PARIS In the middle of the Champs-Elysées stands the Grand Palais, a place of the highest artistic and culture prestige and host to some of the most important international exhibitions. But passers-by these days will undoubtedly notice a slightly unusual detail at the Paris landmark: a ten-meter-high poster of a pixelated Grand Palais depicted in a video game.
Welcome to the "Game Story" exhibition: bringing video games to the French art world, an unlikely invitation for popular culture to stride into the realm of high culture through the front door.
It's a significant event for an industry that has long been considered an ugly duckling by not only the cultural elite, but the public at large. "We saw genre barriers begin to crumble a few years ago," says Jean-Claude Larue, general delegate of SELL, a video-game developers association that is sponsoring the exhibition. "We are present in 90% of families. A new generation of politicians and journalists have grown up with video games. The cultural world, which has always been a bit snobbish towards video games, was the only circle that still needed to be convinced."
This exhibition was made possible "thanks to an extremely favorable alignment of the planets," quips Larue, noting support from the top brass at the French culture ministry and national museum directorate.
The road for video games to arrive at the Grand Palais passed through Paris' Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts), which hosted the country's first ever museum exhibition about video games, which drew some 50,000 visitors. The recipe for such a triumph was really quite simple visitors got to play. Instead of looking at video games neatly displayed behind windows, visitors could directly try their joystick skills on various platforms, ranging from an antique Colecovision to a modern Xbox.
A key to having the exhibition connect is to be sure the TV used belongs to the same time period. Similarly, the history of the game must be linked to the cultural history. Game Story took a few CRT TV's as well as several good old consoles out of the attic, allowing visitors to play in the proper conditions on dozens of games, some of them dating back to the 1970s. Movies, comics and board games from the same period are also there to help ensconce visitors in the popular culture of the period.
Hoping to hook the less well-versed viewers in the world, Game Story welcomes visitors into a spacious, bright and colorful environment. On the walls, lexicons briefly explain concepts such as "platform game", "gamer", "fantasy", "arcade", "controller", "8 bits"...The games are presented in such a way that they are clear enough for beginners, while at the same time being precise enough for hardcore gamers.
Game Story may even reach the "next level," as talks have already opened to bring the exhibition to other cities around the world. Paris may have been the toughest challenge of all.
Game Story exhibit runs through Jan. 9.
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