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Video games become modern art masterpieces

The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan is making a few new acquisitions: video games.
Games art 12 04 2012Enlarge
Visitors try out a Playstation 3 video game at the Sony stand at the IFA consumer electronics trade fair on August 29, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. IFA opened its doors to the public today and will be open through September 3. (Sean Gallup/AFP/Getty Images)

The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan has announced the acquisition of 14 different video games as part of its permanent collection, giving gamers more ammunition in the argument that video games have artistic value.

“Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe,” wrote senior curator Paola Antonelli. 

“As with all other design objects in MoMA’s collection, from posters to chairs to cars to fonts, curators seek a combination of historical and cultural relevance, aesthetic expression, functional and structural soundness, innovative approaches to technology and behavior, and a successful synthesis of materials and techniques in achieving the goal set by the initial program,” Antonelli said about the selection criteria for the games included in the collection. 

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The first 14 games will eventually become part of a collection of 40 works. Beginning in March of 2013, the initial group of games will include Pac-Man, Myst, EVE Online and Portal. 

When politicians first began attempted to regulate the gaming industry in the 1980’s, players that the games had intrinsic artistic value. Including several different forms or art packaged together, any single game comes with not only visual art but music and storytelling as well. 

But not everyone agreed. 

Film critic Roger Ebert once famously argued that “video games can never be art” in an opinion piece for the Chicago Sun-Times. 

“Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form,” Ebert wrote. 

The piece amassed almost 5,000 mostly negative comments. While the Sun-Times enjoyed page view pay dirt, the internet exploded in a fury of anti-Ebertism. 

As news broke of the Museum of Modern Art’s plans to feature video games, others joined Ebert in condemning video games as simple, valueless entertainment. 

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“The worlds created by electronic games are more like playgrounds where experience is created by the interaction between a player and a program. The player cannot claim to impose a personal vision of life on the game, while the creator of the game has ceded that responsibility. No one "owns" the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art,” wrote Guardian art blogger Jonathan Jones. 

Arguing on the side of the gamer, Penny Arcade Report Senior Editor Ben Kuchera uses Rock Band as an anecdotal example of a game becoming art. 

“Yes, I think games are art. I think all games are art, in fact, although I also believe that most games are poor art. The problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong things when we have this conversation; whether we’re talking about a novel, a play, a painting, or a song, the best art creates emotion in the person consuming it,” wrote Kuchera in his exhaustive and thorough exploration of games as art. 

Kurchera argued that the experience of playing a game is one of the most important aspects of its art. Games evoking such strong emotions may be what is driving gamers to so vehemently defend what are essentially computer programs as art. 

With games becoming official modern art masterpieces, Roger Ebert’s argument may be getting owned. 

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