The Art of Video Games

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The Art of Video Games

18 March 2012 | Written by Maxxum

When press day arrived for our preview of the event, our team still hadn't determined (based on information from the museum staff) how the exhibit would be displayed, let alone received by the public at large. We knew that several million people had participated in the online voting preceding the event, and we'd acquired media from the Smithsonian: American Art Museum that gave hints at what to expect, but 15 minutes prior to the start of our press briefing, there was little indication that the exhibit would be anything other than another room within the halls of the S:AAM. We took some time to chat with Chris Melissinos regarding his motivations behind The Art of Video Games Exhibit... we also wanted to get a better look at his cell phone cover (a Nintendo controller with usable buttons).

I separated myself from the group to get some shots, and ran into an older gentleman (late 60's at least), his hair tied in a ponytail, and his eyes still showing signs of youthful excitement. He wasn't press, and wasn't associated with the museum... I have no idea who he was, and he wasn't the only one. There were several people well past my age scattered about the place, and they were keenly familiar with the gaming industry. Former employees of the original console manufacturers, perhaps? I didn’t have time to inquire; while we'd been chatting, all the other press teams had arrived, and the presentation was about to begin.

After speeches were given, we had a chance to view the exhibit. If you've only seen pictures, one would think that the exhibit is larger than it truly is; to be certain, the exhibit is quite small - literally two spaces, each roughly the size of a classroom; one with consoles behind glass, the other comprised of jumbo sized screens attached to selected games. We walked through the exhibit, and within 30 minutes had relived all my early childhood memories of the various game consoles. If my response seems subdued, then you read correctly, although nothing that happened on press day hinted at the response of the general public during "GameFest," the 3-day opening event for the exhibit.

When I arrived at the museum for opening day, I could see that staff were clearly overwhelmed, and conversations with S:AAM media relations indicated that they had severely underestimated the number of people who would be attending; I heard the phrase "we had no idea," multiple times on day of GameFest. Gamers and ardent fans were not the only ones in attendance… tourists, St. Patty's revelers, people who were very much not gamers were present in vast numbers. I had a conversation with a 70 year old former ballet dancer who had come from New York and was not only familiar with gaming systems, but also very well versed in the lenses I use on my camera system.

In retrospect, as I analyze the event now, it occurs to me that the reason why press day was so slow is because it was missing the one thing that makes video games so much fun, having someone to enjoy them with you. I relived my past on press day, but I smiled with people during GameFest. I had a chance to sit with Nolan Bushnell, someone whose Atari 2600 console I played as a child in my godparent's basement... in thirty years, why would I have any reason to think that I would ever sit next to, and take pictures with the man?

GameFest seemed as much a celebration of video games, as it was a place for people to recount their experiences… nostalgia was the word for the event. I could write ad nauseum about the gaming consoles, the panels, the movies, the people… or, you can look at pictures of consoles from days past and feel the emotions you might have had when those systems were new, and remember what it was like to be young. If you didn't attend GameFest, you missed a chance to relive the past; you can still see the Art of Video Games exhibit, but I'd be lying if I wrote that it'd be the same.

End of line.

Photos by Maxxum