Games without gaming?

In regards to the Smithsonian video game exhibit I referenced in my first post, reading about it makes me wonder if there isn’t a fatal flaw in the idea of presenting games in such a way. As the curators themselves explain:

Video games use images, actions, and player participation to tell stories and engage their audiences. In the same way as film, animation, and performance, they can be considered a compelling and influential form of narrative art. New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments while staying grounded in traditional game types.

Clearly, they understand that the interactivity is a crucial component to what makes games a unique artistic medium. However, in an interview in the July 2011 issue of OXM, they noted that they couldn’t logistically have visitors playing through all of the featured games. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a link online to that article – curse you, print media!)

So they settled on this:

The exhibition will feature eighty games through still images and video footage. Five games will be available for visitors to play for a few minutes, to gain some feel for the interactivity—Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. In addition, the galleries will include video interviews with developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles.

Which begs the question: is that experience analogous to actually playing the game? Do game clips and images still hold the same meaning out of context? If you haven’t played through a game’s (often lengthy) quest, would viewing a late-game scene still hold the same resonance? I hope so, for the sake of this blog if nothing else.

Paintings in a museum are displayed as the artist painted them, and music, novels, plays, etc. are all experienced as written (generally speaking). So while the audiences’ interpretations may differ, the medium itself is not distorted in the act of presenting it, unlike with video games.

It’s an intriguing dilemma, and I admit that while the Smithsonian’s solution may not be perfect, it’s the best we’ve got. A brief snippet of a fifty-hour RPG may not encapsulate the entire piece, and maybe the “Would you kindly?” reveal in Bioshock isn’t the same if you haven’t ventured through the ruins of Rapture. But for non-gamers to be able to view the arts of games, I guess it’s all we can do, and it’s certainly better than nothing.


One Response to “Games without gaming?”

  1. Well, that MW3 brought in something like $400 million between America and Britain — on launch — seems to indicate that video games do deserve a place in the pantheon of entertainment media, and why not? As graphics improve and budgets expand, all genres are becoming increasingly similar to cinema — not just RPGs which, if you remove the sixty-plus hours of grinding (not that I didn’t enjoying catching them all), are essentially films.

    Obviously, any attempt to encapsulate the experience of a game, start to finish, is going to come up short. But excerpts from novels and clips from movies have the same problem. Like you said: it’s better than nothing.

    Just as long as no one tries to wrest Monkey Island away from me.

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