The Smithsonian is bringing games into the fold of art.

One of the things that has always seemed to hold games back from becoming a rarified “art form,” to use that sticky term, is their long-time absence from the institutionalization of gallery and museum life. Recent developments in everything from the Louvre’s interactivity to the GDC’s own retrospection have begun to offer games a canonical sense of history. And now next month, the Smithsonian is putting on a new exhibition devoted to the new form of play.

Entitled “The Art of Videogames,” the exhibit is running from March 16th through September 30th. In the explanation of the thinking behind the new exhibition given in The Smithsonian Magazine, the author plants the Smithsonian strongly in the camp that understands the Schwarzenegger v. EMA decision as an official declaration that games are now art and should be treated as such:

The Supreme Court ruled last June that video games should be considered an art form, as deserving of First Amendment safeguards as “the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them.” Chris Melissinos reached that opinion some 30 years earlier, as a teenager plugging away at King’s Quest on a neighbor’s PC.

The game’s hand-drawn animation and two-word typed commands seem crude now, but “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a fairy tale come to life,'” Melissinos says. He still gets goose bumps remembering hidden warp zones in the first Super Mario Brothers.

Now Melissinos is the guest curator of “The Art of Video Games,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that celebrates 40 years of the genre, from Pac-Man to Minecraft. The show will include video-game screen shots, videotaped interviews with game designers, vintage consoles from Melissinos’ personal collection (“I’m having a bit of separation anxiety,” he says) and several opportunities for visitors to seize the arcade joystick or PlayStation controls themselves.

While gamers tend towards elation when they see games receiving this type of critical attention, it’s important to recognize how impacts our overall relationship with games. Art Spiegelman talks frequently about the irony of turning comic books into exhibition pieces, for example. Though can the experiential quality of games ultimately mimic or otherwise complement the tactile experience of a museum? 

Check here for more information on the exhibit.

Yannick LeJacq

[via The Smithsonian Magazine]