Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 25, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 25, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Close, but no 1-Up: A critique of the Smithsonian's "Art of Video Games" exhibit
by Eric Schwarz on 02/17/11 01:40:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Last week, it was announced that the Smithsonian Institution, a museum and research institute funded and maintained by the United States government, would be opening up voting for a new videogame-centric exhibit entitled “The Art of Video Games”.  Seemingly every gamer in touch with industry news rejoiced at this: finally, gaming was getting the respect it deserved, and from a highly official institution no less!  The implications of such a decision are actually pretty magnificent for the games industry.  While the Smithsonian is by no means the ultimate judge of a medium’s credibility, it does show an increased mainstream acceptance of videogames and a greater appreciation for the endless dedication and talent that go into their production.  Perhaps most importantly, it gives some genuine validation to the notion of games as an art form; while designers and thinkers have argued this for decades, to see a body acting in the interests of the general populace make such a claim is heart-warming for nearly every gamer and developer out there.

While the efforts of the Smithsonian are undoubtedly appreciated by gamers worldwide (and I am certainly one such gamer), after a closer look at the arrangement of the exhibit and the selection process for inaugurating new games, I found myself increasingly sceptical as to the validity of the exhibit.  Collected below are the core problem areas that I’ve identified for how this exhibit is being arranged, at least with the information that is publicly available.  I’d like to make it quite clear that the goal of this article isn’t to attack the individuals who are behind the Art of Video Games exhibit or the Smithsonian as a whole – I’m sure they’re all wonderfully smart, talented people, but I get the distinct sense that very few of them are gamers, and even if they are, they haven’t thought out the exhibit nearly enough.

Popularity = historical importance?

This is probably the most plainly visible problem with the way that the exhibit is arranged.  Rather than rely on a panel of experts, theorists, game critics, or their own intuition and research to select the games put on display in the Art of Video Games exhibit, instead, the Smithsonian has elected to put the decision on the shoulders of gamers, by fielding a vote on which games should be included.  To claim that popularity, even among gamers, is a good metric for determining the historical relevance and art value of a videogame, is simply short-sighted and naive.  While I’m not here to indict the personal tastes of mainstream audiences or any other group of gamers, the simple fact is that sales simply aren’t the only thing games can be or should be rated on.  Looking to votes as a guide for how to arrange the exhibit isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but to frame the process as effectively a popularity contest in the eyes of most gamers, and to use that as the defining metric for inclusion in the exhibit, is colossally insensitive to the individual games on display.

Adding to this problem is the fact that many games are placed in direct opposition with each other, despite them being both hugely influential and exceedingly important to gaming.  Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn and Fallout are both considered, rightly so, to be some of the best CRPGs ever developed, and set the standards for Western RPG gameplay and storytelling even decades after their release.  And yet, as a voter, I am supposed to put my vote into one or the other?  Both games are phenomenal, for different reasons; chances are the victor in such a vote won’t come down to which game truly deserves to win out (they both do), but simply which one has more fans.  It doesn’t help at all that they’re from the same, genre, of course, which brings me to...

Genre matters

While the Smithsonian have done a fairly admirable job of trying to categorise games based on platform and on genre, the actual categories provided are both far too broad and feature far too few games to make truly adequate selections.  One of the most nebulous of all of these categories is the “target genre”, which I take it the Smithsonian means is a combination of first-person shooter, flight simulator and generally any game which involves aiming, but then, based on their own inconsistency in including shooters in the category, I’m not sure the Smithsonian knows what it means either.  For instance, on the DOS/Windows platform, Doom II, Deus Ex and Unreal are all lumped together under the “action genre” category, yet on the Nintendo 64, Goldeneye 007 is listed as a “target genre”.  Why the inconsistency?

One of these is not like the other.

One of these is not like the other.

It doesn’t end there, either.  One of the most ridiculous examples of the shortcomings of the categories provided can be seen in the Smithsonian including Diablo II, a point-and-click action RPG, along with Star Wars: TIE Fighter, a science-fiction space combat simulation, together in that “target genre”.  Not only were these games released a full six years apart (a massive amount of time in videogame industry terms), but they come from two completely different genres with completely different gameplay standards.  Even the primary mode of interaction with the game is different, in a category which is supposed to be defined by that mode of interaction!  To say that this is a bit of a mess would be an understatement.

