Gameological At Large


Design Of The Times

The Museum Of Modern Art’s game exhibit demonstrates the startling breadth of a young art form.

By Drew Toal • March 6, 2013

“I’m here for the video game thing,” I confidently stated to the woman inside the film entrance at the Museum Of Modern Art on 53rd Street. Despite my ineloquence, she understood and handed me a press pass. Historically, MOMA’s shows have not been terribly interested in games, but 14 titles—dating from Pac-Man (1980) through Canabalt (2009)—have now been chosen as part of the museum’s Architecture & Design installation, and the museum unveiled the exhibit at an event last week. All I really knew about the whole thing when I walked in, beside the 14 selections, is what I learned from senior curator Paola Antonelli’s recent appearance on The Colbert Report:

Colbert: What are we now? Are we modern? Are we postmodern? Or are we pre-future?

Antonelli: We are post-post-post modern, present, pre-future, but a little bit of future today, with history that comes with us.

Colbert: Wow. This is a complicated artistic time to live in.

It is indeed. Fortunately, Antonelli was on hand to elaborate a little on the history of and motivations for the gaming additions. “It was all brand new for us, because of course, there have been museums that have been acquiring video games forever, but these museums have a definitive territory that we don’t have,” she told me. As they set about establishing their own criteria, Antonelli and her team consulted everyone from Chris Melissinos, the curator of “The Art Of Video Games” installation at the Smithsonian, to the game enthusiasts in MOMA’s own IT department.

The list of MOMA’s targeted games was eventually whittled down to 40, and 14 of these were chosen for the current display. “What they have in common is that they are all very interesting spatially and in how space is used, how time is used, behaviors that are designed through space and time. And altogether this ability to give us an experience we have not had before, and one we could not have in the real world,” Antonelli explained.

Mine Kafon wind-powered deminer

But there are interesting real-world connections to be found. Video games are but one part of the installation. There are the regular design fetish objects—lamps, chairs and the like—but also things that defy easy description. One of these, “Mine Kafon wind-powered deminer,” resembles a large steel-plated dandelion. The idea behind artist Massoud Hassani’s creation is that the wind-powered ball can roll over minefields and safely and cheaply explode hidden mines. Its design brings to mind the adhesive adventures of the little Prince in Keita Takahashi’s 2004 game Katamari Damacy, on display not 10 feet away. In that game, the player rolls around fantastical landscapes, absorbing structures and increasing mass to the point of becoming a celestial body.

Most of the games are playable, and from what I could see, Portal (2007) was the most popular among the press. This was a little puzzling, since I suspect most of us have a version of that particular game sitting in our living room. Instead of waiting in line to play something I already knew, I stared at Dwarf Fortress (2006) for a good 15 minutes, a game I was aware of but had never seen (or played) in person. According to the information provided, the game’s designer Tarn Adams made the game using American Standard Code For Information Interchange (ASCII), a ubiquitous text encoding scheme that is apparently the preferred computer design language of visionary lunatics.

The game tasks the player with building an underground dwarf city, and popular consensus is that is has one of the more steep learning curves of any game in history. (Peter Tyson wrote a guidebook of sorts, called Getting Started With Dwarf Fortress: Learn To Play The Most Complex Video Game Ever Made). Each time you play, the world is randomly generated from scratch, and the development is open-ended and ongoing. Just staring at the game’s interface is like looking directly into the Matrix. The implications are terrifying.


Human constructions are also well-represented. SimCity 2000 (1994) sits next to a tiled wall of SimCity-scapes, a monument to the cultural significance of virtual urban development and reticulating splines.

Many of us who love games also love to complain about the derivative interfaces and uninspired architecture that make us hate these same games. Imitation is the sincerest, most infuriating form of flattery. Sometimes, especially after blasting the zillionth bad guy or being robbed of the chance to stop for a second and think a puzzle through, it’s enough to make us question our choice of leisure activity. The biggest takeaway from the games of “Applied Design,” for me, was being reminded how limitless and raw game design really is. Tetris almost won the Cold War for the Soviets. Myst boasted no weapons, but it had puzzles so entrancingly difficult that it would struggle to get made today. Jenova Chen’s Flow led to the eventual creation of Journey, which is not featured at the Museum but embodies so much of the medium’s possibilities. When it comes to “interactive design,” chairs have evolved over thousands of years. Games have only had decades, and this show proves they have already evolved in remarkable ways.

