The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s recent exhibition underwhelms
Video games have come a long way since Pac Man and even the original Mario. Realistic, interactive environments boasting high definition details are now the norm, from Sony’s Uncharted to Bioware’s Mass Effect. The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition “The Art of Video Games,” which will be on display until Sept. 30, chronicles these dramatic visual and technological developments while also featuring the artistic aspects involved in video game design.
While the concept is original and technologically captivating, especially for an art museum, the exhibition itself seems to fall short, particularly when it comes to the art. Only the first room of the three-room exhibition features a few sketches from video game designers; the rest are focused instead on technological developments or pure gameplay. This does not pose a significant problem for video game fans that are likely attracted to the exhibit solely for gaming, but it provokes questions of whether or not the exhibition is a good fit in an art museum.
The actual video game portion of the exhibition also seems to be lacking, given the fresh concept. The second room features various interactive stations with playable games, but some of them are relatively unknown. The third room features a walk-through timeline of video game consoles from the 1980s to the present along with four fan-voted games from each system. However, it offers little supplemental information to most video game fans that are likely already well-versed in basic video game history.
In addition, while the inclusion of Donkey Kong, Starfox, Pikmin, Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2 and other critically acclaimed video games is commendable and brings some redeeming qualities to the exhibition, other famous video games are notably absent, including Pokemon and Goldeneye. Nevertheless, the absences of these influential fan-favorite titles are understandable; the exhibition was required to go through the tedious process of requesting permission from video game developers to acquire the appropriate copyrights. In fact, Goldeneye was actually slated to be a featured title of the Nintendo 64, but it was scrapped due to copyright issues.
Anyone curious about the limited-time, free exhibition should not necessarily skip the opportunity to visit, but should be sure to plan other activities so as to not waste a trip to D.C. “The Art of Video Games” is still worth a quick look, if only to marvel at the vast progress of graphics and visual design or the antique console collection. However, it is not worth an exclusive trip, particularly for advanced or even intermediate gamers.