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There’s More Than Meets the Ears in this Video Game Exhibit

Now through February 25, you can explore the world of video games through “The Ears Have Walls: A Survey of Sound Games,” a collaboration between Northwestern lecturers Stephan Moore and Chaz Evans.

Evans is the co-founder of the Video Game Art Gallery, a pop-up organization dedicated to increasing “cultural appreciation, education of video games and new media through exhibition, study, critique and sale.”

The gallery, located in Logan Square, has been showing exhibitions since 2013. It’s one of two locations hosting “The Ears Have Walls.” The second exhibition space is the Experimental Sound Studio’s Audible Gallery. It’s the first dual exhibit between VGA and the Experimental Sound Studio.

According to Evans, the collaboration, which combines his work with video games and Moore’s specialty in sound art, seemed like a natural fit. The professors met while teaching interactive art classes in the same department.

“The conversation sort of started there,” Evans says. “The Venn diagram between video games and sound art is actually very big.”

While visuals are undoubtedly crucial to video games as an art form, Evans says the importance of the sound component should not be overlooked.

“Sound is often thought of as a supportive role inside video games,” Evans says. “It’s sort of thought of as second fiddle to the action, main mechanics or what’s on the screen.”

“The Ears Have Walls” focuses on a genre of video games that Evans calls sound games.

“This is a show of all games that are the opposite of what you think of as a typical video game,” Evans says. “Where audio is the main feedback you get from the system, the visual is the support.”

Evans and Moore curated games for the exhibit by putting together a list of the work they were most excited about, and then worked on refining the game categories.

There are the rhythm games – a category that incorporates well-known games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, as well as some more obscure ones like PaRappa the Rapper, where players rap themselves through a day. Other genres include horror and suspense.

Despite their varying genres, Evans says the sound games all require “active listening.”

“The games in the exhibit must require active listening,” Evans says. “If a game can still be played after turning the sound off, that’s a sign it isn’t a good fit.”

Like their genres, the games’ modes of play and interfaces also differ. The exhibit features TVs, tablets, projections and headphones for players to use.

“The Ears Have Walls” is not just a collaboration of disciplines. It also represents a partnership between Northwestern University and the creative community in the surrounding area. In fact, Founder and Director of Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Sound and Industries Program Jake Smith plans to bring a class of students to see the exhibit.

“It’s really a valuable field trip destination,” Evans says. “It’s important to not just be studious in the classroom, but to also get out into the metro area.”

Learn more about the exhibit, including hours of operation: