Visitors to “The Art of Video Games,” a new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, encounter a chronological look at the major platforms and their key games, tidbits of wisdom from various designers, and even a handful of games they can play on giant public screens. What they won’t find is much of a case that video games are in fact art.
The exhibit serves more as a beginner’s history of the form: how it grew from a handful of hobbyists crafting simple pixel puzzles to armies of well-paid professionals building immense immersive worlds with Hollywood production values and novel-like plots. There is a timeline of game console development, from Atari to Xbox. But with the exception of the few playable games, the exhibit lacks a sense of interactivity or artistic context. Instead it’s a warm and fuzzy nostalgia trip. Like so many video games, the exhibit is mostly enjoyable for what viewers bring to it. —Peter Suderman