Experience 40 years of video games at the Smithsonian

In video games, there are three voices: the creator, the game and the player. Through gaming, the player gets to inject his own morality and worldview, says the exhibit\'s curator Chris Melissinos. (Courtesy of YouTube)

Nathan Hager, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – It might sound unbelievable, but it’s been almost 40 years since video games made the leap from nickel arcades to America’s living rooms.

In all that time, a lot has been said about the merits of home gaming. Some see it as a useful outlet for developing hand-eye coordination or simply a great way to have fun. Others see games as a complete waste of time.

But are they works of art?

The Art of Video Games,” an exhibit coming to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, will try to make the case for their aesthetic value.

“Video games are a prevalent and increasing expressive medium within modern society,” says the guest curator of the exhibit, Chris Melissinos, in a statement.

The show features 80 different games played on 20 consoles, from the Atari 2600 — first released in 1977 — to Sony’s PlayStation 3.

The games featured in the exhibit were chosen from among 240 entries selected by a panel of experts and winnowed down through a public vote last year. Organizers say 119,000 people in 175 countries cast votes for their favorites.

Visitors to the museum will get to play five of the games hands-on, each game representing five different eras of video game development. Spectators will be able to watch the action from “Pac-Man,” “Super Mario Bros.,” “The Secret of Monkey Island,” “Myst” or “Flower” on giant screens.

The exhibit kicks off Friday with a three-day festival called GameFest. It’ll feature panel discussions, book signings, musical performances and film screenings, including a free showing Friday night of the 1982 film “Tron,” about a computer genius who gets trapped in a video game.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 30, then embarks on a 10-city nationwide tour.

In this YouTube video, video game producers and designers talk about their art form:

Curator Chris Melissinos talks about what separates video games from other games and about the exhibition:

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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