Earlier this year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum held public voting for which video games to feature in its planned Art of Video Games exhibit. Voters could choose one of three games in each genre (e.g. action, strategy) on each selected console (apparently no hand-held devices), sectioned off into the different "eras": Start!, 8-bit, Bitwars!, Transition, and Next Generation. See the list of winning games here.
I am delighted that Mass Effect 2, Portal, Diablo II, and Final Fantasy Tactics made it into the exhibition. These four games are among my favorites. Mass Effect 2 was my obsession last year, with an intriguing story, complex characters, difficult choices, tight and exciting gameplay, and beautifully created worlds to explore. Portal was a short but superbly sweet game, perfectly designed to feel challenging and satisfying without being impossibly frustrating, teaching you the mechanisms of how the portals can be used, bit by bit, before setting you loose. Even with what are now primitive graphics, Diablo II had memorable settings and engaging animation, and I remember how wowed I was by the cut scene graphics when I first saw them. I'm actually a little less convinced about the artfulness of Final Fantasy Tactics, but I'm a bit ignorant here because I haven't played any other games like it (it's the only PlayStation, Japanese RPG, or true turn-based combat game I've played). But it was fun, with an intriguing if sometimes confusing and frustrating plot.
Yes, this is the same pic I used in the older post...but it's a good one.
Other games that I've played at least in part that made the cut include Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Earthworm Jim, StarCraft, Super Mario 64, and GoldenEye 007. Other assorted winners I feel like mentioning include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Halo 2, Final Fantasy VII, Fable, Bioshock, Minecraft, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Mario and Legend of Zelda seemed to fare particularly well, with many games in each franchise making it into the exhibit.
I was most disappointed to find that Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn did not make it into the exhibition. It was beaten by Fallout, which I haven't played, though I understand it is a perfectly deserving game as well. Still, BG2 is my favorite, so the loss stings. Interestingly, Fallout 3 beat another BioWare game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Though I really love KotOR, I was less disappointed by its loss, because from what little I know of Fallout 3 I think it earned its victory. It's a little funny, though, because KotOR is five years older than Fallout 3, which puts it in a different league from a graphics standpoint.
One game from each era was selected (not by vote) for exhibit visitors to play for a few minutes, to allow them to experience the games' interactivity. Interactivity, after all, is a crucial component of the art of video games. The selected games are Pac-Man (arcade), Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and World of Warcraft. I still regret never playing Myst. A friend gave it to me in high school, but for some reason our computer at the time didn't like it, making weird sounds and sometimes refusing to launch it (probably a flaw in the disk). Anyway, I gave up, and never got anywhere in it. Maybe some day I'll get back to it.
The Art of Video Games exhibit will be in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 3rd floor North, from March 16-2012 to September 30, 2012. Mark your calendars.