Some may argue that video games don’t have a place amongst world famous works of art, but on Thursday night at the Art Institute we got to experience just that – and it was a surprisingly thought-provoking experience. As part of the Art Institute’s ongoing Artists Connect series, Bit Bash was invited to showcase the art of video games alongside works by artistic greats like Monet, Warhol, and Magritte. In so doing, they managed to showcase video games’ artistic influences as well as video games as art.
The evening started with many people lining up in Griffin Court to experience developer Die Gute Fabrik’s screenless game, Johan Sebastian Joust (paired with Medieval Arms and Armor. Joust. It works.) In Joust, you endeavor to be the last person standing while trying to disrupt your opponents’ to jostle their controller – more of a dance than a joust, really, but it was definitely a crowd pleaser. When the crowds started to disperse from Griffin Court to peruse the rest of Interactive Influence’s offerings, we started to realize a flaw in this setup: the two hours allotted was barely enough time to discover even how to get to some of these games. Signposts or other sorts of breadcrumbs would help for those less familiar with the labyrinthine Art Institute – but helpful Bit Bash people as well as Art Institute employees alleviated this a bit. Still, the whole experience tended to feel a bit disconnected from each other, but having to see more art than you intended by getting a little lost isn’t really a problem.
Most games were paired with similar artistic styles or themes .Ed Key and David Kanaga’s dream-like, passive exploration game Proteus was paired with impressionism while Joel Richardson’s Renaissance-era inspired Four Last Things was matched up with Medieval and Renaissance art. These pairings successfully helped connect the games to the art styles that inspired them, effectively bridging the gap between the static and interactive. Other games showcased didn’t quite seem to find a place among the galleries, as about four of the ten games showcased seemed unrepresented by art. Among them was the charming Hidden Folks by Adriaan de Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg and (a favorite of ours) Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes by Steel Crate Games. It seemed to be greatly enjoyed by attendees, but this felt like a mini pop-up arcade, and was set away from the art we were there to connect with.
Bit Bash’s contribution to Artists Connect is a significant one, as games being recognized as the art they are is an essential step to eliminate negative stereotypes about gamers and the games they play. Play is an essential part of life, and as our daily experiences become increasingly interactive, the line between art and games is going to blur even further than it already has. Interactive media has already crept into museums and galleries, with interactive audio tours and virtual reality used to enhance exhibits. It’s not so far-fetched to think that one day games will have a permanent fixture alongside works by painters like Van Gogh – as they should.
It’s exciting to see the Art Institute embracing the idea of games as art and allowing Bit Bash to showcase interesting indie games to a novel audience – and those who just came for the games got to experience some famous art. We look forward to Bit Bash’s next offerings – Initiation was just announced for March 14th, and Bit Bash’s annual Alternative Games Festival will be held in August. Check out bitbashchicago.com for more information.