August 14, 2019
This past weekend, from August 3rd to August 4th, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) hosted the fifth annual SAAM Arcade. The free, family-friendly event was hosted in the atrium in the center of the museum.
This year’s theme? Breaking Barriers.
Attendees were able to play 13 different games in the Indie Developer Showcase. Some were able to even discuss the games with the developers themselves. The arcade also featured vintage consoles and arcade cabinets from MAGFest, Arcades4Home, and Death by Audio Arcade.
In line with the year’s theme, games were intentionally selected to build empathy through gameplay. The indie games selected featured traditionally underrepresented communities including LGBTQ+ people, women, people of color, people with mental health issues or other disabilities, and more.
In Bearded Dragons, developed by Greg Bayles, bearded drag queens fight over cash tips. Another game, Collapsus, offers over 40 accessibility options for disabled players. These included colorblind options, dyslexia-friendly font options, and more. Pre-Shave by Saam Pahlavan allows players experience the racial anxieties of a brown man trying to avoid racial profiling at the airport by shaving.
The weekend also featured a keynote talk by Tanya DePass of the nonprofit organization I Need Diverse Games. During the talk (titled “Barriers Are Meant to be Destroyed, Not Just Broken”), DePass discussed the variety of issues minorities working in the industry encounter:
The SAAM was actually the first museum to collect and display video games, and their commitment to hosting this event each year represents an important mark of legitimacy for video games as an art form.
To learn more about the SAAM Arcade and this year’s featured games, visit their website.