One Up! Museum of Modern Art Acquires Its First Classic Video Games as Art

Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” soon to be in MoMA’s collection (Image via

Hyperallergic has learned that through a quiet acquisition process undertaken over the past year led by architecture and design curator Paola Antonelli, the Museum of Modern Art has brought 14 video games into its collection as a “new category” of artwork.

The initial group of games, which ranges from early icons like Pac-Man and Tetris to recent independent creations like thatgamecompany’s flOw and Jason Rohrer’s Passage. The full list, announced in a MoMA blog post this morning, is copied below.

  • 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)

The games will be installed in the museum’s Philip Johnson galleries in March of 2013, so save up your arcade tokens. Those 14 are just the start, however. Antonelli hopes to bring another 40 games into the collection, a who’s-who list of video game history that includes Pong (1972), Space Invaders (1978), Donkey Kong (1981), and Super Mario Bros. (1985), all the way to Minecraft (2011), that recent phenomenon of sandbox play.

thatgamecompany’s “flOw” (Image via

MoMA’s acquisition seems to answer the question once and for all that video games are indeed art. Antonelli writes, “Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design,” outlining the approach they took to collecting the games. They define them as examples of “interaction design”; as such, the games will fall under the rubric of the museum’s architecture and design collection,  under which MoMA will “study, preserve, and exhibit video games.”

Antonelli writes that the museum had strict criteria for which games it would pursue. The games didn’t just have to be important culturally and historically, but accomplished aesthetically, achieving a “successful synthesis of materials and techniques.” The inclusion of games like the massive role-playing game Dwarf Fortress, with its austere ASCII visual style and super-engaged online fan community, and Keita Takahashi’s wacky Katamari Damacy, a surrealist epic, point to these requirements and underline MoMA’s intelligent process.

Antonelli explained to Hyperallergic why she decided to pursue acquiring video games:

Video games have been part of our life for decades and they are important examples of a synthesis of design, architecture, and applied art. We have been thinking of them for the collection for some time, it was just a matter of approach, research, and preparation.

The acquisitions also mark an important point for video games as a whole. As legitimate cultural artifacts, video games will have to be understood, analyzed, and conserved as a Renaissance painting might be. This includes “interviewing the designers at the time of acquisition and asking for comments and notes on their work,” as Antonelli describes, and working with programmers to create interactive emulations that preserve the workings of the game long past the lifespan of its platform or console.

This moment marks a big step for the Museum of Modern Art and video games alike, and is just the beginning of a long-awaited, long-deserved integration of games into the history of aesthetics.

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