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America's Smithsonian museum declares video games are art, adds two to permanent collection

One game has players embody the wind, carrying petals across a meadow; the other uses minimalistic graphics to 'deconstruct the gaming experience'

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., has announced the addition of two video games to its permanent collection as part of “an ongoing commitment to the study and preservation of video games as an artistic medium.”

Flower (2009), a game by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago from thatgamecompany, is to be inducted into the collection alongside Halo 2600 (2010) by Ed Fries, the former vice president of game publishing at Microsoft.

Explaining its decision in a statement, the Smithsonian said: “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 theatre and mark a critical development in the history of art.

“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.”

In the unorthodox Flower, gamers play as the wind, transporting flower petals across an idyllic, expansive landscape which changes as it is explored. The experience is given even greater depth by the serene soundtrack which accompanies it.

“Flower represents an important moment in the development of interactivity,” said the Smithsonian, and added that the game “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.”

Halo 2600, on the other hand, is a 2D ‘de-make’ inspired by the wildly successful Halo game series. Developed for the 1970s Atari 2600 console, the game features minimalistic graphics and sharp audio.

Describing the game, the Smithsonian said that 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.”

While Flower and Halo 2600 provide about as stark a contrast as is possible, Michael Mansfield, the museum’s curator of film and arts suggested that “these works taken together stake out the rich creative and conceptual potential in video games.”

The Smithsonian added in its statement that it is looking to expand its collection of video in the future.