Despite its relative youth when compared to the wider media landscape, the debate about video games over their effect on the individual and on the culture at large has seemingly gone on forever. From the dinner table to the Supreme Court, positions for and against video games have become as engrained and entrenched as any of society’s most intractable debates. There is no doubt however that video games have already played a large part in the cultural development of an entire generation. If you were an eight year old in the United States when the original The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, you’d be turning 33 this year, and would scarcely remember a time in your life when that game, and hundreds of others, didn’t loom large in your life.“There’s [an artist], who visualized over a dozen items from Zelda, […] he built them as what they would look like if you walked into a store and saw them as items for sale, but still in pixels. True-to-life, scaled as if they could be wielded by a small child,” describes Nick Ahrens, a partner in iam8bit, a Los Angeles based video game promotional item production house and through Saturday, host of Super iam8bit, a gallery showing of video game related artwork. “We built a gargantuan arcade machine for Galaga’s 30th anniversary that projects onto a wall 20 feet high.” Other pieces on display include original paintings and other 2D media of classic gaming characters or environments interpreted in a myriad of ways and clever craft-style products like a cover you can put on your robotic vacuum cleaner to create a ‘Goomba Roomba.’
This is the fifth such open-to-the-pubic show that iam8bit has hosted since 2005, the first in their new storefront headquarters, and it is not just an exercise in nostalgia. “Everything is for sale, from the Zelda items to a book collecting images of the items from past shows,” explains Ahrens who goes on to say that gaming art galleries aren’t too different from those of the more traditional style. “It’s a crapshoot, it’s been our most successful show to date, but it’s strange, we have over two hundred pieces of art, over one hundred artists contributing and you don’t really know what’s going to hit or not.”“There are pieces that we’ll think internally ‘yeah, that’s cool, but we don’t think anyone will be interested in that.’” Adds iam8bit founder and show curator Jon Gibson,” and then ‘BAM!’ an hour into the opening it’s sold and there’s ten more people who want it. There is no way to predict it, everything is unique and subjective.”
Though there is a place for serious commerce and the propagation of game-inspired art’s broader legitimacy, it is the aforementioned nostalgia factor that resonates with the iam8bit staff, as Ahrens tells it, “A young woman came in, I spoke to her and it turns out she was gamer who grew up in Korea. She plays the violin professionally, but hated it as a kid. She got rewarded for doing her violin practices by being able to play Nintendo. She came [into the gallery] and looking at the pieces, she looked like she was almost in tears. She kept saying, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you, for this,’ just the fact that it existed, and so near where she lived, she was almost overwhelms seeing her whole childhood on the walls.”While a generation grew up from game playing kids to interpretive game-art buying adults, Nick Ahrens does not see this trend continuing with the children of Halo and BioShock when they reach maturity. “The reason we love this show so much is that the artists have to take these characters that are made up of sixteen pixels or twenty pixels or thirty pixels and they have to turn them into full-fledged, fully detailed giant oil paintings or things like that, so they are filling in the gaps with their imagination, they are taking their memories and interpreting that how they saw it. Nowadays, now this isn’t a bad thing [we] love games, it’s just different now. Games now have such good technology in graphics, sound and the way the stories can be told more cinematically with a lot of narrative to it, whereas before these stories were told with a lot of interpretation and imagination required. I’m not saying [new game art] won’t be done, it will just be very different.”
Super iam8bit concludes on Saturday September 10th with a signing from 12-3pm at the gallery, (2147 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026) featuring over 25 of the participating artists including Jim Mafood (Grrl Scouts) and Jorge R. Gutierrez (co-creator of Nickelodeon’s El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera).