MoMA’s first video game exhibit focuses on American games


Are video games art? The question was a hot topic in mainstream cultural criticism just a few short years ago, with pundits of established mediums like film decrying video games’ merit with gusto. “Video games can never be art,” exclaimed Roger Ebert in 2010, triggering an avalanche of nerd avarice towards him on the Internet. Just two years later, with creators reaching ever-expanding audiences through mobile devices like the iPhone, the question simply seems ridiculous. Of course video games are art. The only question is which ones will be canonized and obsessed over by the academics of tomorrow.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has taken a step towards establishing a video game canon. In March 2013, MoMA will open its very first permanent video game collection in the Museum’s Philip Johnson Galleries. Focusing on the last thirty years of video games, the collection includes an impressive variety of games born of significantly different platforms and cultures.

Of the fourteen games in the collection, three are Japanese, including Namco’s original Pac-man, Keita Takahashi’s Katamari Damacy, and Masaya Matsuura’s strange PlayStation curio Vib-ribbon.

There’s a significant American presence, including Jason Rohrer’s Passage, Adam Saltsman’s Canabalt ,Valve’s Portal, thatgamecompany’s flOw, the Miller brothers’ Myst, the Adams brothers’ Dwarf Fortress, and finally the twin Will Wright punches of SimCity 2000 and The Sims.

Other than those titles, the rest of the world is sparsely represented. Alexey Pajitnov’s “Soviet mind game” as it was called in the 1980s Tetris and Eric Chahi of France’s Another World make the collection as well.

Icelandic studio CCP Games and their signature MMO Eve Online is included in the collection and it is by far the most fascinating entry in the series. Even more than most MMOs, Eve Online is dependent on its international population of 400,000 players to exist. Those players maintain a living, breathing economy and virtual galaxy, and without them the game ceases to exist. It is in actuality an exhibited art work that can actually “die.” If players abandon the world of Eve Online or CCP’s servers are destroyed, it would be as if MoMA were displaying a blank canvas that had been stripped of paint.

The best thing about MoMA’s exhibit is that it is taking a step towards preservation. While many classic games have been preserved and are available through digital channels, many like the collection’s Vib-ribbon remain inaccessible due to regional availability.