Game on!

Visitors to the ‘Art of the Video Game’ exhibition, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Source: The Art Newspaper.

Emily Sharpe, Video games in museums: fine art or just fun? The Art Newspaper, Issue 265, February 2015

As institutions show, acquire and even develop video games, what role do they play in the museums’ future?

The British Museum posted a message on the website Reddit last September asking for volunteers for its “build the British Museum in ‘Minecraft’” project, hoping for 20 applicants. “It exploded… Twitter went berserk and we had more than 1,000 applicants in a single day,” said Nick Harris, a broadcast assistant and content producer working on the London institution’s Museum of the Future project, in a talk at the British Library last December. One of the respondents wrote: “Yes, please. I love ‘Minecraft’ and I would really like to help build it. I’m ten (my mother knows).”

The Tate received an equally enthusiastic response when it launched a project to recreate works from its collection, including André Derain’s The Pool of London, 1906, in the “Minecraft” video game: within 48 hours, amateur videos on how to navigate “Tate Worlds” appeared on YouTube.

When London’s Wellcome Collection released the video game “High Tea”, 2011, a strategy game based on the 19th-century opium trade in China’s Pearl River Delta, to coincide with an exhibition on recreational drug use, the museum discovered that, on average, people spent four times longer playing the game than they did browsing its website.

The popularity of video games shows no sign of waning, and museums have ramped up their interest in the medium.

From mounting exhibitions like the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s (Saam) blockbuster travelling show “The Art of Video Games”, which drew 3,400 visitors a day during its run in Washington, DC, in 2012, or the “Game Masters” show at the National Museums of Scotland (until 20 April), to acquiring or commissioning games around their permanent collections or exhibitions, museums are looking at video games as both an art form and a means to reach a wider audience.

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