Super Mario Goes to the Museum

Since Nolan Bushnell invented the first arcade game, "Computer Space," in 1971, who among us hasn’t grabbed a joystick at least once? Games, feeding our penchants for conquest and competition, are also the receptacles of contemporary visual culture, as explored in "MuseoGames: Une Histoire à Rejouer" ("MuseoGames: A Story to be Replayed") at Paris’s Musée des Arts et Métiers through November 7.

 

For Pierre Giner, Stéphane Natkin, and Loïc Petitgirard, the exhibition's curators, it was time to study what video games had to say and to give them museum status. This multimedia exhibition chronicles three decades of rapid technological advance along with the new role that video games have taken on in the home. In the "Collection" area, Atari consoles, first-generation synthesizers, and other such fossils are displayed on stands like pop-art objects.

As for the exhibition’s "Play" space, anyone who was young in the 80’s can’t help but be thrilled at the chance to revisit hit games of the past on vintage arcade machines. Super Mario or Alex Kidd can bring the past back to life: ARTINFO France fondly remembers tinny music, bricks crammed with sacks of gold, fierce battles to rescue the princess....

But this show is not just for those whom the museum has affectionately dubbed "nostal-geeks." Video screens place each game into its historical context, with captions and commentary. Supported by critical and sociological analysis, the exhibition also shows the significant influence of video games on contemporary art. The street artist Space Invader considers himself a hacker introducing visual viruses into urban centers. In the hilarious "Neighborhood" of Kaori Kinoshita and Alain Della Negra, players describe their Sims life in the first-person. The critic and curator Isabelle Arvers describes a punk movement that uses video-game clichés to express political messages.

And who was the exhibition’s very first visitor? Frédéric Mitterrand, France’s culture minister. Super Mario, you’ve really made it.