Pac-Man, Tetris, SimCity & Other Classic Video Games Opening Friday at the Museum of Modern Art

The ques­tion “what is art?” has not been answered so much as expo­nen­tial­ly dis­man­tled in the past 100 years, such that, at present, it’s more or less mean­ing­less to assert that some high­er aes­thet­ic realm exists apart from the splash and top­i­cal­i­ty of street art, prod­uct design, or adver­tis­ing. Muse­ums find them­selves not so much cura­tors of high cul­ture as inter­preters of what’s hap­pen­ing now, includ­ing such “low” arts as, say, graf­fi­ti, hip hop, rock pho­tog­ra­phy, and, most recent­ly, video games.

Which brings us to the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s video game exhib­it open­ing this Fri­day. Does the idea make you gasp? Well, accord­ing to MoMA Senior Cura­tor Pao­la Antonel­li in the video above, you are “in a dra­mat­ic minor­i­ty… out of space and out of time.” Is she for real? It real­ly doesn’t mat­ter, since the final word on what is or isn’t art rests with… well, no one, real­ly. And that is, in my hum­ble opin­ion, a salu­tary lega­cy of the mod­ernist rev­o­lu­tion in the arts. Maybe if everyone’s a crit­ic these days, then everyone’s also an artist, but espe­cial­ly those design­ers and pro­gram­mers who gave us such endur­ing clas­sics as Pac-Man, Tetris, Sim­C­i­ty, and Myst, all of which have made the cut in MoMA’s exhi­bi­tion.

This is not the first large-scale exhi­bi­tion of video games in a major art muse­um. In March-Sep­tem­ber, 2012, the Smith­son­ian Muse­um of Amer­i­can Art staged The Art of the Video Game, which fea­tured eighty games, select­ed with help from the pub­lic, and video inter­views with twen­ty game devel­op­ers. Curat­ed by gamer and col­lec­tor Chris Melissi­nos, the exhi­bi­tion made an exten­sive case for video games as art. See the Smith­son­ian exhi­bi­tion trail­er below, and decide for your­self if video games belong in muse­ums. You’re the crit­ic, after all.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Indie Video Game Mak­ers Are Chang­ing the Game

Ancient Greek Pun­ish­ments: The Retro Video Game

Pong, 1969: A Mile­stone in Video Game His­to­ry

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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