SAAM Arcade 2019 – Breaking Barriers With Video Games

It was a nostalgia kick bigger than Stranger Things Season 3 this past weekend as the Smithsonian American Art Museum welcomed the 2019 SAAM Arcade to the Kogod Courtyard.SAAM Arcade 2019.

What is SAAM Arcade?

SAAM Arcade is the museum’s annual tribute to the art and culture of video games. The floor was packed with cheerful families and gaming enthusiasts.  Games ranging from arcade classics like Ms. Pacman and Galaga to the creations of today’s groundbreaking independent developers filled the room with the sounds of joy.

This year’s curated theme was “Breaking Barriers”, with a focus on highlighting underrepresented populations within the gaming world.

Pocketful of Sunshine

SAAM Arcade 2019.

My favorite part of the SAAM Arcade experience was sharing the games of my youth with our children.  We didn’t even need a bag of quarters; all the games were free!

We played arcade cabinet games like Mortal Kombat II, Tron and Gauntlet together.  It was great fun trying to remember the winning patterns and button combinations.  Eventually it all comes flowing back to you like muscle memory.  Even though these games don’t have the fancy graphics of today’s high-powered consoles, our kids had a ball discovering these quirky and original games. Our youngest spent over thirty minutes exploring the world of Team’s ECO’s PS2 classic The Shadow of the Colossus.

One of the most interesting experiences was watching them play a cooperative strategy game called Salmon Roll.  They play as beavers on both sides of a wooden beam (represented by a large and heavy controller). Together they must guide the rolling salmon upstream to a nest while avoiding a maze of hungry bears in their path.  This unique game required quick thinking, communication and leadership skills.  It was fun watching them work out a few of the mazes together.

SAAM Arcade 2019.

An Academic Chat

This was a Smithsonian institution, so there had to be a sprinkle of academic exercise involved as well.

Saturday’s keynote speaker was Tanya DePass, a noted diversity consultant in the video games industry and the creator of the @INeedDivGms community.  The goal of her organization is to increase access to the games industry for women, people of color, and the disabled and LGBQT communities. Shockingly, today’s industry is still composed of nearly 75% white men. She noted that the biggest barrier to entry for the game industry is cost, but geography and other limitation play a role as well.

You can view her complete keynote address here:


SAAM Arcade 2019.The 2019 SAAM Arcade was a great way to spend a summer afternoon in the city. In between games there was plenty of opportunity to explore the adjoining museums and take in the beautiful artwork as well. I would encourage you to put this event on your calendar for next year.


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