Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Annual Video Game Festival “SAAM Arcade” Builds Community by Breaking Down Barriers

Free, Two-Day Public Event Highlights Underrepresented Creators in the Gaming Community
July 25, 2019
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SAAM Arcade 2018, photo by Daniel Schwartz

The Smithsonian American Art Museum invites visitors to explore innovation, deconstruct stereotypes and break down barriers at its fifth annual “SAAM Arcade.” This free, two-day public event will take place in various spaces throughout the museum’s main building Saturday, Aug. 3, and Sunday, Aug. 4, from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The theme of the 2019 Arcade is “breaking barriers,” with an emphasis on games that recognize and celebrate the diversity of gaming audiences. The centerpiece of the program is the Indie Developer Showcase, presented in the museum’s Kogod Courtyard, which features games made by the LGBTQ+ community and people of color, and games that address mental health and disability issues and that use inventive play to break barriers. In an effort to make these games accessible to a wider audience, ASL (American sign language) interpreters will be available on both days. 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.

“We are pleased to once again offer our most popular program, SAAM Arcade, to our community,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “The theme this year, ‘breaking barriers,’ is at the heart of SAAM’s mission to create an inclusive space where people from diverse backgrounds can see themselves represented.”   

Tanya DePass, founder and director of I Need Diverse Games, will deliver a keynote talk Aug. 3 at 6 p.m.

A variety of games will be available to play in various locations at the museum. MAGFest will provide a wide range of gaming consoles like Sega Genesis, Dreamcast, N64, Playstation and Wii. Nostalgic visitors can play games from different decades like Legend of Zelda, Super Mario 64, Ms. Pacman, Halo and Madden NFL 2019. Custom arcade cabinets will be provided by Death by Audio Arcade, allowing visitors to play a selection of games from across the world. Arcades4Home will present classic console games like “Galaga,” “Mortal Kombat 2” and “Joust.” The video games “Flower” and “A Slow Year” from the museum’s collection will be available to play.

A number of other gaming opportunities and workshops will be available throughout the museum. Mega Cat Studios transforms a gallery into a 1980s living room and invites guests to play new games created for old consoles. WashingCon provides a board game library as a testament to the creativity of analog entertainment.

The SAAM Arcade Indie Developer Showcase this year features 13 games that embody the idea of inclusion and give underrepresented communities in traditional gaming culture a platform on which they can write their own stories. Featured games either have unique mechanics and/or gameplay involved in “breaking barriers,” are centered around a character or characters that are underrepresented in the video game industry at large, or were created by an individual or team that is diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other background. More than 70 games were submitted for consideration from developers around the world, including England and Belgium. The selected games were chosen by Saisha Grayson, time-based media curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; DePass; Chris Totten, author and video-game developer; and museum staff. 

Featured games like “Queer Quest,” “Conspiracy Theories about Myself” and “Genderwrecked” address the social vulnerabilities and struggles surrounding gender and identity. Games such as “Pre-Shave,” “Tracking Ida” and “We Are the Caretakers” tackle race and other physical and cultural barriers between groups of people. “Collapsus” provides a platform for the literal breaking of barriers in this subtractive block-matching game while also making itself accessible to every type of color-blindness.

The keynote talk by DePass, titled “Barriers Are Made To Be Destroyed, Not Just Broken” will be webcast live.

Detailed event information and a full list of the featured games is available on the museum’s website, The public can join the Facebook Event for updates. Additional content about the event, including an interview with DePass and commentary about selected games by Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell, the museum’s public programs manager, is published on the museum’s blog, Eye Level.

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 presented by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in partnership with IGDA DC and MAGFest. SAAM Arcade is made possible with generous support from Annette L. Nazareth and Roger W. Ferguson Jr., Director’s Circle members and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative. In-kind support provided by Intel. Media sponsorship provided by the Washington City Paper

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most 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 F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The Renwick is open from

10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Website:

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