Games and Excitement at White Flint

It is actually somewhat difficult to find something to say about things to do near the White Flint Metro Station, since it seems that most of the few reasons I have ever gone there have disappeared.

There used to be the Vegetable Garden, the wonderful all-vegan restaurant that has since relocated to a non-Metro-accessible location.

There also used to be the White Flint Mall. Having become a symbol for the demise of the suburban mall phenomenon, this particular mall announced in late 2013 that it would close and the land would be redeveloped. Stores closed throughout 2014, and the demolition is starting right about now. At this point, the space that was once the White Flint Mall is slated to become apartments, a hotel, and public green space.

Now-shuttered White Flint Mall as seen in December 2013

Now-shuttered White Flint Mall as seen in December 2013

When I explored the mall in December 2013, it seemed that half the store spaces were vacant. Poinsettias surrounded a central staircase and elevator, but there was no sign of any Santa Claus ready for a photo-op.

During that visit, I went to Dave and Buster’s, a chain restaurant/sportsbar/arcade. (As a business on the highest story of the mall, this franchisee is now gone.) While I was not able to find anything like a museum near the White Flint Metro, Dave and Buster’s offered an activity, a thing to do – a place to play video games, skee ball, and other coin-operated games. These arcade games were presented as entertainment at Dave and Buster’s, but can they also be considered art?

A dozen stops away from White Flint on the Red Line is the Galleryplace-Chinatown-Verizon Center Metro Station, with one of its entrances right outside the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which has shown a pinball machine and video games in art exhibits.

In 2009, SAAM put on the exhibit What’s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect, which included a pinball machine created by the artist. The pinball machine was available for play and use by the public at specified times, but it was not just there for amusement; it also contained a political message. As Abby Callard wrote in Smithsonian magazine:

The machine itself, a redesigned vintage North Star game created for a collector, is titled Punball: Only One Earth. It’s a “global warning” about global warming. Text running across the machine reads “the eye scabs are melting” and refers to the ice caps that are melting. This playful take on language is present in all of Wiley’s work.

A few years later, in 2012, SAAM hosted an exhibit entitled Art of Video Games, which featured relics from my childhood such as Super Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Myst. While Roger Ebert and Jonathan Jones have maintained that video games are not a form of art, the Smithsonian’s exhibit joined other critics in challenging visitors to consider otherwise. On one wall was a quote from Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari and Chuck-E-Cheese), “Video games foster the mindset that allows creativity to grow.”

The Art of Video Games at Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Art of Video Games at Smithsonian American Art Museum

The question “Is this art?” is not unique to video games, and museum staff who make decisions about what to exhibit, as well as staff who interact with visitors regularly, surely are used to fielding that particular line. Answering “Is this art?” is beyond the scope of this blog post and ultimately raises the question (about which volumes have been written) about what art is.

But if you ask the question, “Do video games have value as objects in an art museum?” you may be able to work out a still subjective, but less existential, answer. Does the video game art serve a function in educating audiences, in helping visitors appreciate art in everyday life, in placing video games in the context of art history as a whole, in understanding the creative genius of individual game designers? Do pinball machines or screens showing Mario and Yoshi take away from the paintings down the hall in any way? Perhaps arcades like White Flint’s now defunct Dave and Buster’s are not the only place where video games belong.

As a kid, I loved Yoshi, and I drew this picture.

As a kid, I loved Yoshi, and I drew this picture.

White Flint is on the Red Line.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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