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Smithsonian plans pop-up arcade for December; submissions open now

This December, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will feature a pop-up arcade. We speak to two of the organizers -- one an indie developer and educator, and the other from the museum.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

October 28, 2014

3 Min Read

This winter, one of the world's most prominent art museums will be shining a spotlight -- once again -- on video games. On December 7, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will feature a pop-up arcade event called Indies from the Middle. It's been planned in partnership with several East Coast IGDA chapters and East Coast game event MAGFest, and brings the work of regional small developers to a larger stage while continuing the museum's work in the game space. "From the game developer perspective, our goal with this event is to bring attention to indie games in our local areas and better interface with the public about the types of games we make," says Chris Totten, chair of the Washington DC IGDA chapter and American University Game Lab's game artist in residence. From the museum's perspective, the event is a chance to continue the work it began with 2012's The Art of Video Games. "The Art of Video Games was an important point in our museum’s history because it signaled the first acquisition of video games into our permanent collection, and it pulled in an audience that museums struggle to reach: young people. We appreciate this audience and are working to continue building a relationship with them, and video games are an important element in that outreach," says Kaylin Lapan, the museum's public programs coordinator. "Within our IGDA chapter, we'd already been working on developing a series of pop-up arcades," says Totten. "Our hope is that we can inspire game developers and game development groups in other regions to have their own local showcases at incubators, museums, galleries, and other venues. Rather than needing to rely on a few worldwide events for outreach, local public showcases widen the opportunities for indies to build audiences and get recognition for their work." The event, which will only last one day, is targeted primarily at devs in the cities whose IGDA chapters are sponsoring it: Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. "Attending events like Baltimore Artscape and other conventions in the area, a lot of people asked me, 'was this made locally?' Realizing that people like the idea of locally-made video games, but having little to no idea that they exist at all (minus the big studio stuff), I thought we could do something to bring together indies and their local audiences," Totten says. For its part, the museum has cultivated a dedicated audience ever since it started featuring video game content. Lapan offers this anecdote: "We have a group of gamers who come to our courtyard to play Nintendo DS on a semi-regular basis. Last October during the shutdown, they arrived at our museum to play and found that we were closed, but instead of going home or finding another place to play, they made a YouTube video demanding the end of the shutdown and that the government bring Smithsonian staff back to work." Totten, who teaches at American University, also sees the event as a way to help educate people about making their own games. "Any time I present games, people always come up to me asking how they can get into game development. Having access to game devs demystifies the process for a lot of people. I think that with modern game making tools and focusing on building local game dev communities, game development can become more accessible, diverse, and widespread," Totten says. This won't be the last game-focused event at the museum, it seems: "Hopefully this is all a precursor to further game-related collaborations down the line -- it’s a good time to be a gamer in DC," says Lapan. The deadline for submissions to the event is October 31; if you're interested in taking part, you can apply to be part of Indies from the Middle at this link.

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