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More Than the Art of Video Games

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This week, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will launch The Art of Video Games exhibit exploring the forty-year evolution of video games. The exhibition showcases some of the industry's most artistically compelling games, as well as the gaming systems that have brought these games to life for players of all ages. The exhibit will also feature some of the most influential artists and designers of game technology, from early pioneers like David Theurer to contemporary designers like Jenova Chen.

This exhibit will completely change the way many conceptualize video games; not just as a form of entertainment, but as an artistic medium with unique storytelling capabilities. Unlike a movie or painting, which is actively created by the director or artist but passively viewed by the consumer, video games are a truly interactive medium that invite hands-on participation from the audience. Players share responsibility for telling the game's story, and their level of immersion is not attainable by any other art form.

Of course, gamers have always recognized the artistic value inherent in video games, as well as the influence games have on other art forms, such as filmmaking. But with this exhibit, non-gamers will experience the elements that make video games such an innovative and interactive art form. As Justice Scalia wrote: "[V]ideo games communicate ideas -- and even social messages -- through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player's interaction with the virtual world)." Viewed through this lens, video games -- like the books and movies that came before them -- are simply another way to draw you into a story.

In addition to showcasing the artistic elements that make video games so compelling and bringing broader exposure to the world of video games, The Art of Video Games also underscores the important technological and graphic achievements that are driving the industry forward. Many Americans recognize that video games are technologically-sophisticated, but may not be aware of the extraordinary amount of research, design, and development that are required to bring a video game from idea to actuality. Unfortunately, these skills, which can only be acquired with advanced education and training, are underrepresented in today's workforce.

In response to the industry's growing need for science, technology, engineering, and math-educated workers, more and more educational institutions across the country are providing young people with advanced training in computer and video game engineering and design. During the 2011-2012 academic year, more than 340 American colleges, universities, and technical schools will offer programs and courses in video game design, programming, and developing. These programs, in turn, will produce applicants who are well-prepared to thrive in a high-growth industry where the average compensation for employees is $90,000.

With this knowledge in mind, The Art of Video Games is so much more than a celebration of the medium's artistic merit -- it is an inspiration for those who want to be directly involved with this high-growth industry. Just as players actively participate in telling a game's story, video game researchers, designers, engineers, and developers play a critical role in driving the industry's narrative forward. The continued evolution of games depends on the next generation of innovators -- those who will drive the development of new software, hardware, and other tools that are necessary to create the next great game.

I believe the Smithsonian's exhibit will inspire a new generation of gamers from among the young people who come to see it. And that they will advance the technological, graphic, and artistic vision for the next generation. Video games have embedded themselves into our culture. And the future of the industry depends on the innovators who are drawn to it -- a reality The Art of Video Games vividly illustrates by showing the evolution of video games over time. Everyone will find something to appreciate in this exhibit -- including the non-gamers who just want a glimpse into the dynamic, cutting-edge world that gamers have lived in for years.