What era are you from?

No doubt for ease of understanding and to simplify the voting process, the Smithsonian have effectively categorised the history of videogames into five major eras.  While categorising games this way is in itself a bit haphazard, I do understand the intention.  However, once again the implementation is rather poor.  Put simply, games can’t be broken up into such discrete eras, especially in such a fast-moving industry.  There have been by most counts about seven major console generations so far, not counting some of the earliest gaming systems, and yet the Smithsonian have seen fit to break them down into just five.

Pause for a moment and consider: are games from 1993 really comparable to games from 2000, not just in terms of technology, but in sophistication of design, in game mechanics, or in narrative pacing and convention?  I think the only reasonable answer to that question is no, and yet the original PlayStation finds itself right next to the Dreamcast in the Smithsonian’s voting ladder.  Furthermore, why is there so much overlap between Era 3 and Era 4?  What is the major difference between an Era 3 game from 1994 and an Era 4 game from 1994, and why was this deemed a great enough reason to separate the two by something as drastic as an era?  Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it.

Arcade, arcade, where art thou?

Even though many gamers today are too young to so fondly remember arcades (in fact, I’m one of them), to underestimate the importance that arcades had on gaming’s development as an artistic medium and even as a language would be near-criminal.  Not only did arcade gaming by and large precede home gaming consoles, but it is responsible for forming some of our most fundamental notions of what videogames encompass, the basic building blocks that just about every game is made up of today.  Even if those conventions aren’t referred to in name, oftentimes mechanics can be traced back to their arcade roots.  Of course, I’m talking about things as important as extra lives, game over screens, power-ups, continues, bosses, side-scrolling, and too many other things to count.  The unique market conditions that determined arcade game development were responsible for these innovations, along with the technology that only arcade machines could provide.

The Atari version of Pac-man is not exactly the iconic version gamers know and love.  

The Atari version of Pac-man is not exactly the iconic version gamers know and love.

One of the most stunning examples of this can be seen in the Smithsonian’s casting of the Atari VCS version of Pac-man, considered not only to be largely inferior to the arcade classic in both visuals and audio, but also one of the worst adaptations of Pac-man ever.  Most gamers are intimately familiar with the original arcade version of the game, and to see it go inexplicably unmentioned in the Smithsonian’s voting process is, frankly, rather painful and even borderline offensive.  It displays an ignorance to gaming’s history that just shouldn’t be present what is an attempt at a definitive historical exhibit.

Bigger isn’t always better

This point is a little bit more esoteric and perhaps something that the Smithsonian isn’t directly accountable for, but I think it’s one of the most damaging flaws in the way that the Art of Video Games exhibit is arranged.  Marketing professionals have known for years that an easy way to sell a product is to attach a bigger number to it than its predecessor or competition.  The megahertz war in computer systems, the wattage war in speaker systems, the ever-increasing number of blades on shaving razors, the constant strain announcing that every sequel provides “more of what you love”... all of these examples are not the result of any truly inherent improvements in bigger numbers, but rather are an exploitation of a property that, for all intents and purposes, is inherent to humans.

Put simply, we always want more.  People are rarely satisfied, and when we are, often it’s only for a fleeting moment and we move on to other tasks centred around increasing our wealth, influence, happiness, etc.  Because of this, we’re also very easily duped by bigger numbers.  The implication of a larger number is always more, and that more is always better.  Gillette’s octo-bladed razors don’t sell because they provide a legitimately better shave than their cheaper two- or three-bladed razors, they sell because many people perceive the quality of the product to be better.  While many arguments can be made regarding the emotional benefits of the “feeling” these sorts of products provide, the simple fact is that in actuality, higher numbers don’t always mean that something is an improvement.

The divisions between these eras may be arbitrary, but the banner makes it appear otherwise.

The division between these areas may be arbitrary, but the banner makes it appear otherwise.

