Two years ago, Roger Ebert famously ranted that "video games can never be art." But today, video games seem to be receiving "recognition as a legitimate and significant form of art," says Chad Sapieha at Canada's Globe and Mail. The Smithsonian, the world's largest museum and research institution, has opened an exhibit at the American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., titled "The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect." With the Smithsonian on board, is the debate settled once and for all?
This settles it: Of course video games are art, says Kate Cox at Kotaku. And a visit to the museum proves it. The entire atmosphere of the American Art Museum, from the giant marble columns to the curious patrons, says: "This is the home of Serious Art." There's something "sacred about the space where over two centuries' worth of painting, sculpture, folk art, and more are displayed." And guess what: Seeing a "lovely and iconic" screenshot from Mass Effect 2 alongside those classic pieces just feels right.
"I played Myst at the museum: Visiting 'The Art of Video Games'"
But the exhibit doesn't make its case: "The Art of Video Games" is a "technologically impressive but intellectually inert exhibition," says Phillip Kennicott at The Washington Post. It would certainly make a worthwhile addition to a technology or history museum, but it has no business in an institution devoted to art. The exhibit "fails to grapple with questions about the definition and boundaries of art." Instead, displays about the evolution of graphics and interactivity focus too much on history and technical achievement. This is just another instance of a society that "would rather everything be art than anyone feel excluded from the realms of sanctified culture."
"In 'The Art of Video Games'"
Who knows? Art is so subjective: This exhibit is a boon to the "video games are art" cheerleaders, says Darren Franich at Entertainment Weekly, but "I've always thought it was pointless to argue" about this. After all, "art" may be the most loosely-defined word we have. A skilled athlete is described as an artist on the field. Virginia Woolf wrote about women who planned parties as a form of art. "Really, everyone could be called an 'artist.'"
"The Smithsonian will convince you that video games are art"