Video Game Art: Smithsonian Exhibit Celebrates 40 Years of Creativity

"The Art of Video Games" exhibit runs at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from March 16 through September 30, 2012.

40 Years of Video Game ARt

A new exhibition, "The Art of Video Games," opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on March 16. Conceived to explore the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, the exhibit features 80 video games and includes interviews with developers and artists, playable games and vintage game consoles. Chris Melissinos, former chief evangelist and chief gaming officer for Sun Microsystems and founder of PastPixels, is the guest curator. "The Art of Video Games" will travel to 10 U.S. cities following its six-month run in Washington, D.C. Flip through our slideshow to see some of the games on display, and check out our Q&A with Melissinos.

Bioshock (2007)

"Bioshock demonstrates the incredible power for narrative that video games have today. Creator Ken Levine took inspiration from the writings of Ayn Rand, and particularly her depictions of strong, principled heroes without flaws. In Bioshock, Levine wanted to imagine what would happen if the 'hero' did have flaws, and was allowed to proceed uninhibited by conventional society." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Ken Levine, creative director and executive producer; Paul Hellquist, lead designer; Dean Tate, senior designer and artist; Scott Sinclair, art director, Microsoft XBox 360. Image courtesy of 2K Games Inc. and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.

Diablo II (2000)

"Diablo II brought an exciting world of monsters, wilderness, and dungeons to the role-playing genre. Unlike its predecessor, Diablo II was designed with online gaming in mind and many elements of the gameplay were enhanced in multiplayer mode." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Various artists, DOS/Windows, Blizzard Entertainment Inc.

Earthworm Jim (1994)

“Creator Doug TenNapel and designer David Perry had a lot of fun designing Earthworm Jim. The story is based on a worm that transforms into an intergalactic hero after a robotic space suit fell from the sky. ... Earthworm Jim represented the pinnacle of 2-dimensional animation at a time when game designers were just beginning to explore 3D.” -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Doug TenNapel, original concept, character designer and voice actor; Tommy Tallarico, composer; Steve Crow, lead artist; David Luehmann, producer, SEGA Genesis.

Einhander (1997)

"Einhander takes place in a fictional future, during a war between the Earth and the Moon. It was the first 3-dimensional shoot-emup game to appear on the PlayStation. Its vibrant graphics, fast-paced action, and energetic techno soundtrack combined to create an immersive array of color and sound." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Tetsuo Mizuno, Tomoyuki Takechi, Shinji Hashimoto, executive producers; Yusuke Hirata, producer; Tatsuo Fujii, director; Yuji Asano, lead design, PlayStation. flOw, Jenova Chen, Nicholas Clark, game design, Modern Windows, 2006, Sony Computer Entertainment America.

flOw (2006)

"The title comes from the psychological concept of 'flow,' which describes the mental state of an individual who is actively focused and deeply engaged. This concept is true of many video games, but the beautiful creatures, fluid movement, and ethereal music of flOw create a particularly captivating and immersive experience." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Jenova Chen, Nicholas Clark, game design, Modern Windows, 2006, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC.

Flower (2009)

"Flower stands apart from almost every contemporary game in its genre. Designer Jenova Chen described it as 'an interactive poem' that explores the tension between nature and urban environments. The player becomes the wind, breathing life back into the world by flying through flowers strewn across the landscape. With every flower reached, more petals join the wind to create a vibrant dance of color." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Jenova Chen, creative director; John Edwards, lead engineer. Developed by thatgamecompany, LLC, Playstation 3, 2009, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (2008)

"The designers took a traditional target game and turned it into a dazzling cosmic abstraction. Players interact directly with the artwork ... their actions generating complex patterns and explosions of color that glow against the black background." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Stephen Cakebread, game design and programming, Microsoft XBox 360, 2008, Bizarre Creations.

Heavy Rain (2010)

"The graphics are incredibly detailed ... especially the characters, who convey emotion through subtle facial expressions and eye movements. [Director David Cage] used motion capture with over 90 actors to create this effect, asking each actor to play every possible outcome of every scene." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: David Cage, writer and director, Playstation 3, 2010, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)

"The Zelda games have always boasted a strongly developed world and back-story, but in Twilight Princess, players experience more realistic characters and environments than ever before. The narrative is familiar, with the inclusion of a sinister dark world that mirrors the light, but the visual contrast between the two is striking." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Shigeru Miyamoto, executive producer; Eiji Aonuma, director; Satoru Takizawa, art director; Eiji Aonuma, Satoru Iwata, producers, Nintendo Wii, 2006, Nintendo of America Inc.

Marble Madness (1992)

"Programmer Mark Cerny was a teenager when he created Marble Madness in the early 1980s. It was originally an arcade game, and Cerny designed the game to take advantage of a new controller, the trackball. Players used the trackball to navigate a marble through an isometric world inspired by M.C. Escher." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Mark Cerny, Steve Lamb, SEGA Master System, 1992.

