Permanent Video Games Exhibit At MoMA Kicks Off With 14 Iconic Titles

By March 4, 2013

For years, gamers have argued that video games DO indeed count as art and now one of the most famous art galleries in the world agrees.

Kicking off this month, New York’s Modern Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has installed a permanent video games exhibit in the Philip Johnson Galleries wing and will highlight 14 eclectic vg titles with the hopes of building the collection to 40 “over the next few years.”

Not only looking at the games themselves as cultural icons, MoMA is also putting focus on the game’s designs and have stressed that these games are included to show that they’re more than the “visual quality and aesthetic experience.”

“Which games made the cut?!” you ask.

First of all, stop yelling. Second of all, here’s the list (in no particular order):

Pac-Man (NAMCO BANDAI, 1980)

If you can navigate a maze, you can play Pac-Man. At a time where shooters like Space Invaders and Asteroids were king, creator Tori Iwatani wanted to create a non-violent game that would be more universally accepted and enjoyed by gamers of all ages. While eating pizza one day, Iwatani had a vision of a giant yellow circle with a wedge removed for a mouth and chose cute over scary when creating the ghosts that would spend the rest of their lives chasing down the little yellow guy who ate fruit to power up (an idea Iwatani got from the comic strip Popeye) and said “wocka wocka”. All of this achieved with the use of a single joystick. Good choice, says me.

Tetris (The Tetris Company, 1984)

Created while employed by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR’s Computing Center, Alexey Pajitnov’s spatial puzzle has delighted and frustrated gamers for years. Various shapes (known as Tetriminos) fall in random orders and speeds with the player then having to fill a line of ten blocks across the screen in order to empty said space and make room for more Tetriminos, level up and earn more points.

MYST (Cyan Worlds, 1993)

Created by brothers Robyn and Rand Miller, this best-selling PC game of the 90s is a first-person fantasy puzzle where a character (known as The Stranger) travels through an “enchanted book to the isle of Myst”. Controlled by a single player or a team, The Stranger’s goal is to travel through several of these worlds (known as “Ages”) and the outcome is never the same.

SimCity 2000 (EA, 1993)

Ever wanted to run your own city? Well, you’re gonna. Based on what you build and the residents that live there known as Sims (Sim – Simulation…GET IT?!), you’re either gonna be a hero or a pariah. Since its inception in ’93, the Sim world itself blew up as a franchise now focused more on the The Sims themselves rather than the city…which is also why 2000’s The Sims is also a part of the MoMA exhibit.

vib-ribbon (Sony Computer Entertainment, 1999)

Imagine using your favorite New Kids On The Block (or whatever) to set the pace of a video game…sounds awesome, right? Well, that’s what Masaya Matsuura thought, too. One of the inventors of the “modern musical video game”, this Tokyo-based designer and musician created vid-ribbon’s codes to adjust to the player’s choice of music as they guide a rabbit named along a single stringlike road that of course is filled with obstacles. If the beat is quick, so is Vibri and pressing the right buttons will let Vibri survive successfully. So if you wanna use speed metal, feel free; only know that your gaming skills better be as quick as that ridiculously fast guitar solo on your fave track. If the player continually makes mistakes, Vibri will “devolve”, going from rabbit to frog to worm BUT if the player is skillful, she sings a song (that elongates with the player’s score) until she evolves into a fairy princess.

EVE Online (CCP, 2003)

This MMO (massively multiplayer online) game has players from around the world (about a half million and counting) traveling and interacting along a galaxy set 20,000 years in the future known as New Eden; learning to adapt when lives and rules evolve as the world itself does.

Portal (Valve, 2007)

Ah, yes. Portal. This first-person puzzle game is seen through the eyes of a woman named Chell, who the player guides through the game using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device that creates holes a.k.a. “portals” in walls and floors while a voice known only as GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) continues to issue challenges. The light at the end of the tunnel is supposedly cake…which anyone who’s played the game will tell you is A LIE.

flOw (thatgamecompany, 2007)

Based on co-designer Jenova Chen’s research into Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (process of automatically changing parameters, scenarios, and behaviors in a video game in real-time, based on the player’s ability, in order to avoid them becoming bored if too easy or frustrated if too hard), flOw is one of those games that can become instantly addicting as your creature evolves based on the organisms you eat while swimming along from level to level. And going back to the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, if the game senses you think it’s too easy, it’ll gladly make it a wee bit harder for ya. If you prefer to listen to your own music while playing, feel free…it doesn’t affect the game like vid-ribbon would!

(If you’ve never played flOw but think it looks a lot like this other game you’ve tried called Flower, then you’d be right as it’s considered flOw‘s “spiritual successor”.)

Canabalt (Adam Saltsman/Daniel Baranowsky, 2009)

With the advent of smartphone gaming apps, sidescrollers made a serious comeback with games like Canabalt. Based on speed and focus, a small pixelated figure runs from rooftop to rooftop while avoiding obstacles as fast as you can without falling to your death or what I like to call “smoosh-ed”. If you’re looking for bright, flashig colors, you won’t find any here (unless you count six shades of gray a color). I got Canabalt for my iPhone and some days I’ll end up playing for an hour but whether you play for five minutes or an hour, it’s always good fun.

FUN FACT: the game’s composer, Danny Baranowsky, is also the composer for the wildly popular indie game Super Meat Boy and the theme song for my GeekNation podcast, Gecken!

Other games in the exhibit include Another World (1991), Katamari Damacy (2004), Dwarf Fortress (2006), Passage (2008) and the aforementioned The Sims (2000).

Now if you’ve never played these games or aren’t a gamer at all but would like to experience them while at MoMA, don’t panic. They’ve wisely planned ahead and assure ALL visitors a one of a kind experience by making them enjoyable for all.

“For games that take longer to play, but still require interaction for full appreciation, an interactive demonstration, in which the game can be played for a limited amount of time, will be the answer. In concert with programmers and designers, we will devise a way to play a game for a limited time and enable visitors to experience the game firsthand, without frustrations.

With older games for which the original cartridges may be too fragile or hard to find, we will offer an interactive emulation—a programmer will translate the original code, which was designed for a specific platform, into new code that will create the same effect on a newer computer.

In other cases, when the game is too complex or too time consuming to be experienced as an interactive display in the galleries, we will create a video akin to a demo, in which the concept and characters of the game are laid out.

Finally, some of the games we have acquired (for instance Dwarf Fortress and EVE Online) take years and millions of people to manifest fully. To convey their experience, we will work with players and designers to create guided tours of these alternate worlds, so the visitor can begin to appreciate the extent and possibilities of the complex gameplay.”

Like I said earlier, this is a PERMANENT exhibit so if you ever find yourself in good ‘ol New York City, you should make your way on over to MoMA!

For more info on MoMA’s awesome new exhibit as well as the parameters they’ve set in their exhibit choices, check out their sweet-ass official website.

*pew pew*!

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Cricket Lee
Star Wars fangirl. Named Best Kisser by Time Magazine. CEO/Host: Girl Gamer; host of Gecken: GeekNation; writer: Dread Central. You'll have a crush on me soon. Vote Quimby. Twitter: @crixlee