MoMA: Video games are art

Are video games good enough to be considered art? Is this a legitimate question? Controversial, some might argue, while others will be less phlegmatic that such a thing could ever be mooted: “That’s a ludicrous proposition. Why would you even think that?”
However, such steadfast attitudes are potentially antiquated, given how far video games have come along since Pong first wowed the world with its computerised version of ping pong in 1972. It might only have featured a couple of moving rectangular strips and a small circular ball, but it was engaging. Still is.
Nowadays, video games are exceptionally immersive experiences that are thought-provoking, challenging and emotionally fulfilling, highly stylised and cinematic. Halo 4 for example, which was released last month, has been internationally acclaimed for its graphics, narrative and playability.
New York’s The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is attempting to address this issue head on by adding video games to its permanent collection. As one of the most respected modern and contemporary institutions, this development matters.
We shouldn’t really be astonished that MoMA is doing this. As its mission statement reveals, the museum is committed to “establishing, preserving and documenting a permanent collection of the highest order that reflects the vitality, complexity and unfolding patterns of modern and contemporary art”.
Fourteen video games have already been acquired, which MoMA describes as being the “seedbed for an initial wishlist of 40”. This isn’t some act of mad folly or a grand experiment – it is entirely committed to the project.
The initial batch, which will go on show in March 2013, includes classics like Pac-Man (1980), Tetris (1984), Another World (1991), Myst (1993), SimCity 2000 (1994), Vib-Ribbon (1999), The Sims (2000), EVE Online (2003), Katamari Damacy (2004), DwarfFortress (2006), flOw (2006), Portal (2007), Passage (2008) and Canabalt (2009).
“The games were selected as outstanding examples of interaction design,” MoMA stated.
“Criteria for the selections emphasise 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 behaviour – that pertain to interaction design.”
The popularity and prevalence of video games says something about their significance as art. They are, for one, celebrated as an art form alongside literature, film, music and art; two, they tend to incorporate elements of both high brow and popular culture; and three, there is a huge amount of creativity and work that goes into them.
MoMA is daring, intuitive and enterprising in including video games in its permanent collection, and in doing so, contributes to the modernist tradition of legitimate insubordination. It isn’t a misplaced endeavour. Simply put, the museum is ahead of its time.
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