The Art of Video Games
The book. This one. Not The Art of the Video Game or Video Game Art or The Art of Game Characters or Creating the Art of the Game or Game Art. Those are different books. We won't be talking about those here.
The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect is the catalogue of the exhibition with the same name that is still running (until September this year) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition has been widely described as crucial but very conservative. It isn't the first video game exhibition or the first time that games have been on display. The Science Museum in London put together a very interactive exhibition called Game On and the Design Museum had a very small installation of the design of games. Also the HTTP Gallery (now Furtherfield) had a very cool exhibition a while back. It is the first exhibition however, by a big institution, a big art institution that treats games as games within their own right.
The subtitle "From Pac-Man to Mass Effect" is apt too. This isn't a comprehensive exhibition and it isn't the usual dross you find at computer museums with endless old computers in glass cases arranged chronologically /snoooze. The games that made the final cut were moronsourced by the internet, the poll itself causing the gaming community online (maybe including us, can't find the link if we did whinge) to go a bit shouty because the game choices seemed to be a bit arbitrary. But it's tough. There's over 5 million games now, okay but there's only a couple of thousand of those that are worth mentioning but with an exhibition like this it will be impossible to please everyone. Even the excellent "1001 Video games you must play before you die" compiled by some really talented writers had some blind spots. This exhibition is not comprehensive and short of a National Museum of Video Games (this nonsense does not count) I don't think that's the right approach.
I haven't been able to see the exhibition and sadly I don't think I will get to unless it tours but what about this book business then? Well it is a lovely big glossy book. The production values are high here and there's some great content, it has clearly been put together by people who know and care about games. Which is great because gamers can smell a pretender from 100 miles away. Yes we may be typified by the crass, chauvinist, everythingist man child but we stay true to our nerdy/geeky heritage. Get a fact or piece of trivia wrong and it is.... it is..... GAME OVER. Yeah, we went there. The biggest problem I have, bearing in mind that I said originally that this exhibition was not supposed to be comprehensive, is that the game choices for inclusion (decided by the community) are a bit odd. 80 games are the focus of the exhibition but is it really necessary to include two Phantasy Stars and three Panzer Dragoons? Is it? Is it? Is it? IS IT? Is it now? Is that needed? Is it? Is it needed? Do we need that? Is that what we're in need of now? Is it? Is it? Is it? Is it? Two Phantasy Stars? Need those? Do we? Do we need those? If we're putting together a selection of 80 games charting the development of the art of games, would you need two Phantasy Stars and 3. 3. THREE. Panzer Dragoons? Do we? 6%. 6% of the games. Need it? Need it? Do we? Do we need it?