I’ve been to E3 for five years now, and one part never ceases to amaze me: the Into the Pixel art showcase. I still remember one piece somehow sucking me in, her eyes somehow freezing me to my place. Though I hadn’t played Diablo III at the time, something about this photo of Leah caught my attention unlike anything else on the show floor. No guns, no flashing lights, no blasting speakers…just an expression, an emotion, captured in computer animation. Into the Pixel highlights works each year that showcase some of the most creative and inspiring games.

Diablo 3 - Leah Close-up

Roger Ebert shoved himself onto the Gaming Rage list in 2005 when he declared that “…for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.” He moved up a few ranks in 2010 when he said video games could never be art back in 2010. 4,000+ comments later, Ebert retracted his position, citing a lack of exposure to the medium as the flaw in his logic. A part of me that wonders whether he’d have made the same assumptions if he’d been exposed to pieces like these before taking his stance.

Even with the tens of thousands of people roaming the Los Angeles Convention Center during the Electronic Entertainment Expo, there’s a peace at Into the Pixel. As if stepping into a museum, people’s voices lower and steps lighten around the pieces. Soft light hangs over pieces that showcase games and their subjects in ways that naturally beg for pause and reflection. Various musicians play game music on a small stage nearby. As much as I love the spectacle and energy of E3 proper, there’s always a piece at Into the Pixel that just grabs hold of me and reminds me why this industry means so much to me.

A picture of Geralt, a tall man with white hair and two swords on his back, and Ciri, a woman shorter than he, also with white hair. Geralt's back is to the viewer, while Ciri faces the viewer.
“Geralt and Ciri” from The Witcher 3. Art by Bartlomiej Gawel.

This year’s reminder piece was “Geralt and Ciri,” artwork inspired by The Witcher 3, a game I’ve referenced multiple times here at Intelligame. CD Projekt Red’s open-world RPG swept multiple outlets’ Game of the Year awards not just because of its combat and graphics, but also because of the writing and characters portrayed in the game. The world of The Witcher is inherently dark, dangerous, with Witchers existing as a counter to the monsters present in the world. I wish I were an art critic so I could better specify what about this piece feels so moving.

Since 2004, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS) alongside the Electronic Software Association (ESA) has highlighted various pieces of gaming-related art to show as part of Into the Pixel. This isn’t a fan art competition; each work is submitted by the company responsible for the intellectual property. Looking back at the winners for each year feels like hopping into a video game time capsule; former years’ winners are made up of franchises we still know and love today and games that either shone for a brief moment or never truly got off of the ground. It makes me wonder what the collection will look like at the 25th anniversary, what new games we didn’t expect that will shape our lives. The 2015 selections included a piece from Overwatch that showcases the cast of Blizzard’s new smash-hit first-person shooter. I remember seeing the piece on the wall, but I don’t think I’d any idea how influential the game…perhaps nobody did.

The Into the Pixel archives contain high-res versions of all the previous nominees since its inception in 2004. They also have interviews with various artists who’ve submitted winning pieces and more. The showcase also makes a stop at the D.I.C.E. Summit in February, but may show at other locations based on budget and schedule. Take a look at the works and see what speaks to you; I’ll be posting an interview of my own with the Project Manager behind Into the Pixel soon.

Corrections: the AIAS co-hosts Into the Pixel with the Electronic Software Association, and the D.I.C.E. Summit is in February, not December (it’s February 21st-23rd in 2017). The article has been updated to reflect these notes.