How and Why MoMA Acquired Video Games

YouTube / TED
YouTube / TED / YouTube / TED

In November 2012, the Museum of Modern Art announced its acquisition of a series of iconic video games. The reaction in the art world was, to make a long story short, "video games are not art." (Or more pointedly, Pac-Man is not Picasso.) Predictably, that began a discussion about what art is, and presumably that war will rage forever.

In this TED Talk, Paola Antonelli, the MoMA curator responsible for the acquisition, explains in detail her thought process behind bringing games into the museum. It contains all kinds of interesting stuff I didn't know about -- for instance, the games are intentionally presented without nostalgia, so the game consoles are not visible though the controllers are (because they are necessary to interact with the game). The games are presented in the context of interaction design and specifically not as art, which is a meaningful distinction. And, wildest of all, MoMA acquired the source code wherever it could, or acquired "relationships" with companies where it couldn't, with the intent that down the road the source code would be provided when it was no longer a valuable trade secret. This last bit is particularly interesting, when you think of what the museum does when it adds items to its permanent collection -- having the source code is a big part of actually preserving a game over the long span of history and understanding how it actually functions at a deep level.

So if you're into games, art, design, or just wonder how MoMA chose the first fourteen games (why no Grand Theft Auto?), this talk is for you.