Video games and art intertwine in “Game Art vs. Art Game”

A museum visitor plays “Witness”, one of the many games included in the “Game Art vs. Art Game” exhibit in the Petersen Art Museum.

Melanie.Van Horn.Com

Many college students view video games as a recreational activity to do when relaxing with friends. When they think of a piece of art, they might think of a two-dimensional painting hanging on a wall for someone to view. But at the Christian Petersen Art Museum, a new exhibit titled “Game Art vs. Art Game” challenges viewers to consider if video games can be considered art as well.

“[The exhibit] makes us ask ourselves ‘What is art?’ These games have qualities, aesthetics and thought put into their design, and they’re worthy of being considered fine art,” said Nancy Gebhart, educator of visual literacy and learning for University Museums and curator of the exhibit.

Gebhart said the exhibit, consisting of multiple independent art games, draws different audiences and perspectives on the work. Some viewers are intimidated by the medium, and are more comfortable by analyzing the work from a distance. Some are more interested in critiquing the game on a technical level or discussing the meaning of the game rather than playing it, but Gebhart believes that the best way to experience this kind of artwork is to play the game.

“That’s the medium of its design. You’re playing it, and you’re feeling what the artist specifically intended for you to feel−to hurt, to feel empathy. When you see 2-D images printed onto the wall, you don’t feel the same way. The experience is playing the game, not just staring at a static image.”

The idea for the exhibit came nearly two and a half years ago, when Gebhart was assisting with an Advertising/Public Relations 301 class in which students research different target audiences. Gebhart noticed that, for three or four consecutive semesters, college students consistently ranked video games as their top favorite activity to do in their leisure time.  

Gebhart began searching for video game exhibitions to bring to University Museums. She located the Video Game Art Gallery (VGA) in Chicago, which was holding another exhibit at the time. That exhibit didn’t fit with what she wanted for University Museums, but she still stayed in contact with the VGA. Last fall, the VGA opened “Game Art vs. Art Game,” and Gebhart was invited to view the exhibit.

“I hadn’t committed when I said I would go see it, but I thought, ‘This is something that an institute of science and technology could benefit from,’” Gebhart said.

Exhibits in the Christian Petersen Art Museum typically take about two years to curate, but this exhibition only took about a year. Part of this is because of the medium of the exhibit. While physical pieces of artwork must be insured and properly transported, many of these games were downloaded or purchased from app stores.

“Rather than coming in a big truck, it came in a Google zip drive,” Gebhart said.

Gebhart admitted that working with technology was outside of her comfort zone, but she was proud of the finished gallery.

“It’s not part of my regular day. It’s a media that I wasn’t as comfortable with. I had to make this work on computers, but I still want to treat the art well,” Gebhart said.

The exhibit contains games focusing on a wide range of subjects. One game has a dance pad, while others are focused on more traditional aspects of programming. Another game allows users to play games like Snake or Tetris, and as they play, they create their own works of art.

“When you ‘die’, whatever you’ve created is your artwork, and you can have a curator come over and critique it,” said Erin O’Malley, campus outreach coordinator for University Museums

Another game, titled “That Dragon, Cancer,” is an independent game created by Ryan and Amy Green based on their experience of losing their son Joel to cancer.

“I think that game is especially impactful because everybody has a connection to cancer. It’s a very beautiful introspection that’s meaningful to each individual viewer,” Gebhart said.

To facilitate more access to the exhibit, the University Museums are hosting evening game nights from 7-9 p.m. on the last Wednesday of every month. O’Malley said that the last game night was a success.

“We had lots of student groups and friends come together, and I heard it got pretty competitive,” O’Malley said.  

University Museums will host a lecture given by Chaz Evans, director and co-founder of the VGA Gallery in Chicago and co-curator of “Game Art vs. Art Game,” in 2019 Morrill Hall at 6 p.m. this Wednesday. A game night with light refreshments will follow from 7-9 p.m.