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The Smithsonian American Art Museum invites visitors to its ninth annual “SAAM Arcade” to explore how video games act as a medium for expanding the way Americans tell and experience stories. This free, in-person public event returns to the Kogod Courtyard in the museum’s main building Saturday, July 30, from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET.
The theme of this year’s Arcade is “Color, Line and Form,” exploring the essential elements of visual expression. Armenian American artist Arshile Gorky said, “Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.” When individuals break something down into its most basic features, innovation and creativity emerge in new and unexpected ways. Game developers use these same essential elements to create an interactive experience for players, relying on color, line and form to tell complex narratives and engage broad audiences. SAAM Arcade is part of the museum’s ongoing commitment to the study and interpretation of video games as part of the national visual culture.
A variety of games will be available to play in the Kogod Courtyard, and the centerpiece of the program is the Indie Developer Showcase, which features eight games that embody the idea of color, line and form to create unique experiences for developers, players and observers. The museum will display offerings such as “Cai Cai Balão,” highlighting dazzling Brazilian hot air balloons, while “Chicory: A Colorful Tale” encourages players to create art with their own paintbrushes, emphasizing the importance of color. Clean lines and shapes are the focus of “Space Hole 2020,” while “Manifold Garden” builds upon various forms of architecture and “If Found” brings players back to basic black and white drawings. The importance of form can be found in “Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield” and “Treachery in Beatdown City,” games that showcase the agility and acrobatic movement of the human form. Finally, “The Zium Gallery” links art and video games by incorporating different museums’ collections into their submission.
More than 20 games were considered within the theme of “Color, Line and Form” and the final selections were chosen by Saisha Grayson, time-based media curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Chris Totten, assistant professor of the Modeling, Animation, and Game Creation program at Kent State University and founder of Pie for Breakfast Studios; and museum staff.
Attendees will also be able to play classic arcade and console games from MAGFest and there will also be a special Art Quest that connects video games to items in the museum’s collection at the information table. Detailed event information and a full list of the featured games are available on the museum’s website. Additional commentary about this year’s theme is published on the museum’s blog, Eye Level, by Lauren Kolodkin, the program coordinator for SAAM Arcade.
The museum is hosting the second annual Game Jam, an open online event where anyone of any skill set can submit their own game. Participants may work alone or in groups; there are no size restrictions for Arcade 2022 Game Jam. Participants do not need to pre-register and are able to join the jam by simply creating an itch.io account and uploading their game to the SAAM Arcade 2022 Game Jam page. In addition to this year’s SAAM Arcade theme, the museum also encourages participants to draw inspiration from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and to look to the extraordinary creativity and diversity of American voices as they create games for this jam. Rules, guidelines and FAQs about the jam are available on the museum’s itch.io page and website. The game jam takes place from Thursday, July 28, to Monday, Aug. 1, when aspiring developers and artists create brand-new video and tabletop games centered around the theme of community and individuality. On Monday, Aug. 1, all games submitted to the SAAM Arcade 2022 Game Jam will be available for the public to discover and play free of charge, indefinitely, on itch.io.
The museum is partnering with IGDA DC, the local Washington, D.C., chapter of the Independent Game Developers Association, to host and moderate a dedicated Discord server throughout the run of the jam. Discord is one of the most popular ways for gamers to communicate online. It allows friends, teammates, colleagues and individuals to connect with other SAAM Arcade participants directly via voice, video or text. IGDA DC will offer technical assistance to participants and help the long-standing SAAM Arcade community come together virtually to develop new and innovative games.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a leader in exploring the impact and artistry of video games and was one of the first art museums in the United States to acquire video games as part of its permanent collection. Video games create compelling participatory and social spaces, imagined by artists and designers and activated by players whose individual interactions are uniquely required to complete the experience. SAAM Arcade emphasizes this aspect of video game appreciation by encouraging hands-on engagement and in-person exchanges among independent developers, gamers and new audiences.
SAAM Arcade is made possible by the generous support of Events DC. Media sponsorship provided by Washington City Paper.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station, and is open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. Timed-entry passes are required to visit both locations. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.
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