I mention all of this because the Smithsonian’s exhibit seems to be entirely centred around this arrangement.  The linear ordering of eras from 1 to 5, for example, suggests not only a very clear, predictable progression, but also that games from later eras are better than games from earlier eras.  Additionally, the numerical and progressive ordering of eras also suggests a clean, causal relationship which reads something like “and then this game led to this game, and this game led to...”, which, even in a highly iterative and even derivative field like videogames, simply isn’t the case.

Also concerning is that the same logic spills over to sequels.  Including both Fallout and Fallout 3 on this list, replete with screenshots which reveal little but visual improvements, suggests not only that Fallout 3 is a superior game to Fallout, but that Fallout 3 is a forward, linear improvement of Fallout... which, given the incredible differences in developers, game mechanics, camera perspectives, pacing, world design, narrative, problem-solving, quest design, and more, is obviously not really the case.  I don’t mean to suggest that my complaint here lies in that I think Fallout 3 is an inferior game to the original (although I do), but rather it’s all about what someone viewing the exhibit is going to take away from it.  Unless someone has had direct exposure to both games, or the Smithsonian provides very detailed write-ups and explanations of the differences between certain games, and ensures that these comprehensible by those attending the exhibit, chances are all but the most experienced gamers are going to walk away with a good degree of misinformation... and for an exhibit on a contemporary form of media where these problems can be much more ably remedied, there’s just no excuse.

What is this exhibit even for?

Once again, I want to stress my respect and appreciation for the work that the people at the Smithsonian are doing.  Considering that they are likely a fairly small team of people working to meet the needs of an entire industry, while at the same time perhaps not even possessing much background in videogames (I can’t say for sure), I think they’ve done a pretty good job so far.  But one major issue remains that I haven’t touched on directly yet, and that is, what is the purpose of this Art of Video Games exhibit?

Let me break things down a little bit more, here.  The Smithsonian website states that the Art of Video Games is to “explore the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects, the creative use of new technologies, and the most influential artists and designers”.  Sounds good on paper, but what does it mean?

First off, there’s a very strong emphasis on visuals above all else.  While aesthetics in gaming are an extremely important thing, and no doubt the exhibit should stress in particular the technological constrains on art direction and design, at the same time this isn’t really fair to games as an artistic medium.  As a government-sanctioned institution, the Smithsonian should work to be open to all interpretations of art and media, and I have no doubt that they work hard to do this for other forms of expression such as film and sculpture.  Any reasonable art historian will argue that aesthetics are only a single component in understanding the importance of art, and the same credibility should be given to videogames.

The Smithsonian do seem to try to compensate for this by adding on the bit about “designers”, but who are they talking about here?  Art designers and design?  Game designers?  Project directors?  Sound engineers?  Foley artists?  Programmers?  Game development is such a multi-disciplinary field, and includes so many distinct talents and individuals, that it’s simply unacceptable to try to encompass all of these things by using an ambiguous word like “designers”.  “Design” itself is also mentioned, along with “innovation”, but similar problems arise: are we talking about visual design, sound design, original game mechanics, well-made game mechanics, novelty, or storytelling?  The juxtaposition of the word with a stress on aesthetics also suggests that they are even using the word as a synonym for artist, which again shows a lack of appreciation for the specifics of the videogame world.

Judging by the sorts of games that the Smithsonian includes on their list, they seem to be remarkably inconsistent... on the one hand, their official statement stresses visual splendour, with only a passing mention of design, and yet on the other hand most of the games on their voting list seem to be there for their excellence in design, storytelling and game mechanics more than anything else.  If I was going to focus on games with phenomenal art direction, I sure wouldn’t include Deus Ex or The Typing of the Dead on that list.  This lack of consistency really suggests to me that the Smithsonian just aren’t sure precisely what the purpose of their own exhibit is, and that is a real shame considering the symbolic, cultural and academic importance of the institution.

Room for improvement 

In light of all these somewhat scathing complaints, I do want to mention that there is plenty of time left for the Smithsonian to amend their arrangement of the Art of Video Games exhibit.  Hiring on more consultants for the historical and factual validity of their exhibit would be a great start, as would ensuring that the votes of mass audiences are a less central component to the selection process.  Many of the additional problems could also be solved by getting rid of some of the more nebulous and ill-defined genre and era categories, and replacing them with in-depth write-ups detailing how certain games are artistically important, and for what reasons they have been honoured by their inclusion in the exhibit.  As it stands now, though, the Art of Video Games is a nice gesture with poor execution backing it up; as someone who loves videogames, I’d too love to see them acknowledged in a manner that truly befits them.

