EVE, Dwarf Fortress Amongst Inclusions At MoMA Exhibit

By John Walker on December 3rd, 2012 at 9:00 am.

New York’s MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) has a forthcoming permanent exhibit featuring fourteen videogames, with a desire to grow this collection to around 40. The obvious choices like Pac-Man and Tetris are joined by a far more eclectic and interesting list, including Dwarf Fortress and Canabalt.

The full list makes for an interesting mix of cheers and sighs. While I rightly and correctly recognise that Myst was a pile of crap, I reluctantly have to acknowledge that its artwork was significant at the time, and remains an interesting artifact. But The Sims? That feels like too easy a choice, especially when SimCity 2000 already graces the list. Here’s all of them:

• Pac-Man (1980)
• Tetris (1984)
• Another World (1991)
• Myst (1993)
• SimCity 2000 (1994)
• vib-ribbon (1999)
• The Sims (2000)
• Katamari Damacy (2004)
• EVE Online (2003)
• Dwarf Fortress (2006)
• Portal (2007)
• flOw (2006)
• Passage (2008)
• Canabalt (2009)

Another World is obviously another splendid choice, and it’s great to see EVE Online getting the recognition. Katamari Damacy is a beautiful thing, and Portal is one of those amazing moments in gaming that deserves this preservation. Passage – I feel like I want to baulk against it simply for being an overrated game, but there’s no doubt that it’s having an extraordinary cross-spectrum appeal, and is clearly an aesthetically enormously pleasing thing. flOw is perhaps the most obviously “art museum” choice, but great to see it there, and I just love seeing Dwarf Fortress and Canabalt getting such attention. Vib-Ribbon I’m afraid I never played, never owning a PSX at the time – forgive me.

It’s weird to realise that for once it’s a lack of older games in the list that seems the oddity. Eight since the millennium, and only two from the Eighties. While I’m delighted that it’s not just a rogues’ gallery of obvious hoary arcades, familiar to all, it does seem a bit wanting in the first half. Of course, that’s likely something that will be addressed as the collection enlarges.

Those with access to the New York terminals will have to wait until March next year to see the exhibit. But coo, what a nice thing to exist.

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70 Comments »

  1. Roz says:

    Some games I’m surprised not to see on there, great to see Myst on the list, spent countless hours playing that. Don’t understand why Sims is on there alongside SimsCity 2000. Don’t understand why portal was on there, being a highly over-rated game.

    Passage???????????

    What criteria were the games picked on? Just graphical design?

    • Gnoupi says:

      I doubt that graphical design is a criteria in favor of Passage.

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    • olemars says:

      If you’d read the article you’d seen:

      The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design—a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity. Our criteria, therefore, emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects—from the elegance of the code to the design of the player’s behavior—that pertain to interaction design.

      It’s not meant to be a top 40 most influental games, nor the best designed games, but outstanding examples of directions games have taken.

      • Cinek says:

        Portal made a direction for any other game then portal 2?
        Sorry, but this game was hardly influential at all.
        Even stupid World of Warcraft had more input on design and games then Portal ever did times four.

        • olemars says:

          It’s not meant to be a top 40 most influental games

          Portal made a direction for itself.

        • DerNebel says:

          “the design of the player’s behavior”. Portal was absolutely brilliant at this. When they announced that cheesy tagline, thinking with portals, they didn’t fool around. The game was so tightly based around teaching the player, then throwing what he or she had been taught back at them, remixed, and all the way through brilliantly tied to the glados character. MoMA stated it themselves, this is no best of, no most influental, no most popular, essentially, it is no list. It is an art exhibit, and when it comes to interactive art, then Portal is a titanic achievement. Portal is there for the way it tied teaching the player how to play the game to a central story based around one of the most brilliant characters of modern times.

          vib-ribbon is there as well. How many people actually played that game, or even knew what it was before reading this artivle? I had no idea, but it clearly is in there because of its brilliant code. It is not an especially stunning game, it’s basically audiosur with shitty stick graphics (diehard fans please don’t murder me), but the brilliant part is that it was possible at all. They basically loaded the entire game unto the tiny bit of RAM found in the PS1 and allowed people to put music discs into the console and play the songs like that. Now that is an achievement in programming. Is it the greatest, best known game of all time? Did it revolutionize anything? No and no. Still, it deserves to be there.

