The Art of Video Games (and Showing Your Kids How Cool You Are)

Words from an expert on the history of video games


It’s not very often these days that I can impress my kids. When your 6-year-old son giggles and asks, “Is that how you really dance?” you know your Cool Mom-ness is starting to dwindle.  But something occurred a few days ago that I’m pretty sure boosted my cred again: They saw me play Pac-Man.

And it wasn’t on a small game system or even an arcade machine with just the two of them looking on; a large digital video of the game was projected onto a wall with a bunch of people standing around watching. I chomped my way through the maze fluidly, with Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde in close chase until I ate the big blinking pellet, then quickly hunted down the blue ghosts and ate them, too.  This happened several times over. And when my turn was through, Owen looked up at me, his eyes wide with awe.

“Mom, you are really good at Pac-Man,” he said, “I think you are the best one here.” And with that, my coolness was (kind of) restored.

This watershed moment happened at The Art of Video Games exhibit in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Exploring the forty-year revolution of video games as art, several installations offer opportunities for visitors to actually play video games, both old school and modern ones.

Where the magic happened

Demo-ing the Secret of Monkey Island

The exhibit has been open for a few months, and we finally went to check it out over Labor Day weekend. Along with the room full of games to demo, there is another large room dedicated to game systems, displaying the consoles, videos, and images of a variety of games from past and present. You can listen to audio recordings giving background on all of them. And while they are meant to focus on the artistic elements of the games, I got a kick out of just showing Owen and Sasha the Atari and Intellevision, the first video game systems I played as a kid.

Some of the more modern games

Blast from the past

In another room — the first one you walk through, actually — you can view sketches of video game art and early packaging.  You can also view three videos on a wall of people’s faces as they play video games, meant to show their emotions and expressions as they play.  To be honest, we kind of breezed through the whole room once we realized there were games to play just ahead.

Game faces

The exhibit has had mixed reviews (one of the reasons we took so long to get there), mostly questioning its relevance in the art world.  But I think it’s worth checking out — if not to show your kids some of the games from your childhood, then to possibly let them see just how cool you can be. 🙂

The Art of Video Games is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th & F Streets NW) through September 30.  Museum hours are 11:30am – 7pm. Admission is free.


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Filed under Art, DC, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Museums, Weekdays, Weekend

One Response to The Art of Video Games (and Showing Your Kids How Cool You Are)

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