Originally posted at Critical Miss

Related Jobs

Digital Extremes
Digital Extremes — London, Ontario, Canada

Sound Designer
Disruptor Beam, Inc.
Disruptor Beam, Inc. — Framingham, Massachusetts, United States

Lead 3D Artist
Red 5 Studios
Red 5 Studios — Orange County, California, United States

Graphics Programmer
Red 5 Studios
Red 5 Studios — Orange County, California, United States

Gameplay Programmer


Joel S
profile image
Yeah I was just linked to this exhibition voting page yesterday. Firstly I found it odd that I had something like 75 votes - I could vote on almost everything there it seemed.

Good catch on the pac-man thing. I would have voted on Pac-Man without considering the version provided, maybe they could revise which version of pac-man they use, and still take votes for pac-man.

Also, about the generation thing. When I saw the sections, I wondered why I hadn't ever heard of these 'generations' before, it was weird. I guess they just made them up.

Dustin Chertoff
profile image
I'd much rather that they let developers/designers, media historians, anthropologists, etc. have a greater say in the exhibits. Popular opinion is useful, but should only account for like 1/5 of the score.

Call of Duty: Black Ops might have sold a bazillion copies, but it's impact on the FPS genre is minimal. It is a highly derivative game that did nothing to break new ground, from either a visual or gameplay perspective. So yeah, I agree with you - they need a far more structured way to rate which games deserve a storied place in the history of gaming, because without it... well, let's not go there.

Sebastion Williams
profile image
It's a start. For those of us from the States, we have Columbus Day to celebrate a guy who got lost on his way to India. Someone once said any publicity is good publicity and I think that the effort is grand, considering that we still have to counter the knuckleheads convinced that video games will end civilization as we know it.

I couldn't agree more about the limited selections, the confusing genres and overall sloppiness of the presentation. Think of it as a first draft.

Kim Pallister
profile image
Some clarification might help.

More info here:

There is a list of industry experts that make up the board that helped define the initial list. Think of this as the input into the voting pool. [Disclosure: I'm on the advisory board]

The voting is one set of inputs, but not the only one.

No one is 100% happy with the way the games were categorized, but then this always the case. The medium has such a rich history, it's very hard to reduce it down to a small number, and any choice of classification makes some kind of compromise. In the end Chris chose one that the public will be able to parse reasonably easily.

Personally, I'm satisfied that the games include some key titles from each "era", and that the board made the choice to include personal computers alongside game consoles, to juxtapose development on open, organic platforms alongside development within 'walled gardens'.

Eric Schwarz
profile image
Thanks for your reply! I think, more than anything, the problem is the way in which the information has been presented, both by the official web site and by the games journalism sphere. Relaying it as effective a "vote for your favourite games" event is simply the wrong approach; because of the gaming community's tendency to focus more on popularity of various game franchises and less on artistic integrity, I think additional, more visible clarification would go a long way in helping to steer people's voting in the right direction. Furthermore, making it clear that voting is only one way of collecting data out of many would go a long ways towards putting my mind at ease.

Chris Melissinos
profile image
I want to thank you for the considerable time and effort you put into the dissection of the exhibition. However, as the curator, I would have been happy to clarify many of the questions you had. Tomorrow, we will be placing an FAQ on the voting website that will better explain the intent of the exhibition. Unfortunately, we can't fully reveal how things will be arranged in the exhibition because, well, we don't want to give it all away. Suffice to say that this exhibition will not be about hanging pretty pictures on a wall with a 5" placard beneath it. The goals are much more ambitious than that.

With that, allow me to offer some clarity here.

Q: What is The Art of Video Games exhibition about?

A: The goal of the exhibition is to demonstrate the evolution of the form, through the lens of four genres, anchored by twenty systems over forty years. Through the narrative that has been developed, we will be able to demonstrate how social reflection, technological advancement, storytelling, and authoritative voice emerge in the environments while still staying true to the core mechanics of the defined genre.

Q: What is the exhibition NOT about?

