The Smithsonian institution made great strides for video games as a creative medium when it began its exhibition on the Art of Video Games last year. Like motion pictures before them, video games have had a rocky time being accepted as an art. In recent years a new crop of stylized indies have showcased just how much room for creativity and artistry there is in the virtual space. Today the Smithsonian has announced its acquisition of two excellent examples, Flower and Halo 2600.
Flower debuted on the PS3 in 2009 and made use of the gyroscopic motion control that was included in the design of its controller, the Dualshock 3. It’s hardly a game as much as a meditative experience. You control the wind, blowing pollen across a vast expanse of green to make flowers bloom. The game is breathtakingly beautiful, especially in its upgraded PS4 presentation. Jenova Chen and his company ThatGameCompany created Flower and are also responsible for other innovative titles like Flow and Journey.
Halo 2600 is a very different game, a version of FPS Halo for the Atari 2600. Porting a modern franchise to 35-year-old hardware is a project in and of itself. Developer Ed Fries took the modern run-and-gun gameplay of Halo and crystalized it into something that works in the simple, pixelated realm of the 2600. It’s a tribute to gaming’s past and a nod to its future all at once.
Both games will be display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. For more information, the Smithsonian’s press release follows below:
Smithsonian American Art Museum Acquires Video Games
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has acquired two video games for its permanent
collection, “Flower” (2009) by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany and “Halo
2600” (2010) by Ed Fries. These acquisitions build upon the museum’s growing collection of film and
media arts and represent an ongoing commitment to the study and preservation of video games as an
“The best video games are a great expression of art and culture in our democracy,” said
Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “I
am excited that this new medium is now a permanent part of our collections alongside other forms of
video, electronic and code-based art.”.
The brief history of video games already includes several generations of both games and
gamers. The rapid evolution of technology and the enormous cultural reach of video games have set
the stage for a new genre in media art. Video games offer a compelling avant-garde performance
space, activated by artists and players alike. These media art practices are distinct from film, video and
theater and mark a critical development in the history of art. The museum is acquiring works that
explore and articulate the unique boundaries of video games as an art form and plans to acquire
additional video games in the future, working with artists, developers and programmers to represent
this new creative practice. The inclusion of video games furthers the mission of the museum and
ensures the ongoing preservation, study and interpretation of video games as part of the national
collection of American art.
“Video games represent a vast, diverse and rapidly evolving new genre that is crucial to our
understanding of the American story,” said Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media arts.
“‘Flower’ and ‘Halo 2600’ are important additions to our collection, but they are just the beginning of
our work in this area. By bringing these games into a public collection, the museum has the
opportunity to investigate both the material science of video game components and develop best
practices for the digital preservation of the source code for the games themselves.”
Smithsonian American Art Museum News SI-504-2013 2
In 2012, the Smithsonian American Art Museum organized “The Art of Video Games,” an
exhibition that identifies video games as a new mode of creative expression. Following on that
research, the museum’s media arts initiative is exploring ways to represent interactive and code-based
video games in its permanent collection of film and media artworks. “Flower” and “Halo 2600” are
included in “The Art of Video Games” exhibition, which was on view at the museum from
March 16, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2012, and is currently on a 10-city national tour.
“Flower” represents an important moment in the development of interactivity and art. This
innovative game puts the player in an unusual role—the wind—and uses minimal controls to create an
emotional, immersive experience of the landscape which changes in response to the player’s actions.
Conceived as an ‘interactive poem’ in response to tensions between urban and rural space, Chen and
Santiago imagine an unexplored land for the player to discover. “Flower” presents an entirely new
kind of physical and virtual choreography unfolding in real time, one that invites participants to weave
aural, visual and tactile sensations into an emotional arc rather than a narrative one. While visually
beautiful, “Flower” also demonstrates the importance of the interactive component. The work cannot
be fully appreciated through still images or video clips; the art happens when the game is played.
“Halo,” a series of popular science fiction games begun in 2001, has become a phenomenon
with millions of players worldwide captivated by the multifaceted narrative and sophisticated
graphics. In “Halo 2600,” Fries recreated “Halo” for the 1977 Atari VCS (more commonly known as
the Atari 2600), distilling the essence of the action game to its elemental parts while also paying
homage to the classic elegance of early game design. The resulting experience compresses the
complex, contemporary game into just 4K of RAM, creatively reversing the dramatic evolution that
video games have experienced during the past four decades. Commonly referred to as a “de-make,”
“Halo 2600” deconstructs the gamers’ visual and virtual experience and returns game play to its most
basic mechanics. Through “Halo 2600,” Fries illustrates the ever-changing relationship between
technology and creativity.
“Introducing these two games to the permanent collection simultaneously is notable,” said
Mansfield. “Whereas they may have dramatically different visual approaches—the lush and emotional
landscape of ‘Flower’ versus the elemental figures and mechanics of ‘Halo 2600’—these works taken
together stake out the rich creative and conceptual potential in video games.”
Video interviews with 20 influential figures in the gaming world, including Fries, Chen and
Santiago, are available on the museum’s website and on YouTube at SI-504-2013 3
youtube.com/americanartmuseum. The public also may follow the museum for updates about the
museum’s media arts initiative and related video game projects on Twitter by following @americanart
and using #taovg or by subscribing to the museum’s email list at americanart.si.edu/visit/enews.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the vision and creativity of Americans with
artworks in all media spanning more than three centuries. Its National Historic Landmark building is
located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum
hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on
Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, iTunes, ArtBabble and YouTube. Museum information (recorded): (202)
633-7970. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: americanart.si.edu.
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