          Canabalt is literally a one-button game. You get to press c or x to jump. You run automatically and your only objective is to keep running. There is no goal and no explicit explanation of why you are running. Yet it is an achievement as well as a piece of art. While you play the screen shakes, you are drawn into the game as the screen follows your characters movement, you can see broken buildings on the skyline and helicopters or planes zoom past you. The game escalates by accelerating your movement the longer you go without hitting anything, buildings collapse under you, you go from rooftop through a window into an office building, out the other window unto a building that collapses under you and so on and so on. And all this is powered by a great soundtrack that expertly sets the mood.

          All these games are art in a way only games can be art, you can’t paint what portal does with characterization of both glados and the player and their relationship. You can’t play a piece of music that symbolises what vib ribbon did with technology. No movie can quite capture being there, the urgency of EVE online or the stories of greed, sloth and armageddon that is the life and soul of Dwarf Fortress. Yet they are art in their own way, beautiful offspring of expression and science, of storytelling and engineering where it is you, the player, who needs to be there for the story to even function or make sense. There is a reason Half-life 2 isn’t here. it is a monumental piece of storytelling, but it doesn’t really express anything. It is just you controlling Gordon Freeman through a story about alien invaders, rebellion and collaborators. You are not Gordon Freeman, you aren’t even his puppet master. You are a guest, and so is Gordon to an extent, in the game, not an actor on par with everyone else.

          I think MoMA has made a brilliant selection for their game exhibit. Games are art, but not like paintings or sculptures or even films. Games are more like conduits or portals, in that they give the player a passage to stories and experiences, but not necessarily an answer. A great game should never explicitly give a player all the pieces, but tell him or her to puzzle it together, to create something for himself.

          (I’m not so sure about brilliant code warranting a place in an art exhibition though. But then again, a lot of paintings in art exhibitions are simply studies in anatomy or nature that are showcases of dazzling skill from the artist)

        • sinister agent says:

          Portal made a direction for any other game then portal 2?
          Sorry, but this game was hardly influential at all.

          Good grief.

  2. Lobotomist says:

    Actually very educated list of games. Considering whoever created it is not necessarily an expert on gaming history.

    Not to mention that adding “Another World” pretty much redeems them in any case.

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      Yep, just seeing Another World on that list made me very happy.

    • pmcp says:

      What makes you think that the Museum of Modern Art wouldn’t hire a curator who knows about video games to curate their permanent exhibition about video games?

      • Tatourmi says:

        Exactly, there is an increasing number of university PHD’s on games as a social and artistic phenomenon and I would be surprised if they didn’t hire one or even a small commitee in order to make this list up. Supervised, of course, by the museography department. Which interestingly enough seemed to have approved Dwarf Fotress. Well, there must be a big wall of text next to it in order to explain it to people I guess.

  3. golem09 says:

    I understand Vib Ribbon and Katamari on that List, but Canabalat?

    • olemars says:

      Why not? It’s a good example of simple, procedural design. It also has the advantage of being easy set up as an interactive display, which they want to do as far as possible with all the games (wonder how they’ll do that with DF).

      • Hoaxfish says:

        I do think a lot of people forget the atmosphere Canabalt actually has… the giant robot fights in the background, the john woo style bird flocks that scatter, the strange engines that smash down in your path, etc. It’s basically some weird blend of noir cyberpunk alien kaiju invasion.

  4. Askeladd says:

    This is a bit… lackluster. It feels cheap to me.
    You cannot call just one or two games out of a decade and go on. There are many titles that deserve to be mentioned there, but that would probably burst the format of that exhibition.

    It’s just I don’t like that an unknown ‘person’ decides for himself ‘what is art?’.

    But still, I like the recognition it provides for gaming in general.

    • AmateurScience says:

      So ideally, there will be more collections in more galleries and museums that focus on different aspects of interactive media. See this as a beginning rather than anything definitive.

      Also I imagine the selection process involved a committee with consultation from a many people.

    • Syphus says:

      I’m not quite sure if I have to explain a museum to you. This is not meant to be a definitive list of all important games. Beyond that, the article lists a number of additional games they are planning on purchasing.

  5. Cardinal says:

    Well done to MOMA :-
    > Dwarf fortress has a unique aesthetic among computer games.
    > However, they seem to have dropped Söldner from their press release, hopefully the oversight will be corrected soon.

  6. Persus-9 says:

    Well I like ‘Passage’. It is simple and perhaps a little trite but I definitely got a lot out of it the first time I played it (not so much when I returned to it a couple of years later). But that is kind of the thing about a lot of art isn’t it? One man’s awesome is another man’s overrated. We each home in on different sorts of art because our experiences of them are different. It would be a strange and very different world if we all experienced everything the same way. Is this just a long and complicated way of my saying that people like Roz just don’t get it? I hope not, because I don’t think that is the right way of describing things. I think that rather different art works for different people and it isn’t a matter of “getting it” it is a matter of what works for you at the moment.

