A Trip to the Smithsonian- The Art of Video Games Exhibit

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Every once in a while, an event pops up around the country, one that you really want to experience.  It is almost always, unfortunately, in a place that is nowhere near your place.  What would you do in this situation?  Most people would pass it up due to the usual factors- work, overly attached girlfriend, or laziness.  I’ve found, however, that with catalysts such as an enthused friend and a free weekend, one might decide to make the trip.

Now if all I talked about was how I “almost” went to “The Art of Video Games” exhibit, this would be as disappointing to write as it would be to read. Good thing I went!  I left Buffalo, NY with a friend of mine on a Friday night, and we drove 7 hours straight to D.C. all to see the museums and TAVG.  Was it worth it?  Oh heck yes.

Walking In

Finding the museum where TAVG was held was not difficult, as we met a good friend from back home who now lives in D.C.  She served not only as our tour guide, but as the voice of a non-gamer.  After all, seeing someone experience fantastic video games for the first time is a reward in itself.  The exhibit was held at the Museum of American Art, and the entrance was tucked away in a lonesome corridor past the hall of portraits.  We followed the TAVG signs, and I have to admit I started to feel a bit disappointed.  Was this just going to be a room with a few consoles in it?  It was starting to seem that way.

Level 1-1

The hallway took a sharp left, and as we turned we could see the blue-lit room, the consoles with their glowing displays, and a video projected on the wall… the air itself reeked of nostalgia… ahhhhh.  The first room was an excellent tribute to video gaming history.  Along the outer wall were consoles and computers that spanned the generations… everything from atari to the modern pc.  I especially enjoyed revisiting the old Sega consoles, because I missed a lot of great games since I never played anything after Genesis.  I’ll admit that I immediately wanted to find a copy of a Saturn with Panzer Dragoon.

Level 1-2

The displays were not for play which seemed disappointing at first, but their true purpose was even better from an artistic standpoint.  Each unit had four buttons and a video screen, as well as a list of pictures on top that showed screenshots from the top 4 (voter nominated) games for the console.  The buttons allowed you to pick which genre you wanted to view.  Each button only showcased one game.  For example, if I pushed RPG on the N64 display, I would get a video featuring a famous little mute hero in a green outfit.  The video would highlight some of the groundbreaking gameplay features, as well as the artistic style and design choices.  Overall, a very rewarding experience.  Here’s a picture of the Playstation display… I’ll let you guess the 4 games that were highlighted:

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Level 2

The next room was every LAN Party goers’ dream… a room full of projectors and playable games!  This wasn’t just an inspiration for an awesome man-cave design, it was an excellent way to experience some great and accessible games.  While some attendees might expect to play the popular mainstream games in this room, the exhibit directors said “Nay” to such thought.  Instead, we get a wonderful set of games that most would consider retro.  In fact, the only real contemporary game that was playable was flower!  The rest were quite retro: Myst, The Secret of Monkey Island, Super Mario Bros, Pacman, and one more that has slipped my mind.  Each game was projected onto a concave wall in the same dimly lit room, and you couldn’t help but be engrossed in the game.  It’s clear that even in the presentation of these games, the players are intended to have a multi-aesthetic experience… one that fires all of the senses, and allows you to discover one of the most rewarding senses: the sense of adventure!

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Level 3

The last and final room was a small tribute to video game artwork.  This included concept art from a variety of games, although most seemed to be from Blizzard.  Several Diablo II, WoW and Starcraft drawings.  On the opposite wall, there was an interesting video series that examined the facial expressions different people make while playing games.  One very common expression was the look of “WTF” and I’m assuming those people were playing League of Legends.  Of all the rooms, I would have to say this was the most disappointing, although I wasn’t disappointed being there.  A handful of sketch art drawings did not seem like enough to me, and I was left wanting.  Still, it was a nice wrap-up to a fantastic exhibit.

Boss Battle

Perhaps it was the natural high I felt in the retro hands-on room, or the combination of smells from electronics and museum air, or even the drug-laced street vendor food I just consumed… but I enjoyed it so much, I insisted on walking through a few more times.  Well done, exhibit staff… you have effectively turned me back into a kid in October 1997, when I unwrapped FF7 for my birthday.  It was a very enjoyable experience, and I am extremely glad I went.  If you get the chance to head down between now and the end of September, I say do it!  Make a weekend of it!  See the sights in D.C.!  It was a weekend I won’t soon forget.

Thanks for reading!  If you want to see the exhibit but cannot make it down to D.C., it will be traveling to other museums in 2013.  I believe it is coming to Syracuse, NY in October 2013!

Exhibit website

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