The MoMA Needs To Step-Up Their Game In uh… Games

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To spoil an art exhibit about videogames, you will need: 

  • 1 Tbs apathy
  • 14 Videogames 
  • 14 Misleading gallery labels 
  • 13 Generic controllers, damaged

Take the fourteen videogames, and place them against a black backdrop of minimalist design. Condense titles that are too large for a quick play through, into videogame trailers and pair them with screenshots so visitors know why these games are important. Next, connect generic controllers to the computers running emulation software to negate any feeling of authenticity. Damage controllers, and then attach misleading gallery labels next to each display. Ensure that the proper button configuration and a detailed description of the game are not displayed on the labels, as this will cause audiences to understand the intricate beauty of game design. Place exhibit far in an obscure corner of the museum, and let sit between the hours of 10:30AM and 5:30PM. Add apathy to taste. Serves 1-2 persons.

The Museum of Modern Art has been collecting a “wish list” of games that showcase the beauty of applied design in videogames. Currently, there are fourteen games on display which are listed in the link above. All but four of these games are playable. Myst, The Sims, SimCity 2000, and EVE Online, are reduced to explanatory clips highlighting their depth. The remaining ten games are carefully chosen to show the broad range of exploration videogames can delve into, like the passage of time or the manipulation of space. The exhibit’s major problem however, is that the museum fails to provide an interactive experience despite the excellent selection of software on display.
 
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That guy on the far left has no idea what he’s doing, and it’s not his fault.

It’s the small things that matter in most videogames: the details of the world, the complexity of the physics, the choice of subject matter, the depth of the narrative. Design is so important to the success of what a game is trying to portray; it’s a wonder why a gallery dedicated to the subject, lacks so much attention to detail.
 
Controllers are damaged third party products that you’d see in a bargain bin for gaming PCs, suggesting that what’s behind the black walls are cheap emulators running the show. The gallery labels that accompany each piece tell an interesting story and even offer a quick rundown on how to play the game, but the diagrams for the controls are mislabeled, forcing players to wonder why the “X” button makes them jump instead of run. A few museum goers simply rage quit out of frustration, moving to something more accessible.
 
A seasoned gamer could eventually figure out a control scheme, but can they break a language barrier? Vib Ribbon, a coveted rhythm game for the original Playstation, is playable at this exhibit, but it’s in Japanese. The combination of a botched label, a damaged controller, and menus in Hiragana, severs any connection between Vib Ribbon and the unlucky player that navigates away from the retry screen; it’s counter intuitive.
 
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That’s Myst. You can’t play it, but you can watch the intro.

To really connect with a game, it must be understood at a cognitive and physical level. Anything less is akin to a blind man trying to appreciate a sculpture encased in glass; the average passerby can read those label cards, but never know the beauty of game design without holding it in their hands. All it takes is a little consideration. Flow, was one of the successful games on display. It not only had an authentic PS3 controller and an accurate controller description, but the nature of the game carries a profound tentativeness in theme and gameplay.

Technical issues and presentation aside, the overall theme of the show seems to be heading in the right direction. The selection of games are clever, avoiding more obvious examples of contemporary game design, and opting for unique experiences that may have been overlooked by even some of the more hardcore enthusiasts. Another World, released in 1991 for just about every platform available at the time, was a game I never even heard of. Exploring the game’s mechanics became a real treat, as each situation presented an opportunity to use the available toolset in different ways. The uniqueness found in Another World, appears to be the main focus of the exhibit; each game provides a complex array of sensory experiences that dabble in abstract concepts like space, time, and sound. 

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Hey, Final Fantasy VII is ART, man!

A dilemma arises however, when other selections like Pac-Man and Tetris, seem to be on display for historic relevance. Sure, I could understand Tetris’ mathematical beauty, but Pac-Man is probably only there because it’s one of the most iconic games in history. While this is acceptable now, the MoMA’s growing archive will present a problem in differentiating between a game’s artistic value and it’s historical relevance. Does Final Fantasy VII get a display because it’s the first Final Fantasy to be rendered in polygons? If that’s the case, the show can easily become a “gaming’s top 10.” Fortunately, it hasn’t gone that route yet.  

Much of The MoMA’s game selection manages to match their mission statement, as these titles explore the different facets of game design. It’s the method in how they are delivered that really gets under my skin. No one can appreciate a game, when they can barely play it!  Perhaps there was a fear in catering to the masses that resulted in the unplayablity of EVE Online, or financial constraints that held back on an UK version of Vib Ribbon. The museum’s mission statement is bold, ambitious, and a step in the right direction for legitimizing games as an art form. Sadly, their first foot in the race stumbles on itself, probably due to nervousness.

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