Transcripts

Jumping Inside The Art of Video Games

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
But first, since we're talking about playing games, by any chance, might this sound familiar?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:12
How about this?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:16
Or maybe this?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:23
Gosh, hearing that music takes me back.

MR. CHRIS MELISSINOS

00:00:24
It sure does. Although not that far back, right?

SHEIR

00:00:28
Well, how you choose to answer that particular question posed here by video game developer, collector and all around whiz Chris Melissinos, depends on how far back you think 1985 is. That was the year Nintendo released the now iconic video game Super Mario Brothers.

SHEIR

00:00:45
In case you haven't guessed, the other two themes you heard just now belong to Pac Man...

SHEIR

00:00:49
...a classic that takes us all the way back to 1980 and Myst...

SHEIR

00:00:57
...an adventure game initially released in 1993. They're among five games you can actually play on super-sized screens in the Smithsonian American Art Museums new exhibit, The Art of Video Games.

MELISSINOS

00:01:10
And these games were selected because they did something unique within their era or they changed the way developers worked or the types of games they created.

SHEIR

00:01:20
Melissinos curated the exhibit which features a total of 80 video games, mostly from his personal collection, and covers a span of 40 years. Here's the thing, though, he isn't trying to show the artistry of video games to visitors.

MELISSINOS

00:01:33
I think initially, they expect to come in and see as we do have up in here some beautiful pictures of the game play.

SHEIR

00:01:38
What Melissinos is trying to do is focus on...

MELISSINOS

00:01:41
...the entirety of video games as an art medium. So in that sense, it's one of the very first exhibitions to tackle video games and art that matter.

SHEIR

00:01:50
Because the way Melissinos sees it, video games represent a beautiful fusion of all forms of art, be it...

MELISSINOS

00:01:57
Painting.

SHEIR

00:01:57
...or...

MELISSINOS

00:01:58
Sculpture.

SHEIR

00:01:58
...or even...

MELISSINOS

00:01:59
Music and narrative. So in that, video games provide the greatest variety, the greatest opportunity to tell the widest breath of story, the widest narrative of any other medium that we have at our disposal today.

SHEIR

00:02:12
But the key to making this particular medium work, he says, is interaction.

MELISSINOS

00:02:17
Because it doesn't become art until the game is actually played.

SHEIR

00:02:22
A point that's strikingly demonstrated by one of the first instillations you encounter when you enter the exhibit. I'm really intrigued. Over here, I'm looking at three side-by-side screens showing pictures of people -- actually no, they're moving. So these are people being filmed, let me guess, as they're playing video games?

MELISSINOS

00:02:38
Correct. So this piece is called Gamer Faces. And the idea was, we set up a high definition camera and focused on people as they played in a room by themselves.

SHEIR

00:02:47
The people include males and females of all ages, shot mainly from the shoulders up. Some stare intently, others talk to themselves or back to the game. This one boy keeps jumping up and down.

MELISSINOS

00:02:58
You don't see people react this way when they read a book, view a painting, even watch a movie. You may get people to jump at certain points, you may get people to cry at certain points, but you do not see this full kind of release of themselves.

SHEIR

00:03:11
And this release has been going on since the days of the Atari VCS.

MELISSINOS

00:03:16
A lot of people know it as the Atari 2600. That is not its original name. It's the Video Computer System.

SHEIR

00:03:21
And it's on display at another room of the exhibit which shows the evolution of video games through 20 gaming systems, from early elementary offers like the Atari and ColecoVision. That one looks so familiar over here on the Commodore 64, that top one with the ladders.

MELISSINOS

00:03:36
Jumpman.

SHEIR

00:03:37
Jumpman. To more recent complex innovations like the Wii and PS2. And since the gaming systems snake along the four walls of the room, by the time you reach the PS2, it actually is right next to our very first gaming system.

MELISSINOS

00:03:50
Exactly. And so by standing in that one corner of the room, you're able to see just how far we have come in the medium of art that is video games.

SHEIR

00:03:59
But what you're also able to see, Melissinos says...

MELISSINOS

00:04:02
Are the echoes of design that started at the Atari VCS and are even present today in the era of the Playstation 3.

SHEIR

00:04:10
Such as?

MELISSINOS

00:04:11
Well, in Uncharted 2, when we see Nathan Drake in a jungle environment, reaching for a vine and we see Pitfall Harry on the Atari VCS in a jungle scene, reaching for a vine, we realize that those core mechanics have persisted for 40 years.

SHEIR

00:04:27
What has changed, he says, is the platform or more fittingly for an exhibit titled The Art of Video Games...

MELISSINOS

00:04:33
The Canvas, the brushes that artists have had to paint the environment in which those mechanics occur.

SHEIR

00:04:39
Now, of course, Chris Melissinos knows not everyone would be quite so keen to whip out such artistic metaphors for video games. What would you say to the parents who say I don't want my kids playing video games. I want them out playing, you know, with real people, in the fresh air?

MELISSINOS

00:04:53
What I would say is to not be dismissive of them on the face. Chances are, many parents that are listening, remember a time when video games were important to them. The ones that grew up in the '70s and '80s and they remember the first time they saw Pac Man or the first time they played Pitfall or Donkey Kong and understand that the games their kids are playing today are just the descendents of the games that we grew up on. Playing games is part of what it means to be human, it's how we find competition, it's how we find cooperation.

SHEIR

00:05:21
And it's how we find creativity, or so says Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, a video game hero who has a quotation stenciled on one of the exhibits walls. Can you read it?

MELISSINOS

00:05:30
Sure, it's video games foster the mindset that allows creativity to grow.

SHEIR

00:05:35
Do you agree with that?

MELISSINOS

00:05:36
Absolutely.

SHEIR

00:05:37
And it's Chris Melissinos' ardent desire that by the time people exit the exhibit, whether they're die hard gamers or not, they'll agree, too.

MELISSINOS

00:05:45
I hope that everyone that comes to visit this walks away with a greater understanding that video games are more than they believe them to be when they came in because they are, because they are.

SHEIR

00:06:00
You can catch the Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from March 16th through September 30th. The exhibit opens with a three-day extravaganza called GameFest, chock full of discussions with designers, screenings of movies and, of course, plenty of hands on play. Oh, and costumes are optional. For more information and to see a slideshow of Smithsonian staffers installing the exhibit, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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