In an attempt to beat the heat (118 degrees to be exact) my husband and I decided to spend a Saturday afternoon winding our way through the climate-controlled environs of the Phoenix Art Museum. It was our first trip to the museum and the draw for us—well, mostly for my husband—was the new video game exhibition.

Paul (my husband) pretty much has every game system created—with the requisite cables and connectors snaking through the house—so there was no doubt this would be a treat for him. But I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I did.  It’s clearly not your average art museum experience—we actually got to interact with the pieces and play some of the games!

Chris Melissinos is the curator of the exhibit and was inspired to bring it to life after writing the book The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect. An awesome plus: Chris was at the museum meeting with fellow gamers and signing his book.

Right when we walked into the north wing of the Steele Gallery, we were greeted with a giant projection of Pac-Man. At first, I just thought it was a projection of what the game looks like, but as we got closer, it actually had a stand with a joystick for people to play the game themselves! I stepped right up to the plate and played.

It was fun seeing it projected on the wall and it drew a crowd with folks watching me play and anxiously waiting their turn. I rocked at the game and even the little boy behind me commented about how good I was. Score!

But Pac-Man wasn’t the only attention-grabber. There were five other games across different systems that we were able to play. I couldn’t drag my husband away from Super Mario Bros., even though we have the game at home (there must be something with seeing it life-sized that mesmerized him).

As you walk through the exhibit, you are able to see different game systems that span across the 40-years of video game existence, including the original sketches that inspired specific games. Each game display holds the physical system and also shows actual game footage of different games that were designed for it. Everything from Atari to the original Nintendo and more current systems like the PlayStation 3 were featured. The display was interactive as well: I was able to pick up a listening device and hear narrative about the background on the game, the art and the mechanics of the game construction.

Advances in mechanics- framed.jpgAnother one of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the wall called Advances in Mechanics. There were five screens, each representing a different era of video games starting with the 1970s and charting every era until today. Each screen showed what a certain action looked like during that time, so you could see how technology and design has truly changed. Things like flying, running, climbing, jumping, landscapes and cut scenes were shown. It was so interesting to see how much things have changed from the eight-bit world to true-to-life 3d.

The Art of Video games will stick around at the museum from June 16 to September 29. It is definitely worth checking out.  And while you’re there, check out one of the other fantastic exhibitions that are on display for the summer: From Above (aerial photography), Riding Tall (cowboy art), Hidden Meanings of Life and Death in Chinese Paintings and more!

Adrianna Dalpiaz is originally from New York, but has lived in the Grand Canyon State for 24 years. She grew up in Tucson, went to school in Flagstaff and currently lives in Phoenix. She enjoys local beer, hiking and experiencing the uniqueness of Arizona with her amazing dogs… and her husband.