The Smithsonian Gets Interactive: Exploring The Art of Video Games

This is the second in a series of posts about rethinking the museum experience to attract a new audience.

In the past, when a museum mounted an “interactive” exhibit, it typically meant that attendees could touch what was on display. Now interactivity has a newer and richer meaning, and museums are scrambling to keep up. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has jumped into the fray with The Art of Video Games, not only allowing visitors to interact in the traditional sense (you can play Myst, PacMan, Super Mario Brothers and other games),  but also incorporating social media, QR codes and webcasts.

I had a chance to catch up with Georgina Goodlander, the exhibition coordinator for the Art of Video Games, who said that the exhibit was an outgrowth of Smithsonian 2.0, a brainstorming conference that addressed ways the Smithsonian can continue to interpret its mission “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” in the digital age.  “Video games are a huge part of American culture and they are an art form,” said Goodlander.

The concept of allowing online participation in the exhibit was introduced early in planning stages; curators developed an online voting system to determine which games would be included in the exhibit. (The exhibit features one game from each of 5 stages in video game development: “start,” “8-bit,” “bit wars,” “transition,” and “next generation.”)

The voting site was promoted on Twitter and the museum’s blog as well as the website announcing the upcoming exhibit.  Goodlander said that the voting exceeded the Smithsonian’s expectations and sparked interesting discussions, not only on the museum’s blog, but also on gaming forums.

Commenters debated the question of who should be able to answer the question “What is art?” and wondered whether the online voting would skew toward the best-selling/most popular games. (They didn’t). “It was clear that people though carefully about which should be represented in the Smithsonian,” Goodlander said.

With the Art of Video Games up and running, visitors have the opportunity to experience the full range of interactivity the exhibit offers. QR codes offer additional content; visitors are encouraged to share their experiences through photo-sharing on the Flickr group or on Twitter with the hashtag #taovg; and people can add their own names to the exhibit by making a donation via their mobile devices (larger donations = larger font sizes).  The exhibit also includes video interviews, game clips, videos of players’ expressions as they play games, and of course – the opportunity to play some games yourself.

In addition to highlighting new art forms, the Art of Video Games exhibit is aimed at expanding the museum-going audience and experience. “It’s blown away our expectations,” Goodlander says, noting the exhibit’s success in “bringing a new audience to the museum.” She continues, “We see families making connections, and older people who may have stopped playing games see the connection to current games.”

The Art of Video Games runs through September 30 and then will go on tour through 2016.

The next installment in our museum series will discuss how to encourage and engage remote members.

If you’re interested in providing your customers or clients with innovated interactive experiences, contact Innate Agency. We are committed to providing exceptional UX to your clients.

[Photo credit: TimothyJ, Flickr Creative Commons]

Lisa Crotty

Marketing Manager

Lisa is a Senior Optimization Specialist at Innate – her friends even teased that she A/B tested her name change. Lisa studied Philosophy of Science & Technology at Virginia Tech and is always asking why.

Scroll To Top