To a gamer, it may be a no-brainer to say that creating and even playing videogames falls under the category of "art," but it's something else entirely when the Museum of Modern Art decides it's going to make an installation devoted to that very subject. But what games does the MoMA think qualify as art?
First of all, what makes this most interesting is the way in which the MoMA decides what is and is not art when it comes to interactive media like videogames. The criteria are as much about aesthetics as they are about interface and ability for personal expression within that interface. As the MoMA itself puts it, it's "from the elegance of the code to the design of the player's behavior." As they thought of what games to include, they considered the format this way:
"As with all other design objects in MoMA's collection, from posters to chairs to cars to fonts, curators seek a combination of historical and cultural relevance, aesthetic expression, functional and structural soundness, innovative approaches to technology and behavior, and a successful synthesis of materials and techniques in achieving the goal set by the initial program. This is as true for a stool or a helicopter as it is for an interface or a video game, in which the programming language takes the place of the wood or plastics, and the quality of the interaction translates in the digital world what the synthesis of form and function represent in the physical one. Because of the tight filter we apply to any category of objects in MoMA's collection, our selection does not include some immensely popular video games that might have seemed like no-brainers to video game historians."
So what games fill those requirements? Thus far, the MoMA has 14:
- 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)
What makes this list so interesting is that not all the titles are obvious, and they do span several generations of the gaming industry. And you can see how the way the game plays is just as important as the aesthetic. No surprise that Tetris is there, considering it's the quintessential casual game.
The MoMA is hoping to bump their list of games up to 40, including Spacewar! (1962), an assortment of games for the Magnavox Odyssey console (1972), Pong (1972), Snake (originally designed in the 1970s; Nokia phone version dates from 1997), Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), Zork (1979), Tempest (1981), Donkey Kong (1981), Yars' Revenge (1982), M.U.L.E. (1983), Core War (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).
What do you think of the games on that list? Any more you think should be added?