'The Art of Video Games' offers insightful look into gaming as an art form

Review: The Everson Museum of Art debuted 'The Art of Video Games' at a reception on Friday before the exhibit opened to the general public on Saturday. The exhibit chronicles the evolution of gaming through the lenses of developers and players.

The evolution of one of the most progressive media is the focus of the Everson Museum of Art’s most recent exhibition: The Art of Video Games.

On Friday, the museum held an opening night reception to welcome the video game exhibit. Members were treated to a preview of the exhibit before it opened to the public on the 26th.

Photo: Olivia Yang
Guests were treated to a preview of the exhibit before it opened to the public.

Children who were not even alive in the early 70s discovered old consoles for the first time, while adults and college students reminisced on their first games.

The exhibition is part of a 10-city national tour and features 20 gaming systems and 80 video games across five eras of game development. The video games chosen for the exhibit clearly depict the evolution of this advancing medium. Visitors are treated to still images and videos from the selected games, as well as invited to play a few minutes of games from each era.

The exhibit is fairly small, only conisting of two rooms, but each room is replete with video game hardware and nostalgia.

For this exhibit, the entire history of gaming is divided into five distinct eras: Start (the 1970s to early 1980s), 8-Bit (1983-1989), Bit Wars (1989-1994), Transition (1995-2002) and Next Generation (2003-present day). Game consoles from each era — such as the Atari VCS, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Dreamcast, Sega Genesis, Wii, PlayStation and many more — are displayed with a few games made for that console. A familiar cast of household names — including Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Mario — took their places in video game history as visitors stopped at each station to listen to some interesting facts about their respective games.

A majority of the game consoles were donated by Chris Melissinos, curator of the exhibition and leading figure in the game developing community.

In addition to playing through a couple minutes of Super Mario Bros., Pac-Man and many others, patrons are treated to concept art, video interviews and, most interestingly, a new perspective of the gaming world. The exhibit works to show the many disciplines developing a game encompasses — art direction, music, technical design and, in more recent years, storytelling. Unlike ever before, video games are telling stories that connect with players in more immersive ways than movies and television.

For those still skeptical about the artistic nature of video games, the exhibit points to recent blockbuster games like Heavy Rain and Flower that rely on narrative and the unique participation of each player to connect with the players emotionally. Audience response to games like these has been overwhelming. The exhibit highlights these emotional experiences in order to elevate video games to the level of art.

The exhibit comes to Syracuse just as the gaming world is still reeling from the megawatt success of Grand Theft Auto V. The sheer size of this game is unprecedented and depicts the immense amount of work that goes into making a game.

Video games are no longer just a distraction; they have become an experience unique to each player. The exhibit provides an informative and interesting experience for gamers and non-gamers alike. In just 40 years, the gaming industry has changed dynamically. This exhibit is a wonderful testimony to the evolution, as well as the power, of gaming through the years.

The exhibit debuted at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and will be at the Everson until January 19, 2014.

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