A: The exhibition is not about the most popular games of all time, nor is it about the individual games themselves. The games in the exhibition are there to serve the greater narrative which will linearly demonstrate the evolution of the art of making games, the art within them, and the messages they contain.

This is not a historical exhibition that is seeking to capture every memorable moment in video game history, which would be a near impossible task.

Q: Where are the arcade games, handhelds, and system XYZ? How could you not include these?

A: The choice of systems ultimately fell to the decision of the curator as we were limited to selecting only 20 systems through which we could deliver our narrative. The decision to select the 20 systems in the voting process was not taken lightly (Curator note: having to cut the Apple II and the TG-16 was particularly painful for me!).

There were many things that we had to take into consideration when the platforms were selected, including space and the amount of time that the patrons of the museum would have to dedicate to the exhibition to experience then entire narrative. As it stands, with 20 systems, we believe there will be more than two hours of unique content that museum patrons will have the opportunity to observe.

We felt that these 20 systems best represented the significant markers for the eras described, by the widest audiences in those eras.

Q: Your genres seem odd. Where are the RPG, Fighting, Racing, MMOG, etc. genres?

A: We needed to limit the genres to four for many reasons. Space, clarity, narrative, etc. all played into this decision. As a result, the genres are general “umbrella” classifications so that we could capture as many games that we felt were important in those broad genres. The games in the sub-genres can be found thought the classifications.

Q: How could you leave out my favorite games?

A: The simple answer is, there will always be games that people love that won’t appear in the list. Ico, Planescape: Torment, Yoshi’s Island, etc. are all fantastic games but, in the end, just didn’t make it into the list.

Remember, this is not a historical or complete exhibition on the history of video games. This is an art exhibition that examines the evolution of the form over time. As a result, this means the narrative outweighs any one particular game or fan favorite.

This also helps to draw a better understanding of the issues that face curators. Choosing which pieces to include in an exhibition is often as painful, if not more so, than what pieces get left out in service of the exhibition goals.

Q: What was the criteria for the games that were selected?

A: The criteria for the games chosen were at the discretion of the curator. The games selected had to fit into the evolutionary narrative that was described. As the list of game would ultimately be limited, decisions were made based on the curator’s experience, observance and input from members of the advisory group.

No games were chosen randomly and every game has points that tease out in service of the evolutionary narrative.

One more final point, with regard to the voting.

I felt that the exhibition needed to, in some way, involve the public. This is a medium that many of us have invested our lives, careers, and experiences in. However, an open vote for games DOES become an unguided vanity vote. It would have been much easier for me (and a LOT less work) to decide on the 80 I wanted in the exhibition, never revealed them and launched the exhibition. That is not what I wanted.

So, I decided to pick games that would achieve the objectives we needed, and worthy of, the narrative and put those up to a vote. Any combination of the games selected still allows me to achieve the intended result. In a way, this is very much the same mechanic that is used in plot driven games: the player can move laterally through the experience and make it unique to them, have resonance, while still arriving at the conclusion the author wants.

Again, thanks for your thoughtful blog post. If you have any further questions, pleas reach me at

Chris Melissinos

P.S. Hey Kim!

Eric Schwarz
profile image
I'm actually quite appreciative, and a little bit flattered, that you took the time to both read and reply to my article; I certainly didn't expect any commentary direct from the source, as it were.

I retract none of my objections, but in light of your statement I'm also convinced that the exhibit has been managed thoughtfully. One thing that may not have come through clearly was that my aim in this article wasn't to mock, or tear apart, or otherwise suggest that the exhibit was being put together in a wholly slapdash manner. I think in the future it may be important to have a clearer goal in mind for your exhibit (I still think the relatively vague use of terms like design and art needs to be remedied), but knowing the limitations of the project I understand that your decisions weren't undertaken lightly.

In any case, your insight is very much appreciated, and thanks for the clarification.

