The National Endowment of the Arts, founded in 1965, has “awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.” The rapid development and use of technology in America in recent years has prompted national attention to media arts. The NEA responded, announcing the new Arts in Media grant program last year. It not only recognizes the art of media, but it also helps legitimize media as art. A variety of media platforms are eligible for funding under this category, including mobile art and digital media. As result, video games can now qualify for national funding and recognition in the arts.
The Music Center at Strathmore has demonstrated the impact of digital media at a local level, engaging the community in this digital outlet of artistic creativity. Its virtual presence was established during its recent performance of Video Games Live. The Music Center became an audiovisual fantasy world, filled with beloved video game characters and epic music. A video game costume contest and Guitar Hero competition was held prior to the show. Instead of using the typical orchestra “shell,” (the acoustic paneling often seen behind a musical ensemble, helping to direct the sound from on stage to the audience), three large screens were used to display screen shots and video clips of selected video games. A dynamic, multicolored lighting system and conductor’s podium added to the visual mix. Let’s not forget about the audio part of this audiovisual wonderland. The National Philharmonic and National Philharmonic Chorale were situated center stage!
Early in the program, the audience was introduced to the inventor of the video game himself, Mr. Ralph Baer, via Skype, of course! Original footage of his first video game was shown and yes, he won the match! (you can watch the game for yourself if you click the link, courtesy of vintagecomputing.) The performance resumed with sights and sounds from a variety of video games, including Castlevania, Tetris, Super Mario Bros, Zelda, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy, among others. The sound was beautiful, moving, and full. The videos were relevant and engaging. The audience was excited.
The concept of combining video games and orchestras came to life in the Gamer Symphony Orchestra, established at the University of Maryland. “The student-run Gamer Symphony Orchestra is the first collegiate ensemble exclusively devoted to performing orchestral arrangements of video game music and using that music as an educational tool.” The conductor, arranger, and President of the Gamer Symphony were invited on stage and interviewed by Tommy Tallarico, the creator, executive producer, and host of Video Games Live. Tommy is considered one of the most revolutionary and successful video game music composers of all time.
The performance of Video Games Live at Strathmore was musically and visually stimulating, educational, and interactive. I look forward to seeing the corresponding exhibit, the Art of Video Games, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Kudos to Strathmore for presenting adventurous programming and for engaging people with music and the art of video games.