The Smithsonian recently opened an exhibit devoted to the art of video games. The featured games were chosen by popular vote from a list of 240 and narrowed down to 80. The final list demonstrates some of the problems with a popular vote when trying to determine what is “good” art.
Some Odd Choices
- Earthworm Jim was selected for Era 3 “Bitwars!” as one of the platform alternatives to obvious choices like Super Mario. Earthworm Jim is a good game, but I think Rayman would have been a much better choice. Rayman spawned many successful titles including the retro style Rayman: Origins, as well as spinning off the Rabbids series. It’s a rough contemperary of “Jim”, but with a much broader mass market appeal (not really violent, and downright silly). Both have a very quirky artistic style to their main characters and level design, but again I think Rayman’s legacy had a much more significant impact.
- Doom was put up against games like Deus Ex and Unreal. I’m curious as to how many of the people who voted for Doom actually have played it. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, and it did revolutionize FPS gaming (though I think Quake had a much bigger and more lasting impact), but it’s a weird line-up. There is a 7 year gap between Deus Ex and Doom (which in the gaming world is gaping). Deus Ex is a complex FPS RPG with moral choices set in a Blade Runner / Matrix / Ghost In The Shell style future. Doom involves battling demons from hell. Maybe both should be in the exhibit, but they never should be lumped into the same class of games. And if I had to pick one, it would be Deus Ex, not only because of the reasons previously stated, but also its incorporation of literature and complex writing.
- Halo 2. Yes it’s better technically than Halo but it doesn’t take place on Halo! Why show the sequel when the original is a classic!
- SimCity and SimCity 2000. Personally I think these games are like economics homework, but even if you like them, pick one!
I think the problem with the popular vote is it completely neglected “cult” or critically acclaimed games. Just as in movies, what is popular and makes a lot of money is not always the best. But even some very popular choices don’t seem to have even been considered.
- American McGee’s Alice – Yes he’s already in the exhibit for Doom, but Alice is a fascinating and somewhat twisted take on Alice In Wonderland. Alice has been in a mental hospital for years after her parents die in a fire, then returns to Wonderland as a teenager to attempt to regain her sanity. Wonderland has been twisted to reflect her own inner turmoil and I think provides a much deeper interpretation of the story than the Disney version. Some of the level design is outright spooky or bizarre (and it’s a tough game even on easy), but it’s a wild ride.
- Anachronox – I’ve been playing this one a lot recently and while I don’t think it stacks up to Deus Ex, this is a very under-appreciated title. Despite it’s age the levels are engrossing, creating a world on the inside of a sphere where people walk on the walls and the ceilings. And that’s just the first planet. I like games of this era because they create massive levels rather than focusing just on how detailed each area is. The years following saw levels shrinking, and it would take another couple of years to get back to the expansive spaces. The humor, the level design, and the intricate plot, make this a game worth more study (and HD remake?).
- Max Payne – Despite the horrible movie of the same title, the game is like playing a classic action movie, complete with bullet time and pithy one-liners. What really sets this game apart is the tone, taking place on a cold winter’s night, haunting music in the background, and cut-scenes told in graphic novel fashion. The sequel is equally fascinating and only expands on the first (haven’t played the 3rd game but a little dubious). I also enjoy some of the meta humor, the stories within the game that parallel the action, and the occassional asides to the video game form.
What I Liked
I am pleased to see MYST and Monkey Island as two of the playable games (not selected by populat vote). I also like that the exhibit did span the history of gaming and not just the modern era of better graphics (though I think they may have over emphasized the past). Fallout and Starcraft are obvious but excellent choices, as is Final Fantasy VII (terrible 3D but wonderful matte paintings in the background).
How about you? What games or line-ups do you think were odd choices? What would you add to the list?