Chuan Lim
profile image

Please don't ride roughshod over what people are saying as commenters obvioulsly care enough to write detailed responses and make suggestions. The history and culture of videogames is bigger than any one person [ or 10 for that matter ] and I think it would help if a more rigorous effort was made to document them. I usually pay attention to what Clint Hocking and Raph Koster have to say on game design however can't but help feel they dropped the ball here; or were simply too caught up in other duties to have better input. Of course the choice of exhibits and lines of enquiry is part of the creative role of a curator and a degree of subjectivity often stimulates events such as "Documenta" and the "Venice Biennale". All the same though, I went to vote and ended up here concerned that any books or reference materials coming out of the "Art of Video Games" might be quite off the mark. Actually doing a disservice to the original creators to find that their work has been mis-represented, mis-credited, or worse still absent.

A great reference for starters is Tristan Donovan's "Replay : A History of Video Games". It's a superbly written and researched book with an extensive 'Gameography' section at the back usefully listing games by genre and date. Other recent retrospectives, such as the Barbican's "Game On" which was put together with the help of Henry Lowood at Stanford University have been good populist attempts to represent game culture though barely scraping on vital ideas of aesthetics and design. As somebody who has played video games since 1981 and watched developments evolve emulators are helping to preserve some of these creations though we are collectively losing an idea of the context of their creation; due to a lack of materials and effort to document these things properly over the last 25 years.

Going through the voting process felt uncomfortable because not only are major influences and turning points missing, but over half of the games on offer are ports from their original incarnations. Context is so important because of both [1] the hardware, development tools & environment that creators were familiar with in coming up with designs, as well as [2] the historical context of other games and precedents that were on the platforms at the time. To suggest that game aesthetics can be divorced from the site of their development is perhaps being selectively myopic and the rationale for 'audience familiarity' is weak. I suppose this is the sort of short-handing of history which still erroneously teaches kids in schools that Edison invented the light bulb when a little digging clearly shows US political and commercial forces were at work at the time; with Joseph Swan being the original creator and holder of the patent in the UK almost a year earlier.


A more discriminating curated approach could also yield interesting observations: such as tracing the development of polygon 3D character-based video games. Christophe De Dinechin's work on the Atari ST "Alpha Waves" is a fantastic read [ on his own personal blog ] and the fact that Frederic Reynal's port of that game to the PC would later give him the technical know-how and ideas for conceiving "Alone in the Dark" is just one of many rich development stories that a Mobygames search will not yield. Taking inspiration, Shinji Mikami at Capcom would then create "Resident Evil" on the PSX many years later and fuse it with film-like camera viewpoints & framing aesthetic that carries through to the blockbusters of today. Job descriptions on Mobygames do not tell the full story either, as your credits for "Dune 2" leave out Brett Sperry the co-founder of Westwood who was hugely responsible for the conception of the modern day RTS system of control & interface with mouse and keyboard. Yet his formal credit is as a producer. Game development has alot of those fuzzy areas where roles overlap and I imagine it would be quite disheartening not to be recognised for your efforts simply because the research was lacking.

Going a bit further back, the arcades and the coin-op era are important too because it was the first time that video games were shaped into a time-limited form. The challenge implied by their purpose [ to make money for operators ] had a deep and profound influence emphasising linearity instead of breadth. A philosophy which current game makers are struggling to unshackle today. Early home computers such as the Apple ][, BBC micro and ZX Spectrum were the site of some of the first games which expanded upon the idea of game space extended beyond the screen: through the use of simple 3D lines of perspective in Sublogic's "Flight Simulator", the underground dungeon sections of "Wizardry" and "Aklabeth". This is arguably gaming's equivalent of the Italian rennaissance! They took the conceptual mental spaces of earlier MIT developed PDP-11 "Colossal Cave Adventure" and Infocom text adventures and attempted to represent them visually for the first time.

And who can forget being transfixed by Braben & Bell's "Elite", with its procedural simulation of an entire galaxy and economy. Another seminal game that has, and continues to inspire a generation of practitioners in the current industry. So much so, that the original design direction for "Grand Theft Auto" was actually an attempt to replicate some of that magnificent sense of wonder and exploratory gameplay in an urban setting. Not to mention amazing early experiments into multi-media such as Mel Croucher's audacious "Deus Ex Machina" which paired video games and an audio cassette containing the narrative that you would listen to while playing. On a purely visual level, the game is also unmatched in it's idiosyncracies and could find parallels to Cactus' output.