After de-mesmerizing myself from Dwarf Fortress, I made to leave. The escalator was out of order, and as I was without my Portal gun, I took the stairs. Once outside the museum, I headed over to the UNIQLO superstore around the corner from the museum to pick up some socks. In the window was a cardboard cutout of Raiden, the androgynous cyborg ninja guy of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, shilling for the Japanese clothing and apparel giant. Definitely pre-future future, but it would seem that not every game belongs in a museum.

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91 Responses to “Design Of The Times”

  1. Chalkdust says:

    Dwarf Fortress is maddening yet oh-so-fascinating.  On one of my old forums, there were a group of folks who would run ‘legacy’ games and recount the events in long prose posts, e-mailing a save file around, with each person taking over the colony for a month and seeing what kinds of weirdness they could get into.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       Like Boatmurdered?

      DF is perhaps my single most favorite game, and I think it is perhaps a truly singular piece of art. Like most contemporary fine art, it’s not immediately accessible by any means. The interface is clumsy as hell. Hand-in-hand with that, it is not visually stunning initially. But as you play (and fail, because losing is fun) you begin to learn to decode what each ASCII character means, which creates an exciting tableau of industry, struggle, politics, emotional turmoil, and even occasionally triumph that unfolds before your eyes.

      And then the fucking goblins show up and kill everyone.

      • George_Liquor says:

        Ain’t that life?

      • Chalkdust says:

        Yes, exactly like that!  Thank you for the link, I fear it will be eating up otherwise productive time for a while to come (who am I kidding, I’m not doing anything productive).

      • WorldCivilizations says:

        I was very into DF for a while. It definitely takes determination to get started – the worst thing is that you have tons of key-mappings nested in key-mappings, and there’s no recognizable pattern to what each key does in any given context. But importing a good set of tiles helps get you into the game more readily. And you definitely need to follow a walkthrough to a T the first time through.

        I eventually stopped for the same reason I stop playing all pure-sandbox games – I had no goals. I got huge economies going, pumping out artifact-level weapons and exquisite diamond jewelry, made big feast-halls with 10-story columns engraved all the way up, and developed powerful militias rotating in and out of service. For defense, I usually had dwarves enter and exit through a drawbridge, and when goblins attacked, I had everyone retreat inside, brought up the drawbridge, and forced enemies through absurd gauntlets of automated flooding systems, collapsing floors, and continuously firing floor spikes. At that point, I wasn’t sure what else to do. 

        The other big problem is that once you got these systems running, the amount of micro-management required at all times was obscene. Building little apartments with furniture for immigrants, planting crops and expanding fields, commissioning new goods, executing dwarves who get depressed, resetting traps – it gets pretty tiresome. I know there’s a million other ways I could approach the game or challenge myself, but yeah, the micromanagement got to me. But still, I highly recommend the game.

      • exant says:

        Once you learn the ASCII-like interface of Dwarf Fortress, the wide and vast world of outrageously unforgiving and difficult Roguelikes then becomes accessible. Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup is among the best:

        • WorldCivilizations says:

          Yes! DCSS is my jam – in my opinion the best roguelike. Really, it’s much easier than DF to get into – a beginner should be able to get a Kobold Berserker to the Lair no problem.

        • exant says:

          @WorldCivilizations:disqus DCSS is great fun, and with certain race/class/god combinations can be pretty easy. I think the farthest I’ve gone (the Lair, or shortly after that) is with a Troll monk of Trog. Eating the bodies of victims is rigged.

      • WL14 says:

        I’m also partial to headshoots, and its offshoot syrupleaf. I came to the DF party late, but the amount of tools available to make it more accessible is increasing all the time. The most (MOST) important: dwarf therapist. I can’t imagine playing without this running side by side.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Dwarf Fortress is amazing. I wish I could play it. 

      • Wearedevo says:

        Ah but you CAN. Nay, MUST!

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          I’ve tried on three separate occasions. I get all psyched up and download the nooby pack or whatever and load up a tutorial or three and fuck I just can’t do it.

    • Girard says:

      Dwarf Fortress is like Finnegan’s Wake: something I can respect and appreciate in an abstract, academic, formal way, but something so byzantine, opaque, and time-consuming I don’t see myself ever having the balls to actually try and engage with.

      • Wearedevo says:

        I can respect that. To be honest its reputation for impossible complexity is a *little* overstated. But only a little. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also rewarding in a way that literally no other game is.

        But then I think James Joyce is pretty good too.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          One issue with DF is that it’s gotten far more complicated as time has gone on. The build I first learned on was all on a single level, with all resources available, so it wasn’t like you could start of poorly and mining and thinking about overall fortress layout was secondary to mastering how bridges and floodgates worked (or catastrophically malfunctioned, given that you could, and I did, flood the world) and establishing your industry as you progressed deeper into the mountain.

