Arcades, let's plays, and avant-gardes
: perspectives for analysing and developing videogame exhibitions for arts audiences

  • Emilie Reed

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


While debate over videogames’ cultural status can still become contentious, the contemporary exhibition form is a route into art history, and exhibitions of videogames and their display choices have already drawn videogames into the discursive construction of the history of art. Over the past 30 years, a variety of art institutions have organized exhibitions presenting videogames as important elements of broader art and design culture, therefore reflecting on past exhibitions of videogames and examining curatorial decisions is a vital part of identifying their place in the history of art.

This dissertation consists of research and practical work in games curation within this context. First, I provide a history of major videogame exhibitions, and analyse them using perspectives from the history of art, museology, and game studies. I highlight three qualities of videogames, their multipart nature, their durational nature, and their need to be activated or performed at some point, which can be addressed in various ways by the paradigms of art institutional display. I carry these qualities over to an autoethnographic reflection on how these challenges manifested in my own curatorial practice with three case studies. By reviewing the process of exhibition development, visitor observation and perspectives on tensions between spectatorship and interaction, I present a model for evaluating the effectiveness of present curatorial processes in addressing the varied ways gallery visitors experience videogames as an art object or aesthetic experience. The dissertation contributes a historical perspective on videogame exhibitions, and methods for developing and evaluating them by bringing together multiple perspectives from art history, game studies, and new media art, and producing new, practice-based insights.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorWilliam Huber (Supervisor) & Robin J. S. Sloan (Supervisor)


  • Videogames
  • Exhibitions
  • Museum studies
  • Interactive art,
  • Game studies

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