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Chris Melissinos

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11 Most Beautiful Video Games Ever

Posted: 03/16/2012 7:15 am

Video games gave been a ever present fixture in my life, for as long as I can remember. Seeing the first radiant glow from Pong paddles that illuminated my family's 20" black and white television connected in me the notion that something bigger than myself was happening. There was a world behind the glass. One that I could see, but not touch.

As technology marched on and I was granted access to ever more powerful computers; from the TRS-80 Model III in our public school to our family finally acquiring a Commodore VIC-20, I was completely held in the phosphorous gaze of a digital world staring back at me. And I, willingly, poured myself into the system, seeking to discover its secrets and having it reveal to me the possibilities that digital worlds have for reflecting the desires of their authors.

For many of the kids that grew up in the 1970's, the "Bit Baby" generation, we were the first in society to bring computers into the home while we were still children. The discovery of computers, through video games, opened up a world of expression that no prior generation had experienced before. It was the dawn of a new era in art and story telling that would forever change, and challenge, traditional forms of art. Video games are portals into new realms, possibility spaces that sit beyond our own where narrative, art, social reflection, and ambiguity radiate and we are left to discern, through our own moral compass, the resultant experience. No other form of art has the ability to provide such a wide swath of experience or opportunity to reach the mass population in a meaningful way.

The Art of Video Games exhibition, opening on March 16, 2012 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, will explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, paying particular attention to the striking and varied visual aspect of the games, while highlighting the persistence of game mechanics that remain constant from generation to generation. We demonstrate this evolution of the art form through eighty games, which were decided upon with assistance from the game playing public, across four genres, on twenty different systems that had a significant impact on American culture.

The Art of Video Games: From Pac Man to Mass Effect (Welcome Books, $40) is the companion book that highlights these eighty games and expands on the annotation that is found in the exhibition. Interspersed throughout the book are fifteen interviews with some of the video game community's most inspiring innovators and artists. From Nolan Bushnell to Tim Schafer, these luminaries discuss their philosophy, their passion for creating games, and their hope for the future of video games.

Within its pages, we present the messaging and intent of the authors and designers along with my personal dissection of each game and its impact on American culture and audiences. I hope that you have as much fun reliving the art history of video games in America as I have had in assembling this book.

Pitfall
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While the majority of video games had plenty of straightforward action in them, a scant few could demonstrate a full world setting. Apart from text based adventures, which ran on expensive home computers at the time and relied on narrative over visuals, adventure games were almost non existent. Pitfall was the first home video game to establish the mechanical language that all action adventures, to this day, employ. Bolstered by the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pitfall set players in a jungle setting that communicated to the player how to engage it. Coupled with the first realistically animated humanoid figure on screen, Pitfall transported us from the shag carpet of the family den to a distant jungle adventure where danger and reward awaited us around every corner.
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All images courtesy of The Smithsonian