          In the current build, you have the potential to start a fortress without enough stone, and you have to mine it up and down (which is neat for creating underground greenhouses, but complicated as hell to manage.

        • Wearedevo says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus Yep, but really the complexity kind of *is* the game. And I love that the world is so uncaring. Where most games are designed around giving you various levels of challenge, DF just gives you a world with a set of rules and resources, and it’s up to you to survive, or not. Well, always not. That’s Dwarf Fortress. I never played those early builds with the single z-level, and I can’t imagine going back to that.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          In retrospect, there was a certain simplistic charm to those single z-level builds. As you dug deeper into the mountain, you encountered three obstacles: a river, a chasm, and a lava river, which you could raise a bridge over. Each obstacle generated monsters from time to time. It was always worthwhile to station a guard in the farming complex to defend against frogmen attacks. After you crossed the lava river, you could eventually dig through and unleash the demons, who would storm your fortress, wiping it out.

        • exant says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus I started on the single-z levels and managed to “beat” the game at least once. I’ve played the recent builds and the complexity is off the charts. The quirky water/lava physics took a long time to learn. 

          Without having learned during the single-z era, I don’t think I’d have enough gumption to dive straight into the current versions. But I’d never want to go back to single-z. Vertical fortresses are just awesome.

      • valondar says:

         For me Dwarf Fortress is like Minecraft. On some abstract level I can get the appeal of the game. On another more concrete level, I understand it when fans compare either game to one of my all time favourites, Dungeon Keeper (weirdly it actually has an influence on these two very different titles).

        I just don’t particularly enjoy either one.

      • BillyNerdass says:

        I do think you actually need to read Finnegans Wake to realize JUST HOW FUCKING INSANE IT IS. 

        For anybody who reads it, there’s maybe the biggest “holy shit” moment in literature. Eventually, he’ll touch on something you personally know a lot about and all of a sudden what before seemed like nonsense falls away, you start getting all the references and all the puns, seeing just how dense it is, how every word means two or three or four things at once, how it’s moving in three layers at once in all different directions, and it’ll make you feel like a fucking genius and you realize HOLY SHIT IT’S ALL LIKE THIS, I just didn’t get it. And then he moves on to something you don’t know anything about and it’s gone.

        I also kind of feel like learning to play Dwarf Fortress is my life’s work. I’ve been fascinated by it for years but could never crack it. I had no idea that book Drew mentioned existed. Looks like exactly what I need. God bless you, Drew Toal.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          The Dwarf Fortress Wiki has some starter guides (of variable quality) on it as well as explanations of how pretty much everything in the game works in more complex detail.

          I’m not recommending it in counter to Tyson’s book, by the by. He’s probably quite a bit more accessible (I’m considering picking it up in order to fine-tune my understanding of the game), but note that Tarn Adams updates the game on a semi-regular basis, so some stuff falls out of date. If you find something in the book that doesn’t match up while playing the game, consult the wiki.

        • Girard says:

          Yeah, pieces of art that could easily “become one’s life work” are simultaneously extremely interesting and completely terrifying to me.

        • BillyNerdass says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus I really love the feeling of being utterly bewildered by something that came out of another person’s brain. 

        • Wearedevo says:

          +1 for that description of Finnegan’s Wake. For DF, Tyson’s book is as good a place to start as any, and he provides free updates online to any parts that are updated in future releases. I too tried getting into DF for several years before finally cracking it. For me, it was watching this series of youtube tutorials

          The other nice thing about DF is that the DF community is full of people who are fanatically eager to help teach you to play DF.

        • SamPlays says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Especially when said “life’s work” consists of a fake “mountainhome” built by digital dwarves. At least build something you can retire in!

        • wally says:

           @wally:disqus has eaten a mushroom lately.  He has seen several people incorrectly add the apostrophe in Finnegans Wake lately.  He has been feeling depressed lately.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          Readies a Hammercommenter to wait near @yahoo-3W2WZOQW6X6BGV2R2GPZCIEPFU:disqus should he ever a fey mood.

        • Matt Kodner says:

          woah. When I tried reading FW in college I got zero of that. I should probably try harder because the only Joyce I’ve read was half of Dubliners, and that sounds unbelievable.  

