Arcade Aesthetics: A Museum Showcases the Art Behind Iconic Video Games in Melbourne

MELBOURNE, Australia — Conrad Bodman, head of exhibitions at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), has used his extensive experience curating video games, film, and digital media at institutions around the world to organize ACMI’s current exhibition, “Game Masters,” a celebration of the art of video games that has become a hit with the public and a massive success for the museum. 

The exhibition showcases the designers behind some of the world’s most beloved games, including Space Invaders creator Tomohiro Nishikado; contemporary pioneer Paulina Bozek, creator of SingStar; and Australian legends Firemint, whose mobile games Flight Control (2009) and Real Racing 2 (2012) have received international acclaim.

Before taking his current position at ACMI, Conrad was a curator at the prestigious Barbican Center in London, where he curated buzzed-about exhibitions including “Derek Jarman: A Portrait,” “Space of Encounter: The Architecture of Daniel Libeskind,” and the hugely popular video-game exhibition “Game On,” which was the world’s largest-ever exhibition dedicated to the culture of video games.

ARTINFO Australia spoke to Bodman about the world of video game art, the artists, designers, and creators who shaped it, and its presence in the contemporary art community. 

To what extent has the art and design that goes along with video games permeated the fine art world?

Video games have had a huge impact on many contemporary artists who have used games as a source of inspiration. Some examples are Cory Arcangel’s work “Super Mario Clouds” and Bill Viola’s interactive game “The Night Journey.” Major video game exhibitions have taken place in major museums around the world this year, including exhibitions at the Grand Palais in Paris and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as well as ACMI’s own exhibition “Game Masters.”  Video games deserve to be treated as an art form in their own right and our exhibition showcases some of the leading video game auteurs, including Tim Schafer and Warren Spector, designers whose work has become influential in the field.

How was game art progressed over the last few years?

There has been a huge debate about whether or not games are art over a number of years, just as there was in the 20th century about photography, film, media art, and so on. Exhibitions like “Game Masters” are beginning to indicate a canon of acknowledged creative leaders in the field, which we hope will be recognized by other museums and galleries around the world.

Is there a strong market for art produced during game production?

Not at this stage, as very little material comes into the public domain and it is mostly owned by the individuals who produce it. There are a number of venues around the world that have acquired games over the years, including the Museum of the Moving Image in New York and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as ACMI, of course.

Who are the most popular game design artists?

Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario and Zelda, is a really important game designer whom we have showcased in the exhibition alongside other key figures such as Yuji Naka, who created Sonic the Hedgehog, and Tetsuya Mizaguchi, who created Child of Eden. We have showcased around 30 major game developers in the exhibition in sections that look at the history of game design from the arcade era of the ‘70s all the way through to contemporary indie game developers.

What is the importance of organizing and hosting this exhibition?

This is the first exhibition that has tried to establish a canon of video game auteurs, highlighting those designers who have had a massive creative impact on the field for the last 30 years. This is the first exhibition of its kind that has happened anywhere in the world, and we hope that it will have lasting impact as well.

Click on the slideshow to see images from the “Game Masters” exhibition, which runs at ACMI through October 28.