In the forty years since the first Magnavox Odyssey pixel winked on in 1972, the home video game industry has undergone a mind-blowing evolution. Fueled by unprecedented advances in technology, boundless imaginations, and an insatiable addiction to fantastic new worlds of play, the video game has gone supernova, rocketing two generations of fans into an ever-expanding universe where art, culture, reality, and emotion collide.
As a testament to the cultural impact of the game industry’s mega morph, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with curator and author Chris Melissinos, conceived the forthcoming exhibition, The Art of Video Games, which will run from March 16 to September 30, 2012.* Welcome Books will release the companion book this March.
Melissinos presents video games as not just mere play, but richly textured emotional and social experiences that have crossed the boundary into culture and art.
Along with a team of game developers, designers, and journalists, Melissinos chose a pool of 240 games across five different eras to represent the diversity of the game world. Criteria included visual effects, creative use of technologies, and how world events and popular culture manifested in the games. The museum then invited the public to go online to help choose the games. More than 3.7 million votes (from 175 countries) later, the eighty winners featured in The Art of Video Games exhibition and book were selected.
From the Space Invaders of the seventies to sophisticated contemporary epics BioShock and Uncharted 2, Melissinos examines each of the winning games, providing a behind-the-scenes look at their development and innovation, and commentary on the relevance of each in the history of video games.
Over 100 composite images, created by Patrick O’Rourke, and drawn directly from the games themselves, illustrate the evolution of video games as an artistic medium, both technologically and creatively.
Additionally, The Art of Video Games includes fascinating interviews with influential artists and designers–from pioneers such as Nolan Bushnell to contemporary innovators including Warren Spector, Tim Schafer and Robin Hunicke.
The foreword was written by Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Mike Mika, noted game preservationist and prolific developer, contributed the introduction the introduction.
*After Washington D.C., the exhibition travels to several cities across the United States, including Boca Raton (Museum of Art), Seattle (EMP Museum), Yonkers, NY (Hudson River Museum) and Flint, MI (Flint Institute of Arts). For the latest confirmed dates and venues, please visit the The Art of Video Games exhibition page at http://americanart.si.edu/taovg
the resonance of games as art
The Christmas of 1980 would ultimately chart the trajectory for my future career. It was a year that a device of untold mystery and excitement was gifted to me: the Commodore VIC-20. This amazing little device was able to transport me to worlds beyond my dreams; worlds that I could create, control, and type into existence. What the VIC-20 gave me can be reduced to a single word: power.
Learning to program that little machine, with its severely limited canvas, opened up a fascinating world and a growing love for science, storytelling, and art. Art. It is a term that brings up a range of images, from the stark, marble-encrusted halls of old museums to a student studying late at night in the daunting pursuit of an art history degree. I believe that my definition of art is more serviceable. When the viewer is able to understand the artist’s intent in a work and finds something in it that resonates with him or her on a personal level, art is achieved. If it elicits an emotion—from disdain to delight—it can be viewed as art.
The short yet extremely prolific forty-year history of the video games industry has offered the world some of the most personal and most globally connecting experiences in human history. Of course, many games never aspire to be anything more than an adrenaline pump, where high scores rule and the loosest of stories are employed to hold the game together. But there are also a wealth of examples of games that force players into uncomfortable moral quandaries, make statements about the act of war, and profoundly affect the player using music, environments, and whimsical details. Some games can make you cry, others can make you smile. The common thread throughout a majority of games, regardless of their intents, is that they are an amalgam of art disciplines whose sum is typically greater than its parts. This defines a new medium that is beyond traditional definitions used in the fine art world.
I find this fascinating and truly inspiring. Computer games came into existence as a way for computer scientists to demonstrate the capabilities of archaic systems that marked the dawn of the information age. Over time these systems grew in complexity, and as they became more powerful, the potential to create deeper and richer experiences opened up to designers and artists. From “fill in the gaps” and text-based adventures that engage a player’s imagination to deeply narrative games like Heavy Rain that pulls the player in as the story unravels, video games have a unique ability to connect with the player—and an unrivaled set of resources to do so. Combining fundamental elements—image, sound, story, and interaction—no other medium comes close to offering the audience so many points of connection.
It is precisely their interactivity that provides video games the potential to become a superior storytelling medium. I say potential because video games are still in adolescence. The advantage that books, movies, and television have over video games is with time only. Like all other forms of media, hindsight will tease inspired works from the digital past, and these will serve as the cornerstones of great works yet to be created. No doubt that some of those games are collected here.
As a denizen of the “Bit Baby” era, I realize that video games have had more of a profound impact on my development than any other form of media. Our children are being born into a world in which the digital and physical collide, and video games are the expressive voice of that collision. This trend will continue to change the way society at large views video games, which one day will be held in the same regard as painting, movies, writing, and music.
Opening in March 2012, The Art of Video Games exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is yet another example of the attention this medium is starting to receive. Together with the museum and an advisory group of game developers, designers, pioneers, and journalists, we selected a group of 240 games in four different genres to represent the best of the industry. The criteria used for selection included visual effects, creative use of new technologies, and how world events and popular culture influenced the game. The museum created a website and invited the public to help select the games for the exhibition, and almost four million votes across 175 countries narrowed the list to the eighty games you’ll read about here.
Using the cultural lens of an art museum, viewers will be left to determine whether the materials on display are indeed worthy of the title “art.” A majority of visitors will most likely encounter a game that transports them back to their childhoods and tugs at their emotions, or they may learn about an artistic or design intent in a game that they never knew before. My hope is that people will leave the exhibition—and finish this book—with an understanding that video games are so much more than what they first thought.
They may even be art.
