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MoMA and the Question of Video Games as Art

/ Dec 13th, 2012 1 Comment

Portal is one of the 14 titles included in the collection.

In November The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) made the announcement that it would add 14 influential video games to its collection. Included in the initial group will be Tetris (1984), SimCity 2000 (1994), Portal (2007), Pac-Man (1980), Another World (1991), Myst (1993), vib-ribbon (1999), The Sims (2000), Katamari Damacy (2004), EVE Online (2003), Dwarf Fortress (2006), flOw (2006), Passage (2008), and Canabalt (2009). Additionally, the museum plans to expand the collection to 40 games with titles such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda added to the list.

Surprisingly, the art world is buzzing with controversy and criticisms. Claiming that video games cannot be art, prominent critics and bloggers are questioning video games place in the prestigious Museum of Modern Art. Defending the decision, Senior Curator Paola Antonelli explained the design aspect of video games and asserted “a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe. The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design.”

[adsense250itp]Roger Ebert famous said that video games cannot be art, and ever since developers and gamers have been trying to prove critics wrong. Unfortunately, despite the industry maturing over the past few decades and its enormous impact on popular culture, video games are largely seen as a frivolous pastime meant only for children. Well into the 20th century, critics still view games through the lens of the 1980s.

Famous blockbusters such as Grand Theft Auto or Mass Effect drew national criticism for touching on subjects routinely depicted in other forms of entertainment. Despite its mature rating, Mass Effect’s sexual content was seen as promiscuous and inappropriate. Although certainly graphic, the content would not have raised an eyebrow if depicted in movies or pay-per-view television. Audiences need to realize that games have grown up, moved out, and become something more than quarter-eating arcade machines.

flOw is also included into the collection.

What art critics don’t understand is how far games have come. One only needs to look at inventive game developer, thatgamecompany, to see how artistic games can be. Founded by Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen, the studio focuses on creating games that evoke genuine responses from its players. Avoiding overt messages, the games instead allow players to draw meaning from their emotional experiences. Even first-person shooters, the genre frequently blamed for lacking creative imagination, are intrinsically artistic. Everything from the level layout to the weapon designs and character personalities are an artistic creation. Be it a Halo sequel or a Call of Duty clone, first-person shooters are still the result of numerous artists working together to produce a unified, immersive experience. All games, regardless of their size or scope, are a personal reflection of those artists who built them.

So then what in a game disqualifies it as art? Surely the graphical component qualifies. Skillfully crafted and beautifully designed, it would be hard to argue that the marvelous settings or realistic characters are not art. How about the music? As it turns out, the Medal of Honor series happened to be composed by the Academy Award-winning composer, Michael Giacchino. The writing, perhaps? Ask any serious gamer and they’ll tell you how certain games have made them laugh, scream, and yes, even cry. From Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII to Big Boss’ final words in Metal Gear Solid 4, games have struck an emotional cord with their players. Some of the most complex, rich, and layered stories are contained within gaming universes. Then why, when combined together into a cohesive whole, are these creative expressions robbed of their artistry? To say that games are not art is to reject the artistic worth of the individuals involved in the games creation.

Maybe with MoMA’s decision to include video games into its collection, games will finally be recognized for what they’ve always been, an interactive art form. Regardless, the argument is superfluous. Roger Ebert’s remark, as well as those critical of MoMA’s decision, is as credible as a food critic judging theatre. Gamers know the artistic significance of games and the need for outside reassurance is unnecessary. Video games are often compared to movies and other art forms when instead they should be judged on their own terms—as a creative medium built around interactive experiences. Perhaps then game developers will be recognized and their creations deemed worthy contributions to the world of art.

Stephen Vinson

Stephen Vinson

Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Stephen is a contributor to Gaming Illustrated and part of the editorial team. He regularly reads game reviews, keeps up with gaming trends, and follow news stories about the latest game or console rumor.
Stephen Vinson
Stephen Vinson

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One response to “MoMA and the Question of Video Games as Art”

  1. […] there have been a surge of articles asking whether video games are art. MoMA has added video games to their permanent collection, and the Smithsonian has created an exhibition […]

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