MoMA’s New Collection of Video Games

Ana B. Remos

“Criteria for the selections emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the elegance of the code or the design of the player’s behavior—that pertain to interaction design."

FLOW. Jenova (Xinghan) Chen (Chinese, 1981); Nick Clark (American, 1984). 2007.

Time has come to recognize the art of the video game, fundamentally in terms of design. MoMA has just announced it will add a selection of video games to their permanent collection.

The museum has acquired 14 “pieces”: 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), Pasaje (2008), and Canabalt (2009). They will be installed in the Philip Johnson Gallery starting March 2013. This list will grow to include up to 40 titles.

→ 1. PAC-MAN. Toru Iwatani (Japanese, 1955). 1980-1981. © 2012 NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.
→ 2. VIB-RIBBON. Masaya Matsuura (Japanese, 1961). 1997-1999. © 1999 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.

Paola Antonelli, Principal Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design, explained: “In the next few years, we would like to complete this initial selection with Spacewar! (1962), a variety of games for the Magnavox Odyssey console (1972), Pong (1972), Serpiente (originally designed in the 1970`s, the Nokia mobile version was created in 1997), SpaceInvaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), Zork (1979), Tempest (1981), Donkey Kong (1981), La venganza Yars (1982), MULA (1983), CoreWar (1984), Marble Madness (1984), Super Mario Bros (1985), The Legend of Zelda (1986), NetHack (1987), Street Fighter II (1991), Chrono Trigger (1995), Super Mario 64(1996), Grim Fandango (1998), Animal Crossing (2001) and Minecraft (2011)”.

This decision opens two debates: Can video games be considered art? And which criteria did the museum follow to recognize these “parts” as art, discarding others? It is worth reading the considerations published by MoMA in their press release: “Sure they are expressions or art, but also works of design, and a design approach is what we have chosen for this new incursion. The games were selected as outstanding examples of interaction design… expressions of contemporary design creativity. Criteria for the selections 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.

→ 1. PORTAL. Valve (USA, 1996). 2005-2007. © 2012 Valve.
→ 2. EVE ONLINE. CCP Games (Iceland, 1997). 2003. © 2012 CCP hf.

In order to develop an even stronger curatorial position, in the last year and a half we have sought the advice of experts, digital preservationists and jurists, historians and critics, who helped us improve not only the criteria and the list of objectives, but also issues of acquisition, display, and preservation of digital objects that become even more complex by the nature of interactive games. This acquisition allows the Museum to study, preserve and display video games as part of its collection of architecture and design.”

How will these “works” be displayed, and how will the public appreciate them are also good questions since the “demos” have always existed! They are short, test versions, which could be accessed by the public. MoMA will not display a concept or a game cover. Visitors will be able to actually play the games because that is what it is all about. Playing them, they will appreciate the aesthetics, the programming language, how the spaces are conceived (the architecture of the game), the language, the possibilities of interaction and a myriad other concepts that make a videogame attractive and in this case, a work of art.

The games were donated to the museum by their owners (who are not exactly the “creators”, but rather the producers). Usually, video games are not the work of one person, but the result of multidisciplinary work in teams.

© | 2019