That’s what the Smithsonian Museum of Art in D.C. said when it decided to have an exhibit exploring the 40-year evolution of video games.
The museum was serious enough about the idea that they asked a professional programmer and gaming enthusiast to curate the exhibit, which starts next year and runs from March 16 – September 30, 2012.
Chris Melissinos, of Northern Virginia, has a background in programming, having worked for Sun Microsystems for many years. While there, he worked his way up to Chief Gaming Officer, a position within the gaming division he convinced the then-CEO to create in order to take the company to the next level. Ultimately, it was his high profile within the gaming community that led to his curator gig for the Smithsonian.
All that is fine and dandy, but let’s get back to nuts and bolts, here. Which is: can video games really be classified as art?
If you apply the standard definition of “art” to video games, then yes, they can be considered art. Art is the “quality, production, expression, or realm--according to aesthetic principles--of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” Video games are certainly appealing to plenty of folks around the world (including my brother, who can literally spend hours at a time playing with his online buddies). Video games contain narratives and engage and influence audiences, just like that other popular storytelling medium, film. And have you seen the graphics on some of these games nowadays? More and more, video games contain sophisticated worlds with realistic surroundings and beautiful environments that make it hard to tell a game image from reality. Mad talents (and artists), those gaming programmers.
But seriously, “art” is a subjective thing, right? Frankly, I don’t see the artistic merit in Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings, but my husband thinks they’re awesomely avant-garde. And naturally, the writer (and snob) that I am, I think literature is some of the best art out there, while my husband finds most fiction boring and self-serving. To each his own, right?
Right. So the Smithsonian—and Mr. Melissinos—should go on with their bad selves and have a field day convincing us video games are an art form. Because they are.
Well, except maybe Pong.