In the early-to-mid '80s when the first video games became popular, it was practically impossible to make your parents or teachers believe you hadn't lost an entire afternoon glued to a screen following the rather limited adventures of primitively drawn characters, but were engaged in a dialogue with a modern form of art.
Decades have gone since then and video games have become more mesmerising, interactive and even - in some cases - educational. It is therefore not surprising to discover that the world of video games is currently being celebrated in proper museum exhibitions.
"Next Gen Art: New Horizons" (until 15th february 2015) at the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden (launched at the end of November to coincide with the international game conference that was taking place in Leeuwarden) explores the interaction between traditional art and game art through thirty projections, prints, installations, games and movies that take visitors into another dimension.
While art developed over several centuries, video games evolved in the last three decades. Quite often their creators tackled the same problems artist went through, including issues like the depiction of space and perspective or the portrayal of specific characters.
As a consequence, game artists actually borrowed from art movements including Symbolism, Romanticism and, above all, Surrealism. It is therefore possible to spot M.C. Escher's labyrinthine nest of stairs in games such as Echocrome and Monument Valley, or Piranesi's monumental constructions.
Yet there are also contemporary artists who express themselves through the video game medium.
The late Czech-German film-maker Harun Farocki created for example flat digital landscapes that turned into hyper-realistic, three-dimensional pieces capable of confusing the viewer and posing a key question - is the perfect computer world more real than reality?
The Swiss duo (Monica) Studer and (Christoph) Van den Berg make the virtual world palpable through a spatial installation entitled "Passage Park", a shipping container in a rocky landscape that allows visitors to explore virtual landscapes. In the container visitors undergo a surreal, virtual journey through all kinds of objects that are randomly placed in space.
Cory Arcangel hacked the 1994 Famicom driving game F1 Racer and took out the game and cars, leaving the road and reducing the game to a deserted landscape; he also omitted Mario from the classic 1985 cartridge Super Mario Bros leaving only the clouds and transforming the familiar and reassuringly chaotic colourful world of Mario into a perennial blue skyscape.
Jennifer Steinkamp uses computer techniques of games to make trees, plants and flowers move. Her hypnotic and deceptively real trees sway with the wind, lose their leaves and sprout again, leaving visitors to witness the seasons passing by in just a few minutes.
Photorealistic techniques in the deptiction of game landscapes are also tackled through the design of virtual cities in games including Minecraft, Guild Wars, Assassin's Creed and Dear Esther, a ghost story in which the player must unravel the mystery of an island that appears at time realistic and at times fictional.
Games have gone a long way since Pac-Man, fully set in a plane, and nowadays gaming offers thrilling emotions to players such as that of standing on the edge of a precipice and staring down.
In Mirror's Edge for example by Dice Game Studio, the player takes the role of Faith who is carrying secret information and running across rooftops with smooth movements, jumping from building to building, overlooking a city that sparkles in the sunlight.
While this exhibition at the Fries Museum tries to analyse the links between art and video games, the "Game Masters" event (until 20th April 2015) at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, could be considered as a more interactive and commercial history of video gaming.
Featuring over 100 playable games (the list is long and includes a bit of everything, from Pac-Man and Centipede to The Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart 7, just to mention a few; check out the complete list here) by more than 30 leading video game designers.
This exhibition explores the development of videogames through interviews with game designers, rare original game artwork and interactives, but also looks at independently produced games and at their innovative design, aesthetics and game play.
Opening with Arcade Heroes, and pioneering designers such as Shigeru Miyamoto (Donkey Kong), Tomohiro Nishikado (Space Invaders), Ed Logg (Asteroids), and Toru Iwatani (Pac-Man), the event moves onto the home computer, console and hand-held devices, taking into consideration the key role played by independent designers such as Halfbrick (Fruit Ninja), Markus Persson (Minecraft), Rovio (Angry Birds).
One unique aspect of this exhibition is the Scottish edge that the curators gave to the story by including the work of four pioneering Scottish companies: DMA Design, from Dundee, that created some of the most innovative games of the 1990s, including the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto (1997) and Britain's fastest selling game, Lemmings (1991); Space Budgie, creators of Glitchspace (2014); Edinburgh's Lucky Frame and Glasgow-based game designer Simon Meek, founder and director of The Secret Experiment, an ideas studio for the creation of narrative-based gaming experiences.
In a lecture at the 2001 Game Developers' Conference in San Jose, California, game design consultant Ernest W. Adams wondered "Will Computer Games Ever Be A Legitimate Art Form?".
It may still not be so easy if you're a child or a teenager to convince your parents or school teachers you didn't study because you were having a profound artistic dialogue while completely mesmerised by the colourful and three-dimensional graphics of whatever was on your screen, but things have radically changed since the early days of the video gaming experience. Like it or not, video games are now considered a terrifically inspiring art form. Dare to disagree at your risk and peril.
Image credits for this post
1. Exhibition poster by EA digital Illusions CE AB, Electronic Arts Inc.
2. Ouverture , Persijn Broersen and Margrit Lukác.
3. Dear Esther.
4. Passage Park, Monica Studer and Christoph Van den Berg. Photograph by Tijdens Opbouw.
5. Passage Park, Monica Studer and Christoph Van den Berg. Photograph by Tijdens Opbouw.
6. F1 Racer mod, Cory Arcangel.
7. Judy Crook, Jennifer Steinkamp.
8. Parallel I, Harun Farocki.
9. Mirror’s Edge, Gamestudio Dice.
10. Mario Kart 8, 2014. © Nintendo.
11. Minecraft, Marcus Persson, 2011. Courtesy of Mojang.
12. Critter Crunch, 2009. Courtesy of Capy Games.