibition that will air in March 2012 on "The Art of Video Games" and, even better, they are looking for fans to vote on the artwork they think should be included in the exhibit.  I'd definitely encourage all of you to go check it out!  You can vote for up to 80 games, separated into 5 eras by the Smithsonian organizers.  They only ask for games that demonstrate "a focus on striking visual effects, the creative use of new technologies, and the most influential artists and designers... Remember, this is an art exhibition, so be sure to vote for games that you think are visually spectacular or boast innovative design!"

Personally, I can't wait for this to open and will definitely try to see it sometime next year.  I really love that the museum isn't focusing solely on the games themselves but also on the people behind them-- the artists and designers-- and on the relationships between video games and other aspects of culture like film and television.  I can only hope that the exhibition meets the high hopes I'm sure gamers will have for it, although if it's up to the Smithsonian's normal standards, I'm not too worried.

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