Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Smithsonian's GODAWFUL game-voting thing

I'm on my way to bed (early-ass screening tomorrow - ugh!), but rest assured that I WILL have more to say when time avails itself about the ungodly, horrible way the Smithsonian is going about the "public voting" aspect of it's "Art of Videogames" exhibit. Don't get me wrong: The effort is appreciated, but everything from the selections to the categorizations on this thing are so wrongheaded, slapdash and uninformed as to make me honestly think it'd be better if they didn't do it at all.

For example: The voting (which seems to ignore Arcades ENTIRELY, btw) divides the history of the medium into five "eras," with options to vote for which of three games will be each console/eras "representative" title in each of four genres. Only FOUR? Yes: Action, Adventure, Target and Combat/Strategy. That's right: No platformer, no puzzle, no RPG - in the 8-bit/NES/Adventure category, it's Final Fantasy vs. Zelda vs. Shadowgate... and only ONE can "win."


Where did they get this system? Did they just make it up without consulting anyone who knows thing-ONE about the medium? Gaming is young, but there's NO shortage of historians and credited experts out there who could've given them a better outline. This isn't a matter of nerd-nitpickery... obviously not every game can get in there... but trying to tell the "history" of the form and classifying Zelda and Final Fantasy as the same thing? That's like if I opened up a Bird Museum and added an Octopus on the basis that it has a BEAK.

I imagine others will want to weigh in on this, but instead of just griping along with me why not gripe directly to them instead: Here's the exhibit/voting's comment section.

And here's the email address associated with the page: AmericanArtGames@si.edu BE RESPECTFUL if you do write in, regardless of what you have to say. We gain nothing by being crass.


HE said...

The lack of thought even down to the design of the page is atrocious. If I wasn't Australian, I'd make some form of note, but we actually have a pretty good Video Game Art Exhibit in Melbourne.

Christopher said...

I was all ready to say, "chill, they have a narrative to present because the public enjoys history presented as a cohesive narrative. it's no big deal, it's nice to get any recognition at all for the medium. blah, blah, blah..."

But then I go to their site and have the experience of being forced to pick between Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man 2, and Metroid as to which one better represents the action genre on the NES! NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO MAKE THAT CHOICE!

Why don't I fucking decide whether Citizen Kane, Dr. Strangelove, or Frankenstein should represent black and white film?

Renan said...

And then there are those which don't give you a shade of doubt. E.T. or Pitfall?

Drake Sigar said...

They gave the Spike VGA's a ring and asked them for advice.

Cunzy11 said...

The comments here and on the site itself are showing a big ignorance of how museums work.

To me it looks like the site is merely asking for a democratic way of choosing what to display and what not to display to best represent the art of video games as chosen by people who might be interested.

This method is necessary to put together a gallery and an open voting system would result in a cluster f**k godawful list.

We should be grateful they are even asking and I struggle to think of another way of doing it without people getting ants in their pants because their favourite games aren't on the list or in the right area.

Dan W said...

Part of me wants to be grateful that they are even giving video games the limelight they deserve but I have to agree almost 100% with Bob. The real problem here is that people like to view history in a linear progression. History A happened which caused History B to happen. It's nice and neat and its makes the average joe happy. All of history is taught this way and its never this clear cut. What frustrates me is that they are the motherfucking Smithsonian. Its like they read a sparksnote version of wikipedia page and said "hey, I know the history of video games!"

Cunzy11 said...

I don't know how they are planning activities but I don't think a gallery of games really works. The exhibition Game On! didn't work at the Science Museum London. It was fun but it didn't quite work for me.

Firstly, the history of games approach doesn't make a great deal of sense. You never see a history of any form of art or a history of archaeology or what have you within a single gallery or exhibition. A history of one period of one school sure but not just the whole history of prints, or works on paper or paintings. So the games should either be displayed through video montages or the scope of the project should be refined, unless they are turning over five or six galleries to the topic.

Clayton said...

The thing is, gaming isn't exactly five era; we're actualy in the SEVENTH generation of consoles. Heck, a 20 page term paper I did on gaming for my 300-Level History class was probably more comprehensive than this. I realize that museum exhibits TEND to cut a lot of stuff out, but they seem to be oversimplifying the medium's history and genres. I'm glad they're doing a games exhibit, but this shows that they need better consultants on the matter which shouldn't be that hard to do considering the HUNDREDS of games journalists and experts nationwide.

Eric said...

Thanks for the write-up, Bob, I appreciate hearing your thoughts. I'd like to chime in with my own (which may turn into a blog post tonight or tomorrow).

I appreciate this exhibit, I really do, but there are a lot of problems with the way the information is being presented and voted on. I'm not going to lie, this reads like an attempt to gain some relevancy points with the younger generation, but the shallowness of the gesture shows through in how sloppily and ill-conceived the process is.

For starters, popularity is never a good metric to determine historical relevance or success. Some of the most influential and fondly-remembered games of all time didn't sell as many copies as the later titles that borrowed from them. Putting, say, BioShock on this list but ignoring System Shock 2 would be an utter crime.

Second, there really needs to be some sort of genre separation. Half-Life is amazing, but I don't think it's the best game from its time period; despite that, I shouldn't have to decide between it and something like Fallout. Seeing games go ignored simply because people had to choose between a few of them isn't fair to the particularities of the medium.

Third, there aren't enough eras on display here. I think it's silly to lump in the beginning of the 2000s with the end of the 2000s; games have undergone some major, major changes since then, some for the better and some for worse. The approaches taken to design and production have resulted in very, very different experiences and having just "era 5" doesn't acknowledge that.

Fourth, and my most severe complaint, is that there is an implicit hierarchy in the way that these games are being framed. While I don't know exactly how the exhibit will turn out in the end, the way it's being posed as of now suggests continual growth and improvement. While to some degree that's true, I don't think it's at all right to imply that newer games are better than older games simply by virtue of being made in a time period where design has become a far more concrete discipline. This is an inherent problem with how we understand numbers (the bigger, the better), and the Smithsonian had damn well better do their best to get around it.

Additionally, they really need to clarify exactly what this exhibit is for. They seem to focus on raw aesthetics and visuals in particular, but mention innovation and design. Is it both? It seems unfair to rate games as a solely visual medium when I'm sure just about any other would be considered on artistic merits beyond such aspects. What constitutes good design and innovation here? Is it game mechanics? Writing, storytelling and narrative? Meaning? Novelty? Use of gaming's strength as an interactive medium? Way, way too ambiguous.

I mean, whatever, it's a popularity contest anyway (gamers will ensure that merely by being allowed to vote), but I think the Smithsonian really need to rethink their selection process and the criteria for their exhibit.

ZAENGO said...

it seems to me to be less an issue of shallowness and not caring, as it is an issue of not knowing anything about the medium. the people involved probably know little to nothing about video games, and did this based on what little they knew or thought that they knew. and i know, its the smithsonian and all, so you'd think they would put in more effort into learning more about the medium before doing something like this, but i really dont think they would. they probably thought they were spot on, and assumed that they didnt need to ask for help or a little extra information. and i doubt that someone working there knew enough to call them out on it. im sure if theres enough bad comments, theyll reconsider.

anyways, hey BOB, you goet Marvel vs Capcom 3 yet? if so, who you gonna play as? whats your line up gonna be? im just curious.

£«» said...

Wow.. You are going to make me chose between Megaman 2, Super mario bros 3, and Metroid? Fuck you Smithsonian!

merag247 said...

Just vote Final Fantasy Tactics on PS1 and everything will be right with the world.