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Reason Writers Around Town: Peter Suderman Reviews the Smithsonian's "Art of Video Games" in The Washington Times

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Senior Editor Peter Suderman explores the Smithsonian American Art Museum's new exhibit on video games in today's Washington Times:

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is billed as "The Art of Video Games." Visitors will 

encounter beautiful production art, a chronological look at the major video-game platforms and their key games, tidbits of wisdom from various designers, and even a handful of games playable on giant public screens.

What they won't find is much of a case that video games are, in fact, art. Instead, the exhibit, which opened March 16, 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-sized plots.

Whole thing here. 

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  1. Isn’t it pretty self-evident that “immense immersive worlds with Hollywood production values and novel-sized plots” are art?

    1. But they’re for nerds. NERDS!

    2. Perhaps, if you have a bourgeois sense of aesthetics. If not, real art supports the revolution. Real art points out the contradictions of the capitalist state. Real art is subversive and bought by rich people and not understood by the people it is supposed to represent.

      1. If not, real art supports the revolution.

        You mean, like showing a Washington DC populated by mutants, where you can pop off micro-nukes in the Capitol?

        1. Are they featuring the art of Fallout 3? In DC? Because that’s what I want. I pay taxes, you know.

          1. There are a couple of pieces of production art showing some store fronts and some form of mutant baddie that I didn’t recognize.

          2. Because that’s what I want. I pay taxes, you know.

            You can shut your whore-peasant mouth and keep paying. Nobody wants you around the fancy exhibits anyway. Don’t you have a tractor pull to be at in 26minutes?

        2. Well maybe when Bush was in office, sure.

      2. real art supports the revolution

        Assassins creed has fairly left wing politics….well at least it makes out republicans to be bad guys…the economics on the other hand are free market. In fact i think you kill tax collectors and government thugs so the local economy can grow.

        Also the plot and setting of bioshock is anti-randian.

    3. Maybe, but one of the things I had to leave out of my piece was that the exhibit barely gives any sense of the size and depth of these worlds. The only really large game that’s playable is Myst, and the way the stations are set up you really don’t end up playing anything for more than a few minutes. So you’re mostly left with a handful of 60-second clips in which a narrator informs you that Mass Effect 2’s world is very big, etc. etc.

    4. How can it be art if it’s not subsidized by the government?

      1. Video Games are heavily subsidized by government.

        They get like 2 or 3 types of tax loopholes. Industrial/manufacturing and high tech what not.

        1. I should point out that the manufacturing tax break video game makers get is the same tax break that oil producers get and Obama just tried to repeal for Oil companies and not anybody else.

  2. Better dead than Red

  3. Man, Judging by that picture, DC really has been cleaning itself up since I was there 2 weeks ago. I can imagine the glorious burning pyre of congresscritters and bureaucrats just to the right of the capitol building.

  4. I think it is the Smithsonian’s impulse to emphasize the didactic; other institutions exhibiting the “art” as opposed to the history of video games would have been much more adventurous. For instance, here in Laguna Beach CA the largest museum in the city had a World of Warcraft exhibit that showed sculptures, fan art and studio art … even installations. Maybe any exhibit like this is doomed to fail because the best place to “view” this type of art is on your couch as opposed to the sterile halls of an art gallery.

    1. because the best place to “view” this type of art is on your couch as opposed to the sterile halls of an art gallery.

      *highfive*

      (wait, is highfiving too pedestrian in this context?)

      1. I think readjusting one’s thick plastic eyeglasses and nodding with your lips slightly pursed is the proper etiquette these days.

      2. because the best place to “view” this type of art is on your couch

        Actually the best place was at the mall in an arcade…but those days are over as the market does not support it anymore.

        Wait…Holy shit i have become a socialist*(^@$!~~!

  5. i shall destroy even the memory of you!

  6. So, I can begin to see the light at the end of the Skyrim dungeon.

    What should I pick up next? ME3? FONV? The next Assassin’s Creed? Asura’s Wrath looks like it might be interesting.

    I can’t decide what to get. Is this one of those market failures I hear so much about?

    1. Minecraft.

      Also Dust214 looks interesting but it will be free on the PS3 this summer.

      So if you have a PS3 you are set.

      I am waiting for ME3 to get cheaper before I buy it.

  7. What they won’t find is much of a case that video games are, in fact, art.

    Does a case even need to be made?

    If you frame up and hang a painting do you have to make a case for it to be art?

    The only way video games can’t be art is if you completely change the definition of art intentionally to exclude them.

    1. I think in so many words the debate is not whether games are an artform but rather should they exist in the exalted pantheon of *high art* In other words, is the best a video game could ever achieve on the spectrum of artiness the equivalent of a framed picture of a clown holding a droopy flower, or can a game ever aspire to be as significant as the Sistine Chapel or Citizen Kane.

      1. People actually play video games…few ever actually watch Citizen Kane or go see the Sistine chapel….in fact i think more people have looked at the Sistine Chapel within a video game then have looked at it in real life.

        I think high art is better defined as art art critics like but everyone else could give a rats ass about.

        1. Judging the merits of art by what is popular with “the people” is a terrible metric.

          1. Why?

            Please explain in 900 words or less the advantages to having eclectic gatekeepers to art?

            Or perhaps you want to go back to when only the rich/royalty/church decided what art was?

            1. This year we had… the Wrath of the Titans and then there is the Tree of Life. One is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars and one is not. It won’t be “gatekeepers” that dictate one of those movies still be watched in 50 years and the most the other can hope for is existence on a 4 for 1 “Action classix” disc. I know the “Tree” will still be studied decades after because of it’s intrinsic value, no gatekeeper needs to tell me that.

              1. So art that comments on current events or the culture as it stands today cannot be high art?

                That seems arbitrary.

                Why should timely art be “lower” then timeless art?

                It should be pointed out that both films you mentioned are period pieces and both reflect cultural norms of the past that today are alien to us.

  8. It’s sad that they missed an opportunity to show how well-made video games can affect you in a way similar to a great painting or film. Take Fallout 3, the game pictured in the header image for this entry. This is a game that sets you lose scavenging around amidst the ruins of DC, juxtaposed with symbols of a retro-futuristic Atomic Age civilization and the optimistic popular music of the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

    This is precisely the kind of game that could convince parts of the art-snob crowd that video games are art, and one that includes the Smithsonian itself as an area to explore. They could just set up a room to look like a battered exhibit hall, put some big models of super mutants in it, and pipe in “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” they could likely convey the gleeful sense of desperation so characteristic of its world. It’s relevance wouldn’t even have to be explained.

    1. I like this idea. You could have a wax museum style treatment of various characters in their native environments (for instance, Moira in her shop, or a Ghoul in Underworld, etc.).

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