Video Games in MoMA

by - Friday, November 30, 2012

This week, MoMA acquired 14 videogames into their permanent collection, which, if nothing else, reinvigorated an old debate between the Boy and I. We have talked a lot about video games and whether they are an artistic form. They are certainly more on the film side than anything- they are built collaboratively, usually with some form of corporate hierarchy, and are usually bound to some sort of narrative. I would never argue that they aren't beautiful, as many of them are quite pretty, but it has been difficult to pinpoint exactly how they fit into aesthetic culture or whether they have lasting aesthetic value.

I mean, unlike an old classic movie, it seemed to me like video games wouldn't persist once new technology keeps being introduced. They seem to be built with an awareness of their own ephemerality.  I mean, no one is going to want to play Just Dance 10 years from now, because the songs will be out of date and the motion won't be picked up well enough. Of course, I will happily admit I am wrong about a lot of this- Nintendo's remain precious in a lot of households, and some of the games keep being brought back in the new consoles (or computers). At the same time, I think there is a limit to games timelessness, and it is hard to look at this phenomena without thinking it is mostly about nostalgia for childhood and less about the quality of the games.

But, once you are in MoMA, a peon like me can't really deny your aesthetic value/ relevance/ etc. The 14 games they acquired are:

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)

Interestingly, most of the games that made it (or at least the ones I know) are pretty anti-narrative, which perhaps makes it easier to pinpoint the aesthetic value. I especially love that Myst made it, because it is one of my brother's favorite games. It is also undeniably very very pretty.

They are describing these as examples of "interactive design"and they are working on a collection of about 40 games. I am not sure what I think about the very recent games- I don't care what medium you are, it is dangerous to be institutionalized so quickly. It probably means you are super boring.

Also weird (and I didn't come up with this, because, again, I know about half of these games), the list seems to avoid games that are really flexing multi-player muscle. I'm excited to see what else makes the list (fingers crossed for my Kirby Yarn Game!). What do you think should make the list?


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