This time last year, the Smithsonian Art Museum invited the public to help select the videogames to be featured in an upcoming exhibition. The overwhelming response temporarily brought down the institutions’s server. By the end of the polling period, 3.7 million votes were cast by 119,000 people in 175 countries—and the top picks are now on view in the new exhibition titled “The Art of Video Games,” a look at how the medium has evolved and infiltrated pop culture over the last 40 years.
The show’s central premise is that, despite Roger Ebert’s protests, videogames constitute an art form, one that—like film, animation, and performance—invites audiences to enter imagined worlds. According to the museum’s press release, the exhibition “focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology, and storytelling,” with 80 videogames created for 20 gaming systems, from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. Aside from still images and video projections of the games themselves, the galleries contain video interviews with developers and artists and historic game consoles.
But the fun part of videogames is playing them, right? The interactive component isn’t lost on the curator, Chris Melissinos, the chief gaming officer for Sun Microsystems and founder of Past Pixels: Visitors can sample four games, one from each era, including Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Myst and Flower. We shudder to think of the full-on fights that will likely ensue among gaming geeks jockeying for position at those precious few consoles.
“The Art of Video Games” is open until September 30, after which it will travel to 10 more U.S. cities. Admission is free; go here for more info.