Video game pros like to remind us that their "interactive entertainment" business grosses more billions worldwide than the film industry, yet earns just a small fraction of the latter's respect. Maybe that will change some with a new exhibit and companion coffee-table style book.
Both titled "The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect," the exhibit is being staged by the prestigious Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and runs through Sept. 30.
In her foreword to the companion book, museum director Elizabeth Broun hails video games as "a unique and powerful form of expression, in the same way that photography, film and many other types of art did before them." But as it marks its 40th anniversary, the interactive gaming medium is still in its relative infancy compared with those art forms, she adds, thus has potential for much more, exciting growth.
Designed for readers with short attention spans, the well-paced, large-format, $40 hardback from Welcome Books features big image screen grabs and short blocks of history and insight on 80 noteworthy games, arranged historically and by console format eras. The tech and graphics evolution takes us from early landmarks of pixelized programming like "Space-Invaders," "Pitfall!" and "Pac-Man," which are hard to argue as great art, to recent beauts like "Shadow of the Colossus," "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves" "Bio-Shock" and "Heavy Rain" which offer rich, innovative visuals, plus deeply immersive stories that require gamers to make a moral commitment to save the planet and its good folks.
Yeah, the plot is often the same, although the characters and settings and dilemmas certainly vary. "Bio-Shock," for one, raises ethical issues about stem-cell research and political oppression. And it's telling that the last game cited in the book and exhibit, the target-style game "Flower" for the PlayStation 3 is truly a breed apart. The wind serves as the protagonist, and it's your mission to "breathe life" into the world. The eco-themed game also boasts gorgeous impressionist imagery in a style that would do a Monet or van Gogh proud.
Also rallying for the cause are short essays in the book from industry innovators like "father of Atari" Nolan Bushnell -- who "knows for a fact" that gaming doesn't just keeps you sharp, but "delays the onset of Alzheimer's."