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Screen Test

What can you say about an art exhibition that isn’t sure it’s art?

Jun 18, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 38 • By SONNY BUNCH
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The narration that accompanies the game clips we are shown is frequently banal and inadequate. PlayStation’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is described as the first “postmodern” game, but little consideration is given to what that actually means. Postmodern in what sense? As someone who has read about the game but not played it, I have an idea of what they’re getting at—but only a slight one. The uninitiated would be lost.

Elsewhere, obvious opportunities to describe the artistic nature of video games are simply missed. Consider BioShock. Influenced by (and deftly critiquing) the work of Ayn Rand, and modeled on Art Deco, the underwater world of BioShock is fascinating and beautiful. The game toys with expectations of storytelling and, more intriguingly, with well-defined notions of player perspective and point of view. The old debate between fate and free will is, against all odds, addressed in a novel (though rudimentary) way. If video games are art, then BioShock is at the bleeding edge of this movement.

Yet you wouldn’t have any idea that’s the case from the game’s treatment here. Instead, we’re given little more than an advertisement that the production company might have shown on television. There is no depth or exploration. It’s all skin-deep. 

Finally, there’s the question of misclassification. A fair number of the subjects in this exhibit are Japanese; yet this is, after all, the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Would it make sense to show Rashomon in an exhibition of postwar American cinema? Of course not. Then why are the Metal Gear Solid series, Pikmin 2, the Zelda games, the Mario games, and so on, included here? I am nitpicking, but it’s emblematic of a larger problem, namely the lack of thought that went into this venture. There’s a case to be made for video games as an art form, but this exhibit simply doesn’t make it.

Sonny Bunch is managing editor of the Washington Free Beacon.

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