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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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