They are kind of precursors to Sega CD's "Night Trap" or the CD-ROM based "Seventh Guest" in how the shape and emphasis of storytelling has evolved; and early starting points for core issues that Bioware and Bethesda grapple with today in terms of agency. The Amiga 500 / 1000 too was another hotbed of bedroom creativity and saw many innovations in game aesthetics. Arguably some of those ideas such as the multi-facted aspects of Mike Singleton's "Midwinter" have still yet to be realised in their full potential and will be relevant to the future decade of networked and connected games. So as you can see, there's a wealth of material to tease out if one thinks about game aesthetics beyond just visual representation. In fact, games are the aesthetics of experience and I hazard that the end of this current console generation will see a return to this thinking. The race for fidelity is just a 'bubble' within a wider context of creating systems for player computer interaction with Chris Crawford's "Siboot" and Mateas & Stern's "Façade" landmark games for the conversation yet to be.


Just as you wouldn't represent the history of American folk music without the presence of Robert Johnson and slap in Lil Wayne as being a 'more up to date' version. Just because he happens to come from the same neck of the woods, and use the same 12-bar song structure, and the fact that there are only two existing photos of him in existence and it doesn't present well. I'd urge the Smithsonian to make the extra efforts to rise beyond a rote understanding of "Wolfenstein / Doom = 3D gaming" and delve into the details. For that's where the fount of ideas comes from. If anything, the public and other games creators might benefit from such an endeavour. All ears, eyes + mind.


-- Chuan

[ Twitter: chuan_l ]

John Mawhorter
profile image
Do you recommend any books other than Tristan Donovan's? You seem to know a bit more about game history than I do...

Eric Schwarz
profile image
I'd just like to thank you for your brilliantly insightful comment; you captured some of my complaints and extended upon them in a way that I, frankly, didn't have the insight to do at the time of writing. As someone who has only been involved with gaming since about the mid-90s, it's quite enlightening to gain a better sense of the context surrounding all of the ideas that we now take for granted today. The people behind games have always been the unsung heroes and artists, and many simply don't get the credit they deserve for their contributions to the industry. I fully agree that a more analytical approach to the history of videogames is necessary to establish a foothold for a truly comprehensive understanding of the medium and its development.

John Mawhorter
profile image
I remain fully convinced that there isn't an established field of criticism and history as it relates to video games. I really think it's wide open for people to establish themselves as experts. I see that there are about two or three history of videogames books and I wouldn't trust any of them to be comprehensive and when I see exhibits like this put on I wonder where the true historians are...

Chuan Lim
profile image

Well the origins of the word 'history' itself implies a kind of fitness function, and that's another interesting digression to do with collective knowledge + subjectivity. Some things survive, we learn from them, and roll that into our own experience of the world. Now, the main problem with having such experts and the current vogue for 'games studies' is that its primarily a field of people whose specialisation is writing, research and synthesis -> as applied to gaming; and not the other way around. So documentation is important and the more low level, the better so we're less reliant on interpretation for our understanding.


Fortunately, there are pockets of amateur / old greek for: "of the heart" historians out there yet being the efforts of individuals this information is likely to be progressively lost or over-written in the fullness of time. Just look at the near erasure of GeoCities and it's rich collective memory for the most mundane of reasons. Nothing is forever, and philosophically nothing should be. However one hopes that moving through time we can propagate ideas from the aesthetic experience of games that resonate deeply.

Op shit:

James Hague's "Halcyon Days"

Retro Gamer Magazine -> interviews

Hardcore 101

Various 8-bit emulators though simulating context of players'

headspace is problematic. Player loop is important.


-- Chuan

Kim Pallister
profile image
@John: While you are right that there's a lot of room for more study and critique here, there are a number of good books to reference:

1) Steven Levy's Hackers: It's a book about the hacker ethos, but two of the time periods covered, early days at MIT computer lab and the dawn of the PC, both focus on computer game development in those periods. (the former looking at the development of Spacewar, and the latter at early days at Sierra and the like).

2) Ian Bogost's Racing the Beam: I loved the premise of this 'platform series', that the HW affects the design, and therefore the medium as a whole, for gaming. In this first book, he examines the Atari 2600 and games developed on it. Very focused piece of history but a great ready.