It was announced in November that the Museum of Modern Art plans to add 14 video games to its collection. The news has been met with some controversy amongst certain high-profile critics and bloggers.
Roger Ebert said in his April 16, 2010, Chicago Sun-Times blog post, “Video games cannot be art.” And while Ebert may be a highly-valued critic in the world of cinema, he quite simply doesn’t understand the artistry that goes into creating video games. He can’t understand the emotion felt by gamers during a particularly touching narrative without having played them. However, Ebert is not alone in his opinion.
“No one ‘owns’ the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art,” said Jonathan Jones, blogger for The Guardian, in a Nov. 30 response to MoMA’s addition of games.
General falsity of this claim aside, Jones makes the argument that anything created by a group of people as opposed to a single person cannot be considered “art.” What, then, could be considered modern art? Certainly not movies, as dozens or even hundreds of people come together to create a film. Nor could music, with the collaboration of writers, singers, engineers, etc.
Unfortunately for these critics, arguing against the qualification of video games as art is a losing battle. According to MoMA, they qualify. The real issue at hand is whether or not the right games were picked.
The games chosen were released from 1980 to 2009 and include classics such as “Pac-Man” and “Tetris,” as well as newer titles like “EVE Online” and “Portal.” The criteria for consideration included more than just the game’s aesthetics.
According to Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the department of architecture and design at MoMA, in a Nov. 29 blog on their official website, they wanted games that showed aspects “from the elegance of code to the design of the player’s behavior.”
While it is important for a game to be coded well and have few bugs, I believe there are a few aspects that the games on the list are missing. Though I’m definitely no art critic, it seems art should sway the way a person thinks, or break ground in some fashion. If the games haven’t been hugely influential on gamers, it doesn’t seem like they should be amongst notable artistic games.
There is also a lack of narrative storytelling in the games included. Some consider storytelling itself to be an art, yet narrative games are left out almost completely. And for all the advances in technology, the newer games on the list lack the realistic graphics most gamers look for.
So what should be left out? “Canabalt” has made almost no progress graphically in gaming since the early ’90s, even though it was made in 2009. “Vib-ribbon” looks as if a toddler drew it.
What should be included on the list? Some of the groundbreakers that come to mind are “Super Mario Bros.” or “The Legend of Zelda.” As far as visually appealing narrative, a pretty good case could be made for “Mass Effect.”
Fortunately, they may eventually be added. MoMA has stated they plan on having about 40 games in the exhibit in the future.
Ethan Hague is a junior in mass communication. Please send comments to [email protected]