Monday, January 14, 2013

The Art of Video Games: South Florida's First Video Game Exhibition

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Boca Raton Museum of Art, mostly to see its newest exhibition and the Smithsonian's travelling exhibit, The Art of Video Games. I was excited, as giddy as a school girl. Just could not wait!

Unfortunately, we got there an hour early, but at 12PM sharp, we were at the doors, advancing towards the first video game exhibition to ever visit South Florida. Needless to say--excited. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by a sign that said "No Photography." Ouch. My ego was hurt quite a good bit, being that I had already perused the website about this particular topic and found nothing that would deny me my hobby. But alas! It seems photography was not in the cards for me today...

JK. I have pictures from the museum anyway, taken on a camera phone, but it wasn't me. I swear.

Near the entrance of the exhibit, we found these awesome people
wearing awesomely appropriate shirts.
At the very entrance of the exhibit, a projection, playing a short video that rotated the most popular and well known video games: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, etc. Further on, the walls were lined with kiosks that each contained a game console, starting with the Atari 2600, home of Combat and the personal version of Pac-Man, and ending with the Playstation 3. These kiosks concentrated on four main genres: target, adventure, action, and tactics, while also concentrated on the 8-Bit, Bit Wars, Transition, and Next Generation eras. Smack dab in the middle of the exhibit were inviting cubicles that allowed guests to stand and play some of the games. The cubicles had tiny cameras with feeds that were connected to three televisions hooked up side-by-side in the middle of the room. These televisions showed the faces of guests, young and old, disgruntled or amazed by the games in front of them.

People playing games.

The kiosks were the main attraction of the exhibit. Featured games included The Legend of Zelda, Pitfall, Spy Vs. Spy, Gunstar Heroes, Star Fox, Sonic, Shenmue, and Heavy Rain to name a few. They were interactive and informative, each with buttons reflecting one of the four genres. Listeners enjoyed a short lesson on each of the games presented. It was educational, but certainly not boring.

"Original" Sonic in Character Development

Besides the kiosks and cubicles, there were also a few sketches here and there that seemed to be enlarged copies of original artist renderings:

Now, there wasn't really much art, so to say. The exhibit relied heavily on its interactive electronic kiosks as well as its informative looping 5 minute videos and the whole space was small, and not necessarily well designed to match with the entrance to the next exhibit. Even though I had a good time, I was still moderately disappointed. The title of the exhibit displays, perhaps, some kind of art, of which there was relatively few of. It felt more like a history lesson, and for me and my friends, a trip down memory lane. However, the set up and pieces of the exhibit are perfect for a crowd that knows very little about video games. In that aspect, it works very well.

This one was definitely original art.
A troll from Wow!
Later on, at a restaurant, my friends and I were discussing why we felt disappointed, and in hindsight, once we dug each other out of our nostalgic holes, the answer was simple--so much about video games was just not there.At the start of the exhibit, we saw the home edition of Pac-Man, which falls behind the pixelated beauty of its arcade version.And what many video game authorities consider, even in part, as the beginning of video games, Pong, was nowhere to be seen. Now, had this been actually about video game art, this would make sense. Pong might be zen, but it's not really graphic heavy...but this exhibit depended heavily on teaching the audience about the eras of gaming and the history. So where was Pong?

Even more disconcerting was the complete disregard for handheld devices like the PSP, with its sharp graphics, and the GameBoy. The GameBoy! Father of all handheld devices, with games that encouraged immense art collections and fan art, such as Pokemon. And in the Next Generation section, no mention of mobile gaming, which to me, is as much a part of next generation gaming as an Xbox 360. It has reached out to and made gaming accessible for countless people, and yet, no mention.

And no Tetris. Nope. Let me not even go there.

Perhaps it was a lack of space. Perhaps it was a ploy to sell coffee table books. Perhaps just a shameless commercial plug, but most likely a misnomer of an exhibit. Would I recommend this exhibit to an art student? No. A video game fan? For the discounted student price, yes. For the young child or aspiring gamer? Absolutely. The exhibit in itself is a learning experience, I hope, for both viewer and curator.  And if you're looking for a fast ticket to Memory Lane, you'll find it here, but for a price.


Erasmus said...

Star Fox! Hours of fun on N64. Any Rogue Squadron?

Thanks for the review. Yes, odd that there was no pong, no gameboy, no tetris? I know you can't include everything, but those seem like some major gaps.

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