MassEffect 2 (2010)

"Mass Effect 2 represents an outstanding amalgam of technology and art. After forty years of game development, artists are now able to create visual experiences that boast realistic interactions, highly detailed environments, photorealistic characters, and atmospheric use of color and light." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Casey Hudson, director; Mac Walters, Drew Karpyshyn, writers; Casey Hudson, producer, Microsoft XBox 360, 2010, © 2010 Electronic Arts Inc. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Metal Gear Solid (1998)

"Metal Gear Solid provided the template for all stealth games today. Designer Hideo Kojima employed dramatic cutscenes, a powerful orchestral score, and innovative game play to create a compelling narrative and a new perspective on the action genre." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Hideo Kojima, director; Yoji Shinkawa, artwork director, PlayStation, 1998, © 1990 Konami Digital Entertainment.

Minecraft (2009)

"Minecraft sets the player in a virtual world, filled with pixelated blocks that can be combined, or crafted, to create new materials. The game has no obvious plot or missions. Instead, it offers an innovative platform that supports endless player-created environments." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Markus Persson, Modern Windows, Notch Development.

Ōkami (2006)

"Designer Hideki Kamiya combined wood-cut and watercolor imagery with Japanese monochrome ink painting, known as sumi-e, to create the game's imaginative world. This unusual approach creates an animated landscape that evokes an ancient watercolor parchment come to life." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Atsushi Inaba, producer; Hideki Kamiya, director, Playstation 2, 2006, Capcom Entertainment Inc.

Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei (1996)

"Since the player and the camera had limited movement along a specific path, graphics could be loaded progressively, or streamed, directly from the CD ROM. This allowed for increased detail in the player's surroundings, from huge caverns to sweeping vistas, and created a believable 3D world on a system designed for 2D." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Yukio Futatsugi, Manabu Kusunoki, original design; Kentaro Yoshida, art director, SEGA Saturn, 1996, SEGA.

Pitfall! (1982)

"In the early 1980s, Pitfall's creator David Crane achieved a design breakthrough -- the fluid animation of a running human form on a video game console." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: David Crane, Atari VCS, 1982, Activision Publishing. All trade names and trademarks are properties of their respective parties.

Rez (2001)

"The designers took inspiration from the colorful artworks of Wassily Kandinsky to visually represent the inside of a complex computer network. Points of light, mathematical structures, and neon colors combine to create an unfamiliar, yet compelling, digital landscape." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Tetsuya Mizuguchi, producer; Jun Kobayashi, director; Katsumi Yokota, art director and lead artist, SEGA Dreamcast, 2001

Shadow of the Colossus

"The true power of Shadow of the Colossus is in the tension between the player's selfish need to destroy these great, innocent creatures, and the dramatic sense of loss in witnessing them fall. The scale of the Colossi and the dazzling, haunting artwork combine to create epic yet devastating battle scenes." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Fumito Ueda, director and game design, Playstation 2, 2005, Sony Computer Entertainment America

Shenmue (2000)

"Shenmue was the first video game to present a believable virtual world with unlimited potential for exploration. Designer Yu Suzuki created an environment that closely mirrored the real world, in which the player could go anywhere and interact with any object." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Yu Suzuki, director and producer; Yoichi Takahashi, designer; Eiji Ogawa, writer, SEGA Dreamcast, 2000, SEGA

Sonic Adventure

"In Sonic Adventure, the beloved blue hedgehog made the leap to a world of 3-dimensional graphics. The Dreamcast console was powerful enough to render environments that were fully 3D, so the designers did not have to compromise by using any 2-dimensional elements. As a result, they could create complicated levels that boasted realistic physics, from sweeping ramps, loops, and jumps to wobbling bridges and hidden passageways." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Yuki Naka, Keith Palmer, producers; Takasi Iizuka, director; Kazuyuki Hoshino, art director, SEGA Dreamcast, 1999, SEGA.

Star Strike (1981)

"The processing power of the Intellivision allowed the designers to achieve a 3D effect through forced perspective, while rapidly alternating bands of light and dark green conveyed a sense of speed. A recognizable depiction of earth slowly enters firing range, heightening the tension for the player." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Hal Finney, Brett Stutz, programmers, Mattel

Super Mario Brothers 3 (1990)

"In Super Mario Brothers 3, designer Shigeru Miyamoto built upon and refined the already-successful game play and design of the original. Here, Mario traverses the seven regions of Mushroom World to end the dominance of the Koopalings at the behest of Princess Toadstool. The game features whimsical sprites, or two-dimensional animated objects, that integrate into colorful, sprawling environments." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, Hiroshi Yamauchi, directors; Satoru Iwata, executive producer; Konji Kondo, composer, Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990, Nintendo of America Inc.

Tomb Raider (1996)

"The additional storage space provided by the CD ROM format allowed designer Toby Gard and his team to add high quality cutscenes with full voice-over dialogue. These elements enhanced the storytelling, giving context and background to the fast-paced game play." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Jeremy H. Smith, executive producer; Toby Gard, Heather Gibson, Neal Boyd, graphic artists; Jason Gosling, Paul Douglas, Gavin Rummery, programmers, SEGA Saturn, 1996, © 1996 SQUARE ENIX CO.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

"The visual experience of Uncharted 2 places the player in the heart of an interactive movie, with photorealistic art, seamless animation, and convincing acting. The main character is carefully crafted and believable, inspired by fictional adventurers Indiana Jones and Lara Croft as well as real-world action hero Bruce Willis and daredevil Johnny Knoxville." -- Smithsonian American Art Museum

Credits: Amy Hennig, creative director; Robh Ruppel, art direction, Playstation 3, 2009, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC.

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