The art of video games

Visitors can play five games inside the exhibit at no extra cost. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Visitors can play five games inside the exhibit at no extra cost. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

OU News Bureau

At “The Art of Video Games” exhibit, visitors can play a life-size video game on an art museum’s wall.

The Flint Institute of Arts is one of ten museums the exhibit will visit on its three-year tour of the country. It premiered at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., where it was among the most popular exhibits ever.

“It’s about the role artists play in video games and the artistic elements,” said Ashley Phifer assistant curator in Flint. “It’s become the artistic medium of the century.”

The exhibit explores the evolution of video game art: graphics, game mechanics, storytelling, technology and music.

“The actual exhibition comes with the 20 kiosks that you see in the exhibit, and then it comes with five playables,” she said.

The exhibit contains some of the most popular video game consoles of each era. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

The kiosks include interactive screens that demonstrate major advances in video game art. There are five video games visitors can play, each a tribute to a particular era of game development.

“The playables come almost in an arcade cabinet-type format. We decided we wanted to project them larger than life,” Phifer said.

Playing a super-sized “Super Mario Bros.” on the wall of an art museum is a rare opportunity.

Video games have come a long way

In 1982, the majority of the industry saw video game developers as computer engineers in a cubicle. Video games were making millions of dollars, but unlike other artistic mediums — such as movies or books — the artists were not receiving royalties for their success.

Disenfranchised, some game developers left their jobs to create the intentionally named Electronic Arts — a company that would become one of the world’s largest video game publishers.

This was a breakout moment for the industry. Electronic Arts is credited for introducing the industry to titles such as director, publisher and artist, according to Chris Melissinos, curator and visionary of the exhibit, during a special opening presentation in Flint.

Attitudes rarely change overnight

“Yes, this is art,” Phifer said. “But people who aren’t familiar with video games, and even some people who are familiar with games, have been very skeptical about the art form.”

The exhibit channels visitors down an expansive, meandering hallway. Every few turns transitions visitors between five eras of video game art history.

“We laid our exhibition out in a very particular way,” she said. “Visitors can go through and see not only the technological advancements, but the role artists played throughout.”

The exhibit begins at the earliest stages of video game history, prior to the early 1980s. The kiosks in this section feature games such as “Pong” and “Pac-Man.”

During this era, artists played no role in game development, Phifer said.

“It’s important to see that, to see where they came from,” she explained. “Artists would design cover boxes, supplemental materials, but not the actual game.”

Next is the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of video games — a reference to the processing power of video game consoles at the time. These eras are best known for games such as “Super Marios Bros.” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

Most of the displays are on video screens and interactive. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

Most of the displays are on video screens and interactive. PHOTO/MATTHEW E. SEMRAU

“Artists are starting to help a little bit, but it’s really the game programmer’s role,” Phifer said.

At the fourth era, things start changing. Two-dimensional, side-scrolling games give way to three-dimensional worlds.

These 3-D worlds needed artists to envision them, Phifer explained.

The fourth and fifth eras are artist-driven.

One section, dubbed “Pencil to Pixel,” showcases concept art drawings along with the in-game rendering.

“Once you see it that way, you can’t argue it’s not an art form,” she said. “You have people, who are traditionally trained artists, who have chosen to work in video games.”

Graphics are not the only art that has evolved in video games. Originally, games were lucky to have electronic beeps. That’s changed.

“The scores that you’re hearing are designed specifically for video games,” Phifer said. “You don’t realize, hey, there is a full orchestra backing this.”

Early video games were objective-based and had no story. In eras four and five, they have emerged as interactive, storytelling mediums. Arguably, it’s the greatest storytelling tool in human history, Melissinos said at the presentation.

“It’s a lot more in-depth than first glance,” Phifer said.

Whether you’re a gaming aficionado, or have never picked up a controller, there is something for everyone, she said.

“For the traditional museum goer, we didn’t want to isolate them,” Phifer explained. “We wanted to show them new, contemporary art that’s emerging that they can still relate to.”

The Art of Video Games” exhibit is at the Flint Institute of Arts until Jan. 18, 2015. The museum is at 1120 East Kearsley Street. For hours and information visit www.FlintArts.org or the 24-hour information line at (810) 234-1695.


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Posted by on Nov 11 2014. Filed under Featured article, Oakland County. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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