Maybe videogames are art, and maybe that’s a conversation that somebody somewhere still actually wants to take part in here in the waning days of 2013. If so, the Smithsonian American Art Museum would have his or her back. The museum has added two recent games to their permanent collection: Flower, by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany, and Ed Fries’ Halo 2600.
Both games are part of the Smithsonian’s The Art of Video Games exhibit, which opened in March 2012 and is currently touring other venues throughout America. They’re the first games to join the museum’s permanent collection, sidling up alongside classic works of American art by Georgia O’Keeffe, Romare Bearden, Willem de Kooning and others.
Flower received great acclaim when it was released for the PlayStation 3 in 2009, and was just rereleased as a launch title for the PlayStation 4. Paste recently called it the fifth best game for the PS3, after such masterful works of art as The Dragon Sword Game That Hates You and Wisecracking Gymnast Murders A Thousand Men 2: Among Thieves. Halo 2600 adapts Microsoft’s popular Halo series for the Atari 2600, and was one of the first prominent efforts at “devolving” a game for older hardware with significant technical limitations.
The Smithsonian is serious about recognizing and preserving videogames. As Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, says in the museum’s press release, “the best videogames are a great expression of art and culture in our democracy.”
“Videogames represent a vast, diverse and rapidly evolving new genre that is crucial to our understanding of the American story,” adds Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media arts. “By bringing these games into a public collection, the museum has the opportunity to investigate both the material science of videogame components and develop best practices for the digital preservation of the source code for the games themselves.”
If you can’t make it to DC anytime soon, The Art of Video Games exhibit continues its national tour into 2016. The schedule can be found here. You can watch Paste’s interview with Flower designer Jenova Chen here.