How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 1

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 1 (photo)

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For a national institution dedicated to preserving America’s cultural legacy, the Smithsonian’s been pretty good to pop culture. You can an egg from Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the road sign from M*A*S*H and a Kermit the Frog puppet created by the late, great Jim Henson.

Still the museum hasn’t done a lot with video games, though. That’ll change next year, with the opening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which Chris Plante detailed in this post. The fact that gamers themselves will be the ones to decide what went into the exhibit makes it interesting and relevant, placing it somewhere between a referendum and a top-down survey. I jumped at the chance to dive into the list of nominated games and see what awaited me. Voting ended yesterday and I’ll be talking about how I used my clicks over the next few days.

What made the Art of Video Games voting process tricky was the fact that you only get 80 votes. That may sound like a lot but a total of 240 games got nominated, meaning that you can only choose one out of every grouping of three. And trust me, there were times where you’d want to choose two or even all of each category.

To assure that I didn’t explode my brain, I voted in a series of passes. First, I cruised through all the categories and consoles of each of the five eras, clicking on the games that I thought for sure needed to be in the exhibit. Then, I went back and made tougher calls, weighing personal favorites against historically important titles. It wasn’t easy but it was rewarding. Even at this cocoon stage, The Art of Video Games offers a micro-history of the video games medium. Lifelong gamers who voted surely felt a mix of awe and nostalgia walking through the progress from Atari to Xbox 360, which bodes well for the exhibit coming next year.

Some caveats as you read on: I haven’t played every game on the ballot. (Maybe some person out there has. I hope he/she survived to tell the tale.) And I’m not going to detail every vote I made, because that just would be boring. Each era broke things down by console and had four sub-categories–Target Genre, Adventure Genre, Action Genre, Combat/Strategy Genre–for each game machine.

Era 1: Start!
Atari Video Computer System

Target Genre
“Yars’ Revenge”

Atari2600_Yars_Revenge_cover.jpgWhen I sat down and though about it, this wasn’t as hard as I thought. As the games that helped heat up the arcade craze of the 1980s, the importance of “Space Invaders” can’t be overstated. But even as a grade-schooler, I remember thinking how terrible the Atari port of the xenophobic shooting game looked and felt compared to its stand-up arcade counterpart. “Yar’s Revenge,” on the other hand, originated on the Atari 2600 home system and felt that way, with none of the scaled-down graphics and slower movement that the 2600 version of “Invaders” had. It also mixed offense and defense in a way that was innovative for games of the era.

Adventure Genre

“Adventure,” “Pitfall!” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” were nominated here. I still have my “E.T.” cartridge somewhere, but not because of any fond memories. After I grew up, I heard stories of legendary desert landfills where thousands of unsold “E.T.” games wound up and how the infamous movie tie-in game nearly bankrupted Atari. That sounded about right to me as an adult, because as a kid, “E.T.” stymied me with its impenetrable causality and bizarre logic. Not to mention the game looked horrible. So, “E.T.” stands a caution against romanticizing the games of the Atari era. There’s no way this game was getting my vote.

Atari2600_Adventure_cover.jpgBut, it was a tough call between “Pitfall!” and “Adventure.” I played both games religiously as a kid and both represent two poles that created their own evolutionary offshoots as the video game medium matured. As visually crude as “Adventure” was, you immediately felt like you were in a story. Not just any story, either. Warren Robinett’s classic dropped you into a sprawling epic with giant, marauding dragons “Pitfall” stands as a precursor to the platforming genre, which encouraged quick yet careful running and jumping throughout virtual worlds. I remember it being the first game that required me to temper my twitch reflexes. Jump over those scorpions at just the right time, not too soon or too late. One pixel too far on an alligator’s head and into his mouth you went.

So what we have here is one classic that combines strategy, exploration and puzzle-solving and another that centers on action, precision and reflexes. But, for me, “Adventure” wins out. It was the first game to take the tropes and mechanics of text adventure game and make them playable through a graphical interface on a console. More than that, though, it was the way it presented its world as a puzzle and a narrative at the same time that made me love it so as neophyte gamer and why I voted for it to be included in The Art of Video Games exhibit.

The Action genre in this era features “Pac-Man” as a nominee. Yet, iconic as he is, “Pac-Man” doesn’t get a vote from me here. The nominated version is a sadly inferior Atari port which, like “Space Invaders” had none of the speed or responsiveness of the arcade version.

The other systems in the Start! section are the ColecoVision and Mattel’s Intellivision console. I didn’t initially vote for any games for these systems as I didn’t own them growing up. However, I do remember jonesing pretty hard for the Colecovision versions of “Donkey Kong” and “Jungle Hunt,” as they resembled the coin-op arcade versions more than the Atari ones. And, in a case of brilliant marketing, “Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man” made me want an Intellivision system pretty bad.

Tomorrow: Sega vs. Nintendo vs. Commodore 64! Bring your Capri Suns!

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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