VGA curator lectures on video games, art, and their intersection

A large crowd of students and community members gathered in Morrill Hall to hear Chaz Evans lecture on Wednesday. 


Since coming into existence in the 1970s, video games have evolved in how they are consumed and viewed in the public eye. Last Wednesday, University Museums hosted Chaz Evans, curator at the Video Game Art Gallery in Chicago. Evans spoke on the evolution of how society consumes video games and the video games as an art form.

Evans began with an anecdote from television personality Stephen Colbert, who was introducing a game designer who was to be on his show.

“Colbert welcomed the guest and said that they were a game designer, and then summarized his feelings by saying ‘I saw a very similar exhibition at Chuck E. Cheese’s,'” Evans said.

In the late 1970s, video games were primarily put in arcade cabinets and placed in a public space. With the opening and combination of arcade restaurants such as Chuck E. Cheese’s and Showbiz Pizza, gaming was based around a social, interactive atmosphere.

“It has a social mandate built into the form factor,” Evans said.

This social gaming environment moved into domestic spaces with the release of the Nintendo 64 game console and games like Super Smash Bros. Gaming moved from a larger public sphere to a social space within the domestic space, giving way to “across-the-couch” gaming. As personal computers developed, games became more text-based and individualized.

“You can play with your friends,” said Evans. “But interactions are increasingly over telecoms rather than ‘across-the-couch’. As we get more sophisticated, we get less social.”

In the modern world of gaming, the social aspect is being reintroduced. Thousands of people travel internationally to participate in video game competitions and conventions. Another rising social video game concept is that of video game bars, combining vintage gaming and micro-brewed beer. These video game bars have opened in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Chicago, along with other cities, and create a new way for people to enjoy video games and social interaction in a public space.

“We no longer want to game alone in our houses,” Evans said.

Evans also spoke about the acceptance of video games in the art world, and the different challenges faced by curators, designers, and industry professionals. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City displayed video games during an exhibition, but took away the games’ distinctive consoles to take away the nostalgia of the games.

All the games in the GAME ART vs. ART GAME exhibit are independent games. Independent or art games are defined as small groups or companies creating games with a low production budget. Evans describe the distinction between “game art” and “art game”. “Game art” refers to 2-D images extracted from a video game, while “art game” describes the immersive experience a player engages in when they play the game.

Many independent games provide some form of social commentary. One game, entitled “Sunset”, takes place in a war-torn society, and the main character is a woman of color who is a housekeeper for a wealthy family. As the woman cleans the house, the player learns more about the society she lives in by the objects in the house.

After the lecture, attendees were invited to come to the GAME ART vs. ART GAME exhibit for a Game Night. GAME ART vs. ART GAME is located in the Christian Petersen Art Museum in Morrill Hall, and will remain open until the end of the semester.