The Art of Video Games

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The Art of Video Games premiered at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2012.

The Art of Video Games was an exhibition by the Smithsonian American Art Museum which was on display March 16–September 30, 2012. The exhibition was designed to highlight the evolution of art within the video game medium over its forty-year history. Following its time at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the exhibition toured to 10 additional venues in the United States. Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, was the curator of the exhibition.


The Art of Video Games[1] was one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It featured some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers (see grid below). The exhibition focused on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3.

Smithsonian previously had coin-op arcade games on display in the mid-1980s, including the arcade video games Pong, Pac-Man and Dragon's Lair.[2]

Public vote[edit]

The Smithsonian American Art Museum invited the public to help select the video games to be included in the exhibition. The 240 games on the ballot were selected by Chris Melissinos, who worked with the museum and an advisory group consisting of game developers, designers, industry pioneers and journalists. The games were selected based on a variety of criteria, including visual effects, creative use of new technologies and how the game fit into the narrative of the exhibition. Voting took place between February 14 and April 17, 2011. More than 3.7 million votes were cast by 119,000 people in 175 countries.


Visitors to The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian American Art Museum were greeted by a 12-foot projection that included excerpts from most of the 80 games featured in the exhibition with a chipmusic soundtrack written and recorded by 8 Bit Weapon and ComputeHer. An interior gallery included a series of short videos showing the range of emotional responses players of all ages have while interacting with games. Five themed videos addressing the themes of Beginnings, Inspiration, Narrative, Experience and The Future showcased excerpts from interviews with 20 influential figures in the gaming world—Nolan Bushnell, David Cage, Steve Cartwright, Jenova Chen, Don Daglow, Noah Falstein, Ed Fries, Ron Gilbert, Robin Hunicke, Henry Jenkins, Jennifer MacLean, RJ Mical, Mike Mika, David Perry, Jane Pinckard, George L. Rose, Kellee Santiago, Tim Schafer, Jesse Schell, Warren Spector and Tommy Tallarico. The videos are also available on the museum's website.[3] A five-channel installation displaying advances in core mechanics illustrated how home video games have evolved dramatically since their introduction in the 1970s through elements like avatars, jumping, running, climbing, flying, cutscenes and landscapes.[4] The room also held a selection of concept art from several games of different eras. Five playable games, one from each era, showed how players interact with diverse virtual worlds, highlighting innovative techniques that set the standard for many subsequent games. The playable games were Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. Interactive kiosks in the final gallery covered five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers, and 20 gaming systems from Atari VCS to PlayStation 3. Each kiosk featured a game from each of four genres—action, target, adventure and tactics—that visitors could select to listen to commentary, game dialogue and music.

Games exhibited[edit]

Visitors at the exhibit during its opening weekend at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The following list of games are those that were selected by Melissinos and the advisory board for inclusion in the exhibition. The exhibition is divided into five chronological eras, showcasing platforms from within that era. For each platform, three games from each of four game genres were initially selected for inclusion, with one game determined by the public voting to be part of the final exhibition. In addition, playable versions of five games are available: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower.[5]

Era 1: Start! (1970s–1983)[edit]

Platform Genre Game Year
Atari VCS Target Space Invaders 1980
Missile Command 1981
Yars' Revenge 1981
Adventure Adventure 1980
Pitfall! 1982
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 1982
Action Tunnel Runner 1983
Haunted House 1981
Pac-Man 1981
Tactics Combat 1977
Star Raiders 1979
Video Chess 1979
Colecovision Target Carnival 1982
Zaxxon 1982
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom 1982
Adventure Alcazar: The Forgotten Fortress 1985
Gateway to Apshai 1983
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns 1984
Action Donkey Kong 1982
Jungle Hunt 1983
Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle 1982
Tactics Evolution 1982
Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator 1983
Artillery Duel 1983
Intellivision Target Demon Attack 1982
Star Strike 1981
Space Battle 1979
Adventure Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1982
Swords and Serpents 1982
Thunder Castle 1986
Action Microsurgeon 1982
Tron: Maze-atron 1982
Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man 1983
Tactics Armor Battle 1977
B-17 Bomber 1982
Utopia 1981

