Video games have been recognised by the Museum of Modern Art, breaking another cultural barrier for the young medium.
The MoMA in New York has acquired 14 video games, the foundation for an initial wish list of about 40, which are to be acquired in the near future, as well as for a new category of artworks in MoMA’s collection. Some of the titles selected include Pac-Man, Myst, Portal, Tetris and Eve Online.
In its announcement, the museum said placed emphasis on design as a primary reason why games were worthy of inclusion. Behaviour, aesthetics, space and time were traits the museum weighted each work against.
“Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe,” the news post by the MoMA reads. “The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design.
“Our criteria, therefore, emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects—from the elegance of the code to the design of the player’s behavior—that pertain to interaction design.
“In order to develop an even stronger curatorial stance, over the past year and a half we have sought the advice of scholars, digital conservation and legal experts, historians, and critics, all of whom helped us refine not only the criteria and the wish list, but also the issues of acquisition, display, and conservation of digital artifacts that are made even more complex by the games’ interactive nature. This acquisition allows the Museum to study, preserve, and exhibit video games as part of its Architecture and Design collection.”
Commenting on Eve Online’s inclusion in the gallery, CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson said: “As we are poised to enter our second decade of growth and prosperity, it is an indescribable honour for us and for everyone who’s ever worked on Eve to even be considered alongside these fellow revolutionary games. We’re proud of our developers for envisioning and shaping Eve Online’s unique game universe and most humbly thankful to our players for bringing true substance to it.”
However, the debate about video games and art has long raged, and, naturally, some commentators have been less than enamoured by the museum’s decision to recognised games.
Guardian arts writer Jonathan Jones was firmly against the idea of games being art – and design wasn’t not a redeeming factor in his eyes: “Interactive immersive digital games are NOT art. Walk around the Museum of Modern Art, look at those masterpieces it holds by Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and what you are seeing is a series of personal visions.
“A work of art is one person’s reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition. Art may be made with a paintbrush or selected as a ready-made, but it has to be an act of personal imagination.
“The worlds created by electronic games are more like playgrounds where experience is created by the interaction between a player and a programme. The player cannot claim to impose a personal vision of life on the game, while the creator of the game has ceded that responsibility. No one ‘owns’ the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art.”
The initial group of games, which will be installed in the Museum’s Philip Johnson Galleries in March 2013, features:
• Pac-Man (1980)
• Tetris (1984)
• Another World (1991)
• Myst (1993)
• SimCity 2000 (1994)
• vib-ribbon (1999)
• The Sims (2000)
• Katamari Damacy (2004)
• Eve Online (2003)
• Dwarf Fortress (2006)
• Portal (2007)
• flOw (2006)
• Passage (2008)
• Canabalt (2009)
Over the next few years, the MoMA wish to adds to its initial selection with Spacewar! (1962), Pong (1972), Asteroids (1979), Super Mario Bros. (1985), The Legend of Zelda (1986), Street Fighter II (1991), Grim Fandango (1998), Minecraft (2011) and many others.