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Video games become art with Smithsonian exhibit

Friday, March 23, 2012

McClatchy Newspapers


Chris Melissinos, 42, fondly remembers his first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, on which he played “Pong” (the 1970s game based on table tennis).

Melissinos is the guest curator of “The Art of Video Games,” a new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. He now works for VeriSign but, at one point, he was the chief gaming officer at Sun Microsystems.

Born April 2, 1970, he is part of a generation he’s dubbed “bit babies ... the first kids that grew up with computers in the homes.”

The exhibit, which opened March 16, took three years to prepare. Melissinos has lent many of his games and he wryly admits that he hadn’t realized that meant he won’t be playing any of them for a number of years to come. He and his three children play games almost daily.

The exhibit’s introductory plaque gives his personal story:

“Learning to program that little machine opened up a fascinating world and a love for science, storytelling and art. The short, though prolific, 40-year history of video games offers some of the deepest personal and globally connecting experiences in human history.”

Museum Director Elizabeth Broun says that this exhibit stemmed from an early 2009 conference, Smithsonian 2.0, that drew participants from across the technology industries — “the 20- and 30-somethings that were on the cutting edge of what’s new.”

Her take on video games, “They first burst onto the scene as entertainment, they’ve now moved into every aspect of our lives. They’re being used in simulations and training in the military, education in the classroom, medical imaging many different ways. ”

The museum invited the public to vote on different games to be exhibited. Broun says, “In five weeks, 119,000 people gave us their email addresses for the privilege of voting.” There were 3.5 million votes and “the votes came from 175 countries.” 80 games were chosen.

Five different playable games include the 1990 “The Secret of Monkey Island” from LucasArts and the classic Pac-Man from the 1970s. Other examples on display are “Final Fantasy VII,” “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” and “Space Invaders.”

“The Art of Video Games” will be on display through Sept 30. Go to