    Anyway it seems to me that Passage must work for enough people enough of the time just for it to be able to generate enough love to merit that “overated” stamp. It might be said that everything which is overrated must be doing something interesting, appealing in some way other than being good or being the subject of some sociological phenomenon. ‘Passage’ doesn’t seem to be employing any cheap tricks to make it appealing and there was certainly no great advertising campaign to persuade us it was good regardless of its merits, so it seems to me that the most likely reason it became “overrated” was that there is a certainly something to it artistically that touched a lot of people. Perhaps it is overrated but then so are the paintings of Mark Rothko and the prints of Andy Warhol and that is part of why they are interesting. If there is a boring explanation for why ‘Passage’ is overrated and a boring explanation as to why it affected me the way it did the first time I played it then I’ll accept it doesn’t belong in MOMA but I’m really not sure what those boring explanations would be.

  7. Dragatus says:

    I won’t comment the choice of games, since we all have our own strong opinions about what should and shouldn’t be on the list. But I would like to see more games from the 90s. IMO that decade was the golden era of PC Gaming.

    • Tatourmi says:

      I think their optic was: Games are on the verge of becoming widely accepted as being an artistic medium and are still evolving as such. And to be quite frank, it is refreshing since pretty much every major exposition i’ve been to (Well, in Paris, dunno about the rest of the world) has a majority of old incredibly influent games and a few modern ones to state the vitality of the medium.

  8. khulat says:

    If you read the linked site they say that they want to complete the collection. Quoted for the lazy:

    Over the next few years, we would like to complete this initial selection with Spacewar! (1962), an assortment of games for the Magnavox Odyssey console (1972), Pong (1972), Snake (originally designed in the 1970s; Nokia phone version dates from 1997), Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), Zork (1979), Tempest (1981), Donkey Kong (1981), Yars’ Revenge (1982), M.U.L.E. (1983), Core War (1984), Marble Madness (1984), Super Mario Bros. (1985), The Legend of Zelda (1986), NetHack (1987), Street Fighter II (1991), Chrono Trigger (1995), Super Mario 64 (1996), Grim Fandango (1998), Animal Crossing (2001), and Minecraft (2011).

    This should at least alleviate concerns about underrepresented early games.

  9. AmateurScience says:

    There’s been some terribly snooty columns in the Guardian about this that missed the whole point of the exhibit, which has a focus on design/systems rather than the purely visual aspects of the medium.

    It seems every argument against games as art fails to consider the design and mechanisms of games. Frankly if a building can be considered art, then why not a game?

    • Cardinal says:

      Johnathan Jones @ The Guardian was pure trolling :- “But the game of chess itself is not art nor does it generate art – it is just a game. And so is Dwarf Fortress.”

      TBH – I doubt anyone read past tortured statements like “I first encountered this trope of the inappropriate elder’s interest in the newest games a few years ago at a philosophy conference in Oxford University” and still think his opinion matters.

      ** EDIT : I’m with Tolstoy on the whole – “Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feeling and also experience them.”
      –Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art? (1897)

    • Unaco says:

      I linked it on the Sunday Paper comments yesterday, and shall link it again! He, and the Guardian in general, have something of a habit for these sort of trollish, click baiting articles I find.

      • FhnuZoag says:

        If you’re blaming him for click baiting, isn’t it a bit ironic that you are linking to him?

        I don’t think he (or the guardian) is trolling or click baiting really. I think he just has a silly opinion.

        • Unaco says:

          Wouldn’t really call it irony. I may be falling into their trap, doing just what they want by linking to it… but how else can everyone see how much of a pillock he is? As to the accusations of trolling/click-baiting, I just get the impression the Guardian is turning into the Left-Wing Daily Mail in a way (less young starlets and reality TV articles), with a good quotient of articles with sensationalist headlines/content, designed to get people clicking through… Jonathan Jones had an article criticising a memorial to Bomber Command a month or so ago, because… well, no real reason, it was just to cause outrage and get page views. Or anything by Polly Toynbee (“I saw a Tory eating a Baby this morning!”). Or 95% of Comment Is Free. Which is a cop out in itself… if half of the CiF articles were published, in the Mail or the Torygraph for example, there’d be outrage against them. But the Graun hides behind CiF.

