Video games are a multibillion-dollar entertainment business exceeded only by
After all, it's not the reality-TV family who's featured in a massive touring art exhibition, but Pac-Man and his pixel brothers, as part of the
This first-of-its-kind celebration of video games places 8-bit and modern console and PC titles in the same buildings as works by famous artists and sculptors. And beginning Thursday, the touring exhibition makes its only Ohio stop at the
"By bringing [video games] into the museum we're acknowledging that artwork comes around in many different media, and sometimes things that start off in the commercial worlds profoundly influence the art world and the other way around," said
"And sometimes you need to go back and look at something that you have thought of as a solely for-profit venture and exclusively of the commercial world and re-examine it in a much broader cultural context."
The Art of Video Games is a four-decade exploration of video-game consoles, spanning the classic Atari VCS, Mattel Intellivision, and ColecoVision to the more modern Xbox 360, PS3, and Nintendo Wii. Divided into five eras -- "Start!," "8-Bit," "Bit Wars," "Transition," and "Next Generation" -- the exhibition features 80 games from 20 gaming systems presented as still images and video footage. It also includes video interviews with game developers and artists, historic game consoles, and large prints of in-game screenshots. And yes, there are five games available to play: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of
The exhibit was conceived by
It was after meeting with him to discuss video games as an art form -- a scheduled half-hour conversation that turned into a three-hour discussion -- that the
"From that point forward we were able to create the largest exhibition of its kind, examining video games as an art form," he said in a recent interview with The Blade. "It's the most technologically complex show that the museum had ever built and we did it in roughly half the time an exhibition of that size typically takes."
With a potent dual-generational allure to adult "Bit Babies," as Melissinos refers to them, and their children, The Art of Video Games became one of the more popular and successful exhibitions in the museum'?s history. More than 685,000 people came through the exhibition within its first six months, with 26,000 of them attending the exhibit's opening weekend festival that included interview sessions and panel discussions with game designers and programmers. The interview with
"It blew away every possible expectation they had," Melissinos said. "What this says to me ... is the desire on behalf of the public to see this material and see the artistic merit of video games in a forum like this. That same sentiment has continued at every stop this exhibition has had on its tour so far."
Video game art
Given the widespread popularity of video games and its fostered culture that for some is akin to a lifestyle, the exhibition's immense appeal shouldn't come as a surprise. But the record turnout doesn't address the philosophical musings of whether video games have a place where the likes of Picasso,
Melissinos is of the opinion they do, and that given enough time, "video games will prove to be one of the important art forms ever at our disposal ... as an amalgam of all traditional art": illustration and sculpture, narrative, social reflection, and orchestration.
Gilman contends that it's a museum's job to push boundaries, particularly in broadening the conventional wisdom of what is "art."
"I'm never gonna pretend that
As with most things new, convincing everyone in the art world and beyond that video games are a uniquely modern creative endeavor worthy of intellectual discourse and cogitation is an argument not likely to end soon, concedes
"This debate has played without resolution for years now and will continue to wearyingly do so for some time yet," Parkin said. "What's more important to me is that games are often interesting and, occasionally, important," he said. "Video games are inherently playful, which means many nonplayers still believe they are also frivolous and childish. In many cases they are correct.
"But there are also games that exist to explore the human condition, that allow us to explore what it's like to live a life like our own, or which play with the rules of our world's time and space in ways that help us to see our world with new eyes. That's interesting, important and, for some, a good definition of what art does."
The Art of Video Games can be seen from
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