“It’s an annual opportunity for the museum to reinforce its belief that videogames are art objects, and game developers have the capacity to create works of art when they make a game,” says Lauren Kolodkin, program coordinator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s SAAM Arcade.
In fact, the museum was one of the first in the U.S. to recognize video games as an art form last decade, when it organized a major exhibition devoted to the topic, began acquiring video games for its permanent collection, and launched the SAAM Arcade as a showcase of leading videogames and indie developers.
This year’s all-virtual arcade, the seventh overall, goes a step further, working to expand the field by helping to nurture and inspire a new crop of games as well as developers.
“This is the first time we’ve focused on creating something specifically for the arcade and not just as an opportunity to showcase games that already existed,” Kolodkin says.
Organized around the broad theme of “Building Community, Embracing Individuality,” the 2021 event takes the format of a game jam that’s open to anyone, regardless of skill level, who would like to try their hand at creating a game, be it a multiplayer online role-playing game or a walking simulator. “It’s an opportunity for us to say, ‘Come show us what you’re capable of doing, take our collection as inspiration, and join our SAAM community, as well as our SAAM Arcade community.’
“Jams are about making a game within a set period of time,” Kolodkin continues. “The idea is that you create something within the boundaries of that period of time and within the set of rules or expectations that the jam has.”
The SAAM Arcade 2021 Game Jam will take place the first week in August hosted on the virtual gaming site itch.io. And starting on Sunday, Aug. 8, all games created during the jam will become available for anyone to discover and play on itch.io for free, indefinitely.
To supplement this year’s arcade, Kolodkin has posted a primer on the game jam concept to the museum’s Eye Level blog, which will also soon feature an overview and history of the SAAM Arcade from the perspective of Christopher Totin, a Kent State University professor who helped launch the arcade, along with an interview with and profile of Ian Bogost, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor and game designer whose 2010 game A Slow Year is now part of the SAAM collection.
Ultimately, Kolodkin says, “it’s the excitement and mystery around what’s going to come out of the game jam that’s the big ticket item this year.”
The SAAM Arcade 2021 Game Jam runs Aug. 2 through Aug. 7, and Game Release Day is Sunday, Aug. 8. Free. Visit www.americanart.si.edu.
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