Paola Antonelli is senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But despite her nearly 20-year tenure at the museum, Antonelli remains resolutely disinterested in relying on the known or the obviously popular. She is always keen to challenge preconceptions of design’s role in everyday life,Paola Antonelli: Why I brought Pac-Man to MoMA even as she pushes her colleagues at the museum to consider and question design’s relationship to art.
As she explains in today’s TED Talk, her decision to acquire 14 video games for MoMA’s permanent collection caused howls of outrage to echo through the museum’s hallowed halls, as aggrieved critics tore out their hair at the disrespect implicitly being shown to artistic heroes such as Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. But design is quite separate from art, Antonelli argues, and they should not be mistaken for one another. Too often, people seem to assume that designers secretly want to be artists. “No!” she says forcefully. “Designers aspire to be really great designers.” Right on!
MoMA has bought 14 video games for its design collection … and more are on the wishlist. For design buffs and fans of contemporary culture, this is an important moment, one that broadens the perception of design and its influence in society, and prompts deeper consideration for a discipline that is often poorly understood or overlooked.
Here, Antonelli describes the selection process for those 14 trailblazing games, sharing insight into her curatorial thinking.
1. Pac-Man. “It goes without saying, but let’s say it: an absolute milestone, not only because it was inspired by pizza and the ghosts are so cute one almost roots for them, but also because it stands as the archetypical maze game.” Toru Iwatani (Japanese, born 1955). Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. 1980-1981. Video game. Gift of NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. © 2012 NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.
2. Tetris. “Or, ‘Engineers Just Wanna Have Fun.’ It is a pillar in history (not only of video games): elegant, simple, timeless, irresistible — and Alexey Pajitnov recreated for us the original game he designed for the USSR’s Academy of Sciences.” Alexei Pajitonov (Russian, born 1955). 1984. Video game. Gift of The Tetris Company, LLC. © 2012 The Tetris Company, LLC.
3. Another World. “A technological and aesthetic breakthrough for the time–its sound effects and editing inspired a new wave in game design — it is still a fiercely elegant cinematic platformer game.” Éric Chahi (French, born 1967). 1991. Video game. Gift of the designer. © 2012 Éric Chahi.
4. Myst. “As if being the best-selling PC game of the 1990s were not enough (and it would not be enough for MoMA’s collection), Myst was a milestone in ‘architectural’ design, its hefty code allowing for seamless changes of scenery and spatial atmosphere.” Rand Miller (American, born 1959) and Robyn Miller (American, born 1966). Publisher: Cyan Worlds (USA, est. 1987). 1993. Video game. Gift of Cyan Worlds, Inc. © 2012 Cyan Worlds, Inc.
5. SimCity 2000. “In game designer Will Wright’s mind, we can all be master planners, movie directors, architects, little or BIG gods — and bear the great responsibilities that come with great power.” Will Wright (American, born 1960). Publisher: Electronic Arts. 1989. Video game. Gift of Electronic Arts. © 2012 Electronic Arts.
6. The Sims. “So, so, so deep! I can hardly think of a more interesting and ambitious construct (except perhaps Spore, but it did not work out as well) than a game about building a family, and then a community. It blows my mind.” Will Wright (American, born 1960). Publisher: Electronic Arts. 2000. Video game. Gift of Electronic Arts. © 2012 Electronic Arts.
7. Vib-Ribbon. “This is a lovely game that responds to the music the player chooses (the ‘preassigned’ demo plays to a haunting tune that reminds me of Jay-Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’). But more than anything, its minimal graphics remind me of a cartoon I grew up with in Italy, Osvaldo Cavandoli’s La Linea.” Masaya Matsuura (Japanese, born 1961). Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. 1997-1999. video game. Gift of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. © 1999 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.
8. Katamari Damacy. “In interaction design, Katamari Damacy represents the power of pure, unadulterated, good delight — of course supported by strong code and spatial and narrative sense. I have not met a soul who does not smile when the name of the game is mentioned.” Keita Takahashi (Japanese, born 1975). Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. 2003. Video game. Gift of NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. © 2012 NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.
9. EVE Online. “Superbly designed, in continuous evolution and as compelling as a great sci-fi saga, EVE is a great example of collective strategy. It also sports a great and generous community that helped us work on the display in the galleries.” CCP Games (Iceland, est. 1997). 2003. Video game. Gift of CCP hf. © 2012 CCP hf.
10. Dwarf Fortress. “The ASCII graphics! Devastatingly elegant. That’s what won us over. Not to mention the super-high IQ barrier of entry. We are watching from a window. When the Adams brothers showed up at the EVE Online fanfest in Rejkyavik, people went crazy. It’s a gamers’ game.” Tarn Adams (American, born 1978) and Zach Adams (American, born 1975). 2006. Video game. Gift of the designers. © 2012 Tarn Adams.
11. Portal. “The spatial progression of the story — an MC Escher-like maze — is groundbreaking. And the protagonist, Chell, is a woman.” Valve (USA, est. 1996). 2005-2007. Video game. Gift of Valve. © 2012 Valve.
12. flOw. “Creator Jenova Chen is a master in the game of surprising experiences — like being a sea creature, or the wind — but we were also interested in the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment AI system, which enables a game to automatically adjust to a player’s abilities.” Jenova (Xinghan) Chen (Chinese, born 1981) and Nick Clark (American, born 1984). Publisher: thatgamecompany. 2007. Video game. Gift of Jenova Chen, Nick Clark, and Austin Wintory of thatgamecompany. © 2012 thatgamecompany.
13. Passage. “You have five minutes, you live, you grow old, you die, and there is no extra life. Along the way, you make choices. For instance, if you choose to have a partner, life will be more complicated but longer. Quite existentialist.” Jason Rohrer (American, born 1977). 2007. Video game. Gift of the designer. Image courtesy Brandon Boyer.
14. Canabalt. “A classic side-scroll runner in black and white, Canabalt has sophisticated indie cred and takes very little memory, but it exploits all the tricks of the contemporary trade in ways that transpire in its ‘buglessness’.” Adam Saltsman (American, born 1982). Music by Daniel Baranowsky (American, born 1984). Video game. 2009. Gift of the designer.