Era 2: 8-bit (1983–1989)[edit]

Platform Genre Game Year
Commodore 64 Target Attack of the Mutant Camels 1983
Paradroid 1985
Raid on Bungeling Bay 1984
Adventure Wasteland 1988
The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate 1988
Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders 1988
Action Impossible Mission 1984
Boulder Dash 1984
Jumpman 1983
Tactics M.U.L.E. 1983
Little Computer People 1985
Sid Meier's Pirates! 1987
Nintendo Entertainment
Target 1943: The Battle of Midway 1988
Top Gun 1987
Life Force 1987
Adventure Final Fantasy 1987
The Legend of Zelda 1986
Shadowgate 1987
Action Mega Man 2 1988
Super Mario Bros. 3 1988
Metroid 1986
Tactics Archon: The Light and the Dark 1983
Desert Commander 1989
North and South 1989
Master System Target Fantasy Zone 1986
After Burner 1987
Missile Defense 3D 1987
Adventure Phantasy Star 1987
Heroes of the Lance 1988
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar 1985
Action Shinobi 1988
Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse 1992
Marble Madness 1984
Tactics Gain Ground 1990
Spy vs. Spy 1984
Rampart 1991

Era 3: Bit Wars! (1989–1994)[edit]

Platform Genre Game Year
Sega Genesis Target Gunstar Heroes 1993
Viewpoint 1992
Ranger X 1993
Adventure Phantasy Star IV 1993
Flashback: The Quest for Identity 1992
Shining Force 2 1993
Action Earthworm Jim 1994
Sonic CD 1993
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker 1990
Tactics Herzog Zwei 1990
Dune II: Battle for Arrakis 1994
Nobunaga's Ambition 1986
Super Nintendo
Entertainment System
Target Gradius III 1990
Star Fox 1993
Super Smash TV 1991
Adventure Chrono Trigger 1995
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 1991
EarthBound 1995
Action Super Star Wars 1992
Super Mario World 1991
Donkey Kong Country 1994
Tactics SimCity 1989
Syndicate 1993
Act Raiser 1990

Era 4: Transition (1995–2002)[edit]

Platform Genre Game Year
IBM PC compatibles Target Star Wars: TIE Fighter 1994
Crimson Skies 2000
Diablo II 2000
Adventure Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2000
Grim Fandango 1998
Fallout 1997
Action Deus Ex 2000
Doom II 1994
Unreal 1998
Tactics Starcraft 1998
Uplink: Hacker Elite 2001
Command & Conquer 1995
Nintendo 64 Target Pilot Wings 64 1996
Star Fox 64[a] 1997
GoldenEye 007 1997
Adventure The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 1998
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 2000
Paper Mario 2000–2001
Action Super Mario 64 1996
Banjo-Kazooie 1998
Shadows of the Empire 1996
Tactics Worms Armageddon 1999
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 1998
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber 1999
Dreamcast Target Toy Commander 1999
Typing of the Dead 1999
Rez 2001
Adventure Shenmue 1999
Phantasy Star Online 2000
Skies of Arcadia 2000
Action Jet Grind Radio 2000
Sonic Adventure 1998
Crazy Taxi 1999
Tactics ChuChu Rocket! 1999
Panzer Front 1999
Rhapsody of Zephyr 2001
Saturn Target Panzer Dragoon II Zwei 1996
Black Fire 1995
Wing Arms 1995
Adventure Blazing Dragons 2000
Dark Savior 2000
Panzer Dragoon Saga 1998
Action NiGHTS into Dreams... 1996
Tomb Raider 1996
Clockwork Knight 2000
Tactics SimCity 2000 1999
Blazing Heroes 1999
Command and Conquer 1995
PlayStation Target Einhander 1998
Colony Wars III: Red Sun 2000
Point Blank 1998
Adventure Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete 1996
Final Fantasy VII 1997
Grandia 1997
Action Metal Gear Solid 1998
Crash Bandicoot: Warped 1998
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee 1997
Tactics Final Fantasy Tactics 1997
Carnage Heart 1997
Command and Conquer: Red Alert 1996
  1. ^ Goldeneye 007 was the winning game in this category but cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions. Star Fox 64 received the next highest number of votes.