  10. TheApologist says:

    They are starting from a losing position having any shortlist of games for exhibit – they will always leave out someone’s achievement, or neglect some aspect of the beauty of gaming.

    But, as a representation of what is achievable in gaming, this is a pretty commendable attempt, I think. Especially as it doesn’t just focus on visual or audio design but, y’know, actual gaming.

    • Feferuco says:

      Yeah, I see people complaining about the list and start naming games like Okami, El Shaddai, Wind Waker. Basically nice looking games, to be more specific, nice looking games that are colorful and cell shaded. All the while forgetting the game aspect.

  11. Oozo says:

    Edit: Forget that piece of high brow-trolling I originally linked to (and that is talked about above), this one is a much better comment on the whole thing. Plus, funnier:
    http://www.sophiehoulden.com/can-art-be-games/

    • Sunjumper says:

      The little piece was brilliant and shows very well how ridiculous games/art debate actually is.

      It won’t stop anyone from both camp from complaining though.

    • particlese says:

      Nice! Good sense of humor, plus a couple worthwhile points of discussion. I particularly like how she made art a countable noun. :D

      This makes me think there’s a good opportunity for a broader and more serious satire of the “debate” from this perspective, including things like music on the art side and chess on the games side, for example, and including jabs at the (f)utility of the debate itself. I’m having lots of fun ideas, but they’re all fun in the poking-with-a-stick sense, not in the enjoyably humorous sense. And I have little heady knowlege of art — I merely enjoy (some of) it, so I would miss many of the finer points that would help make the satire strong.

  12. Groove says:

    I think this is wonderful. That is all.

  13. Innovacious says:

    The thing is, this isn’t just a LIST of games they think are art. People keep commenting on this like it is (edit: I mean, people all over the Internet). These games are going to be in the exhibition for people to see. There are going to be space limitations and I’m betting you there are games they tried to get but couldn’t get the rights. There are also a lot of games people consider art that you can’t really show well, not without the person standing there for hours and watching/playing. You cant just say “trust me, you can’t see it here because each individual part doesn’t really mean much, but the overall experience of this 50 hour long game is art”. And then of course the big one. Opinions. To overcome most of this all we need is more places to mimic this idea and have their own selection of games to show.

    People don’t go to museums and art exhibitions and complain that they know a painting that is better than half the things there and demand its added. Different places have different things.

    • MattM says:

      Also, it would be silly to criticize a particular exhibit of paintings for falling to adequately represent all major paintings or even all major movements of a century. No one exhibit can cover everything in something as large as games.
      Although they are considering adding it later, I am glad pong isn’t in the exhibit yet. To me that game would belong in a history of videogames exhibit but not in a art of videogames exhibit.

  14. Prime says:

    And the Myst snobbery continues.

    I do try very hard not to take this personally but when the criticism of it is so unfairly unbalanced – borderline irrational – it does read like you sincerely believe millions of people were plain wrong to have enjoyed it and its many sequels. Well at least you gave grudging respect to an aspect of it. That’s more than we get from most mentions it receives on RPS, almost an epiphany by contrast…

    • AmateurScience says:

      But was it art?

      Also, sensitive much?

      • Prime says:

        Sensitive yes. I’m sorry, it’s a pet peeve.

        And Art, yes. Absolutely. How many other interactive audio-and-video-assisted slideshows can you name that formed a coherent, engaging and evocative fantasy world strong enough to build an entire franchise upon? In my humble opinion it’s one of gaming’s grand achievements, something that should be revered/celebrated in the same way Dear Esther is, or any text adventure you care to name (and there have been several of those hailed on RPS), but all too often the opinion from people who should know better is blisteringly negative.

        • Toberoth says:

          Well, like Myst, Dear Esther also has some very vocal detractors. I think Myst has a place in the collection because of its historical importance and its prominence when it came out, but as a game it’s pretty lackluster–it’s basically a pretty slideshow. I enjoyed it at the time, but I doubt I’d get the same pleasure out of it now…

        • AmateurScience says:

          The whole blistering negativity may simply be explained by no-one writing for RPS actually liking Myst though. I bounced off it pretty hard when it came out and have never revisited it – so have no opinion of it beyond ‘I bounced off it pretty hard’ – but it seems to polarise opinions. Which may be a reason to include it irrespective of it’s other qualities.

          Anyway, I guess my point is a bit of heterogeneity of opinions is always good for vigorous debate (and a little banter).

        • Groove says:

          Personally I was given it, tried it, and hated playing it. So I really dislike it.

