It's the morning before the official opening of "The Art of Video Games" exhibit at the Brooks and a sizable group of middle-aged adults is standing around watching another middle-aged adult playing Minecraft in the museum's major exhibition space. Only this version of the infinitely malleable game doesn't look quite like any other version of Minecraft you've ever seen. Vivaldi plays while the person at the controls cheerfully guides his pixelated character along a detailed and fully interactive re-creation of Venice's Grand Canal. Museum curator Stanton Thomas plays tour guide, pointing out the Italian city's most important architectural features and explaining why Santa Maria della Salute is just a church and not, technically, a cathedral. "Ooh!" and "ahhh!" have become the standard mode of communication among the observers.
The Minecraft mod in play was developed especially for the Brooks to personalize the video game exhibit, which originated at the Smithsonian and has been on the road for two years. It is a 3D representation of a Canaletto painting from the host museum's permanent collection and populated by several prominent historical characters from 18th-century Venice whom players meet and trade with. It's also the fresh, new highlight of a show that has garnered rave reviews wherever it has landed.
The Smithsonian's "The Art of Video Games" collects classic video-game consoles and shows the 40-year evolution of video games, from Pong to Pac Man to the exquisite Flower, the cinematic Myst, and more contemporary offerings.
On Thursday, June 11th, in conjunction with the exhibit, the Brooks is screening director Zach Braff's expansive documentary, Video Games: The Movie. Although it's perhaps a bit self-congratulatory, Braff's film considers the history and the future of video games from the perspective of creators and fans alike.