Art, Games, Art Games!

A curious reversal of roles will take place this March when the world of museums will open its grandiose doors to the realm of video games. While interactive games have often been used to ease visitors into contemplating works of art, the exhibition titled The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian will, for the first time, display gaming as an art form in its own right. An interesting development, since the art world is known lesser for its playfulness, and more for its profundity.

But before we hit escape and quit on finding common ground, let’s not forget that in our era of interactivity, the profound can be playful! And while it is true that the line between games and art once seemed faint, even non-existent, technology has repeatedly defined it anew.

Art Hack Day in Brooklyn was one such example of the blurring between art and technological, idiosyncratic, fun. Scott Garner, recently featured in the Huffington Post, is yet another artist incorporating an irreverent amount of fun into his practice. His work titled Still Life is anything but still; the painting’s seemingly immovable subject matter tumbles to the side when the painting is titled.

Still Life “involves a motion-sensitive frame that feeds real-time tilt data to a 3D scene.” With all those expectantly gleaming fruits and vases, it’s so tempting to disrupt the quiet order, balance, and meticulous composition!

Beyond all the fun and interactivity, the idea that artists too have been developing games (the kind that will most certainly puzzle you), is often overlooked. Early in the 20th century, it was the Dadaists that actively embraced games, more specifically games of chance (a concept they found liberating), in their art making process. One famous visual game developed at the time of Dada was Exquisite Corpses, where a piece of paper was folded up and artists drew on their respective folds without context and without limitations. This lead to the creation of a final image that was at times absurd, but always random. Exquisitely random.

Since the daring Dadaists, one contemporary artist incorporating the games of chance into his work is Christian Boltanski. His installation titled Chance was displayed at the 54th Venice Biennale, and more recently at the Nederlands Fotomuseum. The museum writes that “Chance deals with the themes that are characteristic for Boltanski’s work: chance, luck and misfortune.”

One of the components of his installation is an image matching game, where a series of portraits divided into three differing sections are continuously projected onto a screen. The visitor is invited to stop the shuffling of the images on a complete portrait. Chance is one of the few artworks that is most like a game in that users can actually win a portrait if they happen to pause on a complete picture. The game can also be played on Boltanski’s website, so take a chance!

While works such as Chance and Still Life hint at the influence of gaming and interactivity on contemporary art and artistic practices, the Smithsonian explores the exact opposite in The Art of Video Games. One of the areas it delves into is the progressive aesthetic and emotional influence of art and the increasing number of artists involved in the development and advancement of video games.

As the Smithsonian writes on its website, “In the forty years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. An amalgam of traditional art forms—painting, writing, sculpture, music, storytelling, cinematography—video games offer artists a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences.”

One such amalgam that will be featured at the museum is the PlayStation 3 video game, Flower. What is unique about Flower is that the game is not about impossibly high scores and series of never-ending levels, rather it is centered on an emotional journey through sweeping landscapes and rolling meadows. A scenic meditation whilst on your PlayStation.

In an interview by the Smithsonian, the curator of the show, Chris Melissinos, talked about gradual artistic development of video games, from the use of an isometric perspective to create depth in Marble Madness, to the influence of  jungle landscapes of Raiders of the Lost Ark on the game Pitfall.

The common thread between artists using games and developers using art is most definitely interactivity. With the amazing technical capabilities of designers and developers, both worlds have become more engaging and meaningful for their respective audiences. But whose team would you play for; the Dadaists or the Developers?