          I imagine the wider scope of hatred it because firstly it was so praised when it was out, and because so many people played it (because of good reviews and because it was bundled in with all sorts of shit [like my parents computer]). For a lot of people it was one of their few gaming experiences/their only gaming experience. So you had comments from non-gaming types of ‘Oh, you like games? Like Myst?’ Then they’d either have hated Myst too, meaning they’d look down on gaming, or they’d have loved it and get really confused when you explained that most games weren’t very…Mysty.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Personally, I wouldn’t go that far. But I do think Myst was a rather excellent game. People can like or dislike all they please, of course, but it wasn’t ‘crap’ by any stretch of the imagination.

    • NathanH says:

      You have to remember that John Walker has terrible taste in video games.

    • Doomsayer says:

      I’ll always wonder how many people who disliked Myst would enjoy Riven if they tried it. As far as games where you’re in a strange world with puzzles, there’s never been a better one. Other puzzles games like Portal (or those thousands of webgames/iOS games) put you in a world built out of puzzles, but few put you in an actual world that has mind bending puzzles inside it. And as every fan of the Myst series knows but hesitates to say, Myst is an unpolished prototype compared to Riven.

  15. Ninja Dodo says:

    I think it’s great that it’s a permanent exhibit. Good selection overall.

  16. Squishpoke says:

    I quite enjoyed Myst (and Riven to a greater extent), but I can understand why some people may feel differently.

  17. solidsquid says:

    Somewhat surprised the rogues gallery doesn’t include a rogue like anywhere. Considering how many games branched off of that genre, it would seem like a good candidate for it

  18. Feferuco says:

    I loved the list, just thought it needed a game focused on one on one competition. Something like Street Fighter II or Spy Party.

    As for The Sims, I think it is there for the unique things it does as a game, I bet it is there for similar reasons as Dwarf Fortress.

    • evilbobthebob says:

      If you check the article on the museum’s website, they list SF2 as an upcoming exhibit

      In other news, thanks for posting this John! I thought it’d generate some interesting comment (or at least a nice bit of angry internet arguing)

      • Feferuco says:

        I had checked it out. I guess I should’ve been more clear, I wish on this first list they had added a one on one competitive game.

  19. InternetBatman says:

    I wish they had chosen the Passage’s far superior sister game:
    http://www.glorioustrainwrecks.com/node/3084

  20. Moraven says:

    Never heard of Vib-Ribbon before now. (No NA release, but did download some imports time to time).
    Neat to see that style of game done over a decade before. (and there have been a few of them released in the past few years.)

    Note to everything: This is a list of 14 of to what is eventually going to be 40.

    Go read this http://www.amazon.com/1001-Video-Games-Must-Before/dp/0789320908 if you want a larger this that likely includes said favorite and said dislikes all in one!

  21. Brise Bonbons says:

    This seems like a pretty good start to me. Actually much better than I was expecting. Hopefully it catches on and we start to see more exhibits pop up – especially some that have a narrower scope. Maybe it’s just personal preference, but I always find focused exhibits more exciting and informative than their “overview of the history of everything ever” counterparts. I.e. I’d love to see an exhibit that just looks at using artificial life in virtual worlds, or one that showcases games which have surreal or magical realist settings and mechanics.

    Bonus effect is that we get the pleasure(?) of watching culturally conservative Art types hyperventilate about the mortal blow Real Art has suffered, and its impending death at the hand of the uneducated masses – though the nonsense they are filling editorials with is especially infuriating to decipher.

    Insert internet meme about delicious tears. Somehow that seems appropriate.

  22. MadTinkerer says:

    in retrospect, Myst may not have been that great of a game. However, it offers you plenty of freedom of movement and allows you to beat the worlds in any order. If you’re stuck on a puzzle, you can leave and come back to it. It’s literally an open-world puzzle game.

    Compare it to any game which forces you through it’s linear story and you might see what I’m getting at.

  23. cpt_freakout says:

    and Doom! But the poster below is right – they probably can’t afford the videogames = violence = bad discussion right now. Still, it’s a great start, and maybe sometime in the future when the popular thinking about videogames isn’t so stereotypical we’ll get the more graphically violent ones in there as well. After all, there’s no denying a game like Doom fulfils their criteria regarding influence, aesthetics (movement within the frames of classical perspective, its sheer speed, and so on), and player experience (it’s pretty straightforward adrenaline-pumping, but if you relate such things with the puzzle-like design of the levels and the like, I can easily see a wordy essay justifying it).

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