Excerpted from The Art of Video Games by Chris Melissinos. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Melissinos. Excerpted by permission of Welcome Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
Star Trek: Strategic
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Attack of the Mutant Camels
Sid Meier’s Pirates
The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate
NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM
The Legend of Zelda
1943: The Battle of Midway
Super Mario Brothers 3
SEGA MASTER SYSTEM
Spy vs. Spy
Phantasy Star IV
Super Mario World
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Super Mario 64
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei
Panzer Dragoon Saga
FINAL FANTASY VII
Metal Gear Solid
FINAL FANTASY TACTICS
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Panzer Dragoon Orta
MICROSOFT XBOX 360
Mass Effect 2
Lord of the RIngs: The Battle for Middle-Earth II
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Star Fox: Assault
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure
Super Mario Galaxy 2
SONY PLAYSTATION 2
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Shadow of the Colossus
SONY PLAYSTATION 3
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
R. J. Mical
This is a lushly illustrated coffee-table book that offers readers full-page, color photographs and succinct summaries of video games, descriptions of their significance, and interviews with many of their creators. Slick and gorgeous, the book offers an important permanent, widely distributable, inexpensive complement to the exhibition. – Ian Bogost, American Journal of Play, Fall 2012
If Ready Player One was a fictional love song to video games, The Art of Video Games is the visual poem to gaming—simply a beautiful book filled with gaming nostalgia, inspired innovation and flat-out fun…Every gamer needs to have The Art of Video Games just like every English major needs to have the collected works of Shakespeare. – J. Jay Franco, Bookrastination, 3/9/12
This book belongs on the shelf of every highbrow gaming geek, but it’s also an important read for anyone interested in media studies or human expression. I want to hand this book to every naysayer who sees games as nothing more than cheap, violent, meaningless entertainment. With its engaging pictures, rich interviews, and neatly bundled history lessons, The Art of Video Games makes a solid case not just for the validity of games as an art form, but for its rightful place as one of the defining storytelling mediums of our time. – Becky Chambers, Themarysue.com, 3/16/12
I heartily recommend The Art of Video Games, not only to every gamer, but also to anyone interested in technology, and especially to those who feel games are harmful and childish…it’s a fascinating journey through time, showing how this incredible industry has become one of the most lucrative and fastest growing in the world. When next your parents ask why you play video games, just give them a copy of this book and I’m sure they’ll apologize for ever questioning your love for this truly special and important medium. – Benjy Ikimi, Avault.com, 3/16/12.
The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect is a worthy companion piece to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibit. Melissinos and O’Rourke do an excellent job of laying a foundation for any reader to educate themselves on video games and their place as a modern artform. Video game enthusiasts have a lot to enjoy here, too. Besides the first-rate production values, it is a lovingly crafted narrative of the industry’s evolution from its most rudimentary beginnings to the multi-billion dollar cultural powerhouse it is today. Any fan of video games will enjoy the opportunity to pick this book up from the coffee table, flip to a random page, and immediately begin to “remember when…” – Paul Marzagalli, NAVGTR (National Academy of Video Game Testers and Reviewers), appeared in Eclipse Magazine, 3/16/12
Filled with illuminating insights and insider perspectives, these interviews will speak volumes to teens considering careers in the video game industry. In addition to YA readers, the book may also be of interest to educators looking to examine media trends, or launch a classroom discussion about viewing video games as an art form. – Joy Fleishhacker, School Library Journal, 3/21/12.
Designed for us short attention span readers, the well-paced, large format, $40 hardback from Welcome Books features big image screen grabs and short blocks of history and insight on 80 noteworthy games, arranged historically and by console format eras….Also rallying for the cause are short essays in the book from industry innovators like "father of Atari" Nolan Bushnell - who "knows for a fact"that gaming doesn't just keeps you sharp, but "delays the onset of Alzheimer's." So go do something artful and important - buy the book, visit the exhibit and go play a video game! – Jonathan Takiff, The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News/philly.com, 3/15/12. Widely syndicated.
In Chris Melissinos and Patrick O’Rourke’s book The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect — the accompanying book to the Smithsonian exhibit of the same name on display starting in March 2012 – the authors offer a compelling read, intriguing to both the gaming nerd and pretentious art student in me, that reads like a warm meet-and-greet without being too casual or too stuffy… the full-page screen-shots will have any reader enthralled…They have the capacity to capture us, for an instant, and draw us into an experience that is more than simply wasting time — that is potentially transformative. – Kaitlin Tremblay, MediumDifficulty.com, 3/27/12.
You cant’ go wrong with this book. It makes fo a fun read and you might learn something…coffee table worthy…fascinating…it screams “I’m smart, I like to play video games and I appreciate ART!” – Classic Game Room: Retro Video Games Book Club, video book review on YouTube Channel (201,000+ subscribers), 4/2/12. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIyV87h6x9I
…the book is a really great piece for retro video game lovers. It mixes art with nostalgia as it caries you though the different ages of gaming, showcasing classic video games in stunning layouts, drawing attention to the creative and cultural impact, all in one very classy, and affordable package. – D.S. Cohen, About.com: Classic Video Games, April 1, 2012
The Art of Video Games exhibit was base on the book written by Chris Melissinos and Patrick O'Rourke. The book is amazing. I highly recommend it to any gamer or fan of games. – Fan, RPGMachine86, 4/4/12
In the end, The Art of Video Games puts in a very admirable effort. They get the list (in my humble opinion) mostly right, and they fill out a lot of interesting history about each game, often from the perspective of the developer themselves. The interviews are top-notch, giving two full pages of insight into the past of your favorite developers, how they make their games, and what they were thinking when they did so. Want to know just what Ron Gilbert was thinking when he made Maniac Mansion (also not on this list) or Monkey Island? Here is your chance. – Ron Burke,