From Monet To Mario Bros., Paris Exhibit Lifts Video Games To High Culture Status

The prestigious Grand Palais museum in Paris is hosting an exhibition on the history of video games, marking an unofficial christening into the realm of high brow for a craft that has long been associated with mass (and mindless) entertainment.

The Grand Palais' majestic front entrance is pixelated for a video game effect
The Grand Palais' majestic front entrance is pixelated for a video game effect
Chloé Woitier

PARIS - In the middle of the Champs-Elysées stands the Grand Palais, a place of the highest artistic and culture prestige and host to some of the most important international exhibitions. But passers-by these days will undoubtedly notice a slightly unusual detail at the Paris landmark: a ten-meter-high poster of a pixelated Grand Palais depicted in a video game.

Welcome to the "Game Story" exhibition: bringing video games to the French art world, an unlikely invitation for popular culture to stride into the realm of high culture -- through the front door.

It's a significant event for an industry that has long been considered an ugly duckling by not only the cultural elite, but the public at large. "We saw genre barriers begin to crumble a few years ago," says Jean-Claude Larue, general delegate of SELL, a video-game developers association that is sponsoring the exhibition. "We are present in 90% of families. A new generation of politicians and journalists have grown up with video games. The cultural world, which has always been a bit snobbish towards video games, was the only circle that still needed to be convinced."

This exhibition was made possible "thanks to an extremely favorable alignment of the planets," quips Larue, noting support from the top brass at the French culture ministry and national museum directorate.

The road for video games to arrive at the Grand Palais passed through Paris' Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts), which hosted the country's first ever museum exhibition about video games, which drew some 50,000 visitors. The recipe for such a triumph was really quite simple – visitors got to play. Instead of looking at video games neatly displayed behind windows, visitors could directly try their joystick skills on various platforms, ranging from an antique Colecovision to a modern Xbox.

A key to having the exhibition connect is to be sure the TV used belongs to the same time period. Similarly, the history of the game must be linked to the cultural history. Game Story took a few CRT TV's as well as several good old consoles out of the attic, allowing visitors to play in the proper conditions on dozens of games, some of them dating back to the 1970s. Movies, comics and board games from the same period are also there to help ensconce visitors in the popular culture of the period.

Hoping to hook the less well-versed viewers in the world, Game Story welcomes visitors into a spacious, bright and colorful environment. On the walls, lexicons briefly explain concepts such as "platform game", "gamer", "fantasy", "arcade", "controller", "8 bits' ... The games are presented in such a way that they are clear enough for beginners, while at the same time being precise enough for hardcore gamers.

Game Story may even reach the "next level," as talks have already opened to bring the exhibition to other cities around the world. Paris may have been the toughest challenge of all.

Game Story exhibit runs through Jan. 9.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Grand Palais

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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