I’ve always thought that it was pointless to argue about whether videogames can be art. After all, “Art” is one of the most loosely defined words in any known language. A great athlete is sometimes said to be an artist on the field. Virginia Woolf wrote a couple of books about women who carefully construct their parties as a form of art. Really, everyone could be called an “artist” — except for maybe Brett Ratner. Roger Ebert seemed to realize this point when, after throwing down the gauntlet and declaring that videogames could never be art, he back-pedaled by cheerfully explaining that — to paraphrase Lucille Bluth — he doesn’t know what they are and doesn’t care to find out.
Nevertheless, if you’re a gamer who spent your youth trying to explain to your lame parents why playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a much more fruitful endeavor than studying for your chemistry test, then the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., just gave you some serious ammunition. A new exhibit that opened on Friday called “The Art of Video Games” features an in-depth look at the history of the interactive medium. You can even play five games that represent the medium’s evolution: Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. Check out the exhibition trailer here.
There are some interesting interviews with videogame developers on the website. Notably, the developers who participated tend to be cult figures (like Tim Schafer and Jenova Chen) or iconic luminaries with little involvement in the current videogame industry (like Nolan Bushnell). The games that are featured are a decent mix, although the complete lack of love for Katamari Damacy makes me question the whole endeavor. (Metal Gear Solid 1, fine, but Metal Gear Solid 2? What, are they trying to explain how a game that’s 75 percent cinematic is actually just a poorly animated movie?) Still, there are four Dreamcast games and absolutely nothing titled Call of Duty. So even if the Smithsonian doesn’t convince you that videogames are art, it already has proven that videogame fans can be as snooty as the next art snob.
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