Video Games in the American Art Museum

On one level of the American Art Museum is old folk art. Go up another level and you're getting closer to the contemporary art, but up another and you'll find an exhibition all about video games. Now here's an excuse to get cultured.

The Art of Video Games exhibition in the American Art Museum opened in March, but it'll be around through to September. It's a free exhibit, and because the American Art Museum is a part of the Smithsonian in DC, it doesn't cost anything to get into the museum. And the Chinatown metro stop is just a block away!

The exhibit itself is pretty. I loved the color schemes in the few rooms for the exhibit. The entrance is a green wall with "The Art of Video Games" on it (pictured), and it has a few paragraphs of information from the guest curator.

The next room is the introduction to video games as art. It has the obvious -- concept art for video games -- and it also shows the evolution of video games through five eras the exhibition explores further in the final room.

This room presents the thesis of the exhibition: video games are immersive art. Instead of it being solely about the painter or painting, video games are collaborative art that aren't complete without the player.

The following room had five games set up for visitors to play: Pacman, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. The point of video games as art came out most strongly in Flower, where developer Jenova Chen wanted to evoke positive feelings in the player, who controls the wind to blow a flower across a landscape. It doesn't sound very exciting, but watching someone play it is very relaxing.

The final room showcased each console (but no handhelds) and four games for each console. The consoles are shown chronologically from the same five eras shown two rooms previously. Older gamers will be excited to see things from the '80s and new gamers will see a Nintendo Wii and say, "I have that!" As somewhere inbetween, I felt nostalgic when I saw the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64.

Each station has a console on display, a picture of four games, one in each category: Action, Target, Adventure, and Tactics. Guests were able to vote on the four games in each category online a year before the exhibit went live. When at the station, you press a button for one of the games to see a short movie about the game including things such as its aim, its predecessors and improvements, its artistic vision, etc.

Not all art exhibits have to be in big white rooms with static art in which the viewer stares at something for a few seconds before walking on. This exhibition probably won't convince those enthusiastic about games that video games are art, but being able to play Super Mario Bros. in a museum for a serious but also fun exhibit is a milestone.