"The Art of Video Games" Now Open at Phoenix Art Museum
Pac-Man, 1981. Toru Iwatani, original concept; adapted by Tod Frye and NAMCO BANDAI Games, Inc. All rights reserved.
Video games are art. That is the unwavering stance of Java innovator and noted game aficionado Chris Melissinos. When he talks about writing gaming code, he compares it to writing poetry. These games are more than digitized pastimes -- they're an amalgam of all forms of traditional art, he says.
And if you take a second to consider his equation (narrative plus orchestration plus painting plus social reflection plus sculpture equals video game) there's really no way to argue the point. For more evidence, there's the exhibition Melissinos curated, "The Art of Video Games," on view at Phoenix Art Museum through Sunday, September 29. The show looks at the 40-year history of gaming and how it has evolved over that span of time -- from Pac-Man and Pong to World of Warcraft.
Originally Melissinos curated the exhibition for the Smithsonian. That was after being asked in development circles what was being done to preserve, study, and show video games in pop culture. Those chats got him thinking about his lifelong love of video games and his earliest experiences with them.
"I remember when my family got a Sears brand Pong machine in the early '70s," Melissinos says. "I was mesmerized by the fact that, here was a machine that was plugged into the television, which was a one-way tool always talking to you."
"There was more to the machines than we could believe."
He says that sense of wonder has never left him. Nowadays he has two dozen gaming systems at home. "We've barely scratched the surface of what video games can do," he says. "I'm constantly mesmerized and enthralled."
The exhibition pulls you in, partly with nostalgia, creating a feeling similar that of getting sucked into a game. It's arranged like a chronological arcade, featuring many consoles from Melissinos' collection. "For me it's a very personal, candid observation," he says. It's so personal, in fact, that the 60- to 90-second videos included in "The Art of Video Games" are recordings of Melissinos playing featured games. He also annotated the games, explaining their importance as far as their design impact and influence on games that were later released.
Spanning 40 years of video game innovation, the show assembles 20 systems and 80 games that reveal how the medium has evolved from super-simplistic to hyper-realistic.
A crucial part of the exhibition is its interactivity. Five games are playable within the museum, including Pac-Man , Super Mario , and Flower , though playtime is limited to five minutes. "Without playing and without the interaction, video games do not emerge to become art," he says. It's the fact that these works engage us that makes them such a fascinating part of an emerging art history.
But Melissinos' ultimate goal with the show? "I hope people walk away understanding that video games are so much more than they believed them to be when they first got there."
The museum's complementary programming for the exhibition pushes the bounds of the show further with screenings of such films as Tron , The Gamer Age (the filmmakers will attend the showing and take feedback from the audience), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World .
Also on the programming schedule are lectures -- including one from Melissinos on June 29 and another on July 31 with John Sharp, associate professor of Games and Learning at Parsons The New School for Design. Plus, pieces from "The Artcade Show" will be on display (and playable) at the museum starting July 20.
Interact with your art in the Steele Gallery at 1625 North Central Avenue. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for students, and $6 for those ages 6 to 17. For more details and a full schedule of the museum's programming scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition, see www.phxart.org or call 602-257-1222.
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