'Mass art' the name of the game

01:57, Nov 11 2012
Leanne Wickham
Pixel princess: Leanne Wickham, curator of Arcade, at Lower Hutt's Dowse Art Museum.

They're the scourge of parents and a black hole for teenagers' pocket money - but can video games now be considered art?

Arcade, a new collection showcasing New Zealand video games, has opened at Lower Hutt's Dowse Art Museum.

They might not be everyone's cup of tea, but the first-of-its-kind show celebrates one of the fastest growing forms of mass art, Arcade curator Leanne Wickham says.

"Are they the next major artistic medium of our modern-day society? It's the question we thought we should ask."

With only a game or two of Club Penguin with her daughter under her belt, Wickham had very little knowledge of video games before she curated the exhibition.

Now she has a newfound appreciation for the beauty they can contain.


One of her favourites is Ancient Frog, an award-winning iPhone app in which users manoeuvre a frog on a leaf to best catch a fly.

"It's in photo-rendered quality - really beautiful and it's got this lovely soundtrack. It does what all good art should do, and that's take you into another world."

Others in the collection, such as Cletus Clay, demonstrated the vast effort artists put into a few seconds of game time.

"It's all made by hand, using clay stop-motion techniques - one of the very first games that's been made in that way," Wickham said.

"We're encouraging people to look at the creativity that's gone into that work behind the scenes, that you wouldn't get if you went to a Dick Smith shop."

One of the creators involved in Arcade, Dan Milward, echoed that sentiment.

"A lot more passion and time goes into computer game art than some of the contemporary art that's out there today."

His website Gamefroot, also on display at the Dowse, could drastically transform how games are created.

Instead of expertise from graphic artists, programmers and sound artists, Gamefroot allows users to create their own games using tools from the site, and more than 9000 have been created since it launched earlier this year.

"The hardest thing in game creation is the programming side of things - Gamefroot tries to break that down and make it as easy as possible," Milward said.

Gamefroot was included in the exhibition, along with programmes such as Sparx, a depression- management roleplayer game from Auckland University, in an attempt to showcase the diversity of New Zealand products, Wickham said.

"People have this idea that video games are spaceships or shooting people or driving fast cars - we've put some of them in there," Wickham said. "But there's also some really lovely games that are a bit different."

Sunday Star Times