You’re playing one of your all-time favorite video games: Pac-Man. Red and green lights reflect off your screen. You can hear a combination of sounds from Super Mario Brothers at the other side of the wall, and then you hear the Pac-Man music as you win the level. Complete strangers around you celebrate your victory as they wait for their turn.
You’re not at an arcade. You’re re-living the arcade experience at the Art of Video Games exhibit, a Smithsonian American Art Museum traveling exhibition, currently on display at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum that runs until April 17.
The exhibition presents the evolution of video games, home gaming consoles and programming from the 1970s to the present. Spectators can see the development of selected examples of video games from every era on screens at different stations. They can also listen to a narration explaining each game’s contribution to the development of video games.
Games spectators can learn about include Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns (1984); The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991); Final Fantasy VII (1997); and Heavy Rain (2010). To track the development of the machines, the gaming console compatible with the games from each era is also on display.
The hands-on, cherry-on-the-top attraction of the exhibit: five playable kiosks, each with one game representing an era. Spectators can jump into full arcade mode and play a few minutes of Pac-Man (1980), Super Mario Brothers (1985), Secret of the Monkey Island (1990), Myst (1995) and Flower (2009).
“I wanted to capture the old-school arcade,” says Klaudio Rodriguez, the museum’s curator. “I wanted to use a space that was intimate. I remember when I was a kid, it was okay to be shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger and be comfortable with a bunch of people at an arcade.”
“It’s awesome. I forgot there were so many gaming consoles. And it’s great you can play the games,” says student and exhibit attendee Mariana Gardinali.
While the experience of playing the game at the exhibit is different from playing the game at home on a computer years ago, childhood memories immediately came back to FIU student Jason Howard.
“It’s very nostalgic,” says Howard, who as a kid used to play Myst with his father. “A lot of people had the same experience.”
The exhibition has proved popular with gamers and art enthusiasts. Both agree video games can definitely be art, especially how they’ve evolved, including storyboards and original music.
Ian Bayless – who visited the exhibition with the Honors College, and returned to share it with his friends – says. “It depends on the video games. Some games are very gamey and others are very story-focused. Some have very unique art styles and visuals.”
Gardinali also sees video games as a group art, taking into consideration all the teamwork from artists to musicians that goes into making video games.
One take-away Rodriguez hopes students visiting the exhibit will go home with is that the museum is a fun, exciting place that asks a question: what is the role of art in your life?