Era 5: Next Generation (2003–current)[edit]

Platform Genre Game Year
Xbox Target Panzer Dragoon Orta 2002
Xyanide 2006
Sniper Elite: Berlin 1945 2005
Adventure Fable 2004
Indigo Prophecy 2005
Shenmue II 2001
Action Halo 2 2004
Jet Set Radio Future 2002
Psychonauts 2005
Tactics Steel Battalion 2002
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 2002
Sid Meier's Pirates! 2004
Xbox 360 Target Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved 2008
Ikaruga 2002
Assault Heroes 2 2008
Adventure Mass Effect 2 2010
Limbo 2010
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion 2006
Action Gears of War 2 2008
Halo 3 2007
BioShock 2007
Tactics Halo Wars 2009
Darwinia+ 2010
The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II 2006
Modern Windows Target Shatter 2009
Everyday Shooter 2007
flOw 2006
Adventure World of Warcraft 2004
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2003
Fallout 3 2008
Action Half-Life 2 2004
Portal 2007
Call of Duty: World at War 2008
Tactics StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty 2010
Age of Empires III 2005
Minecraft 2009
GameCube Target P.N.03 2003
Star Fox Assault 2005
Alien Hominid 2004
Adventure The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker 2003
Tales of Symphonia 2003
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door 2004
Action Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time 2003
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem 2002
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes 2004
Tactics Battalion Wars 2005
Pikmin 2 2004
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance 2005
Wii Target Boom Blox 2008
Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy 2008
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor 2010
Adventure The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess 2006
Super Paper Mario 2007
Monster Hunter Tri 2010
Action Super Mario Galaxy 2 2010
Metroid Prime: Trilogy 2009
Epic Mickey 2010
Tactics Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbados' Treasure 2007
Little King's Story 2009
Battalion Wars 2 2007
PlayStation 2 Target Silpheed: The Lost Planet 2001
Espgaluda 2004
Gradius V 2004
Adventure Final Fantasy X 2001
Kingdom Hearts II 2006
Ōkami 2006
Action Tony Hawk's Underground 2 2004
God of War 2005
Shadow of the Colossus 2005
Tactics Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty 2001
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Lockdown 2005
Armored Core 3 2002
PlayStation 3 Target Flower 2009
Super Stardust HD 2007
PixelJunk Shooter 2009
Adventure Dragon Age: Origins 2009
Final Fantasy XIII 2009
Heavy Rain 2010
Action Uncharted 2: Among Thieves 2009
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2010
LittleBigPlanet 2 2011
Tactics Brütal Legend 2009
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 – Commander's Challenge 2009
Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution 2008

Subsequent exhibitions[edit]

Following its time at the Smithsonian, the exhibit was also shown at ten other venues across the United States, between 2013 and 2016.


A companion book, The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect, accompanies the exhibition. It is written by Chris Melissinos, with a foreword by Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and an introduction by Mike Mika, head of development for Other Ocean Interactive and a prominent advocate for the preservation of video game history. It also includes more than 100 composite images of games created by Patrick O'Rourke. The book was published by Welcome Books in cooperation with the Smithsonian American Art Museum.[6]


An estimated 680,000 visitors came to the Smithsonian exhibit during its six-month display period.[7]

The following is a sample of media coverage of the exhibition:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Art of Video Games,
  2. ^ "News: Smithsonian to have coin-op display". Play Meter. Vol. 10, no. 23. December 1984. p. 11.
  3. ^ Smithsonian American Art Museum, Exhibition Videos, The Art of Video Games, "Exhibitions: The Art of Video Games / American Art". Archived from the original on 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2017-06-17. (retrieved 4-3-2012)
  4. ^ Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Art of Video Games, "Exhibitions: The Art of Video Games / American Art". Archived from the original on 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2012-04-03.
  5. ^ Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Art of Video Games, Featured Games, "Exhibitions: The Art of Video Games / American Art". Archived from the original on 2016-12-03. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  6. ^ Welcome Books,
  7. ^ Conditt, Jessica (2012-10-02). "Here's how many people saw The Smithsonian's Art of Games". Joystiq. Retrieved 2012-10-11.

External links[edit]