        • BillyNerdass says:

          @MattKodner:disqus It’s impossible to tell when that moment will happen for any given person, but I am confident that if you are at all intrigued/interested/fascinated by Finnegans Wake that Joyce was writing the book for your particular brain configuration. 

          It will happen. 

          And that moment really is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced.

          Finnegans Wake demands a certain determination/masochism out of its readers. But, really, all you have to do is read. It’s one word after another and as long as you’re determined to read them, you’ll come to that moment. If you’re lucky, you’ll come to love the whole thing for it’s overall aesthetics and total singularity. But, buddy, believe me: all the work’s worth it.

    • Juan_Carlo says:

      Dwarf Fortress is one of those games which, like “Eve Online,” I enjoy hearing stories about from people who have played it more than I enjoy actually playing it.

      Especially Eve.  I’ve always thought a serious historian or poly sci professor could write an academic history of Eve’s in game world and it would be a fascinating read, but actually playing the game is pretty tedious.

      • boardgameguy says:

        the best description of Eve Online that i have heard is that it is a spreadsheet simulator with a space theme.  the person telling me about it said it was his favorite game.  he is currently a PhD candidate in applied economics.

      • Steve McCoy says:

        Agreed. I despise Dwarf Fortress, but it’s great for the stories people tell.

        Like this one:

  2. PaganPoet says:

    UNIQLO has great undies for men. I’m jeals, wish they had a store in Denver.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Hm, that’s not the 2nd post I’d expected.  But, it doesn’t matter, because I’m Uniqlo-obsessed and even though they never sent the notification e-mail they said they would, they have an online U.S.-based store now and it’s maddening (low stock with a circutous check-out station!) but worth it!  It’s cheap enough that I took a risk to try to pull off orange man’s thing.  (95 percent there, it turns out.)


      • PaganPoet says:

        lol ur post is too funny! listen, since u made me laugh, ill share something with u…i met my wife at Christian Mingle it was sew easy and fun!! will u find gods match for u too???

        • Chalkdust says:

          This was almost too real… my cursor danced over that flag for a good number of seconds before I snapped out of it (thanks to new Monster Absolutely Zero brand energy drinks).

        • PaganPoet says:

          @Chalkdust_TMAI:disqus Love your avatar, btw, and I also love that it was an NPC icon in Okami. Reminds me of my first day in Japanese class when KUROFUTO-sensei (Croft) taught us the “He-No-He-No-Mo-He-Ji” face

        • GhaleonQ says:

          I mean, yeah, I’m super-busy but I also need me time and it’s tough to plan starting a familheywaitaminuteyoooooou.

        • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

          “I am a man seeking a woman” or “I am a woman seeking a man”? Why I’m spoiled for choice.

        • Citric says:

          Christian Mingle has the world’s most frightening ads. I don’t know what is wrong with that woman with the giant plastic head and tiny body, but if that’s god’s match for me I think I’ll see what the devil has on offer.

      • Destroy Him My Robots says:

        LIAR. The truth is you’re just wearing that “Puyolicious” shirt day in and day out.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          You see a man confident enough to wear Puyolicious in public and you know he’s coming home to a supermodel wife, an expansive home, and a whole lot of pastel-colored knick-knacks.

    • I’m definitely not wearing Uniqlo’s Monster Hunter long johns right now.

  3. PaganPoet says:

    This article makes me think of stuff like RPGMaker and Little Big Planet…games and game-making engines that encourage gamers themselves (especially those of us with little-to-no programming experience) to put their own ideas to life.

    I made an RPGMaker game back circa 2003 (I was a decidedly uncool college freshman) called Tierra Azul. I recently found it online and played through it again. The writing was pretty ridiculous, and my story was nauseatingly JRPGesque “believe in the power of friendship,” but I was genuinely surprised at some of the things I did working with a limited toolbox and quite on my own (not withstanding the fact that there was a whole community back then dedicated to sharing custom sprites and graphics, etc.) If only I had any knowledge of programming, gaming creation sounds like bit of a dream job. 

    Instead, I went off to music school, and while creating music in general (be it for video games or for live orchestra) sounds like a dream job, the older, jaded me realizes now how much luck and how much work you need to make a living in any sort of creative field.

    • Girard says:

      Back when I was in high school it was all about the Click N Play. My friend and I operated a semi-well-trod MegaMan website with a section for people to submit their ideas for robot masters, and we’d periodically release game using those characters. They were pretty janky, and laden with adolescent dork-humor, but tended to push those game-making systems to their limits in interesting ways.

      Unfortunately, almost all of those games have been lost to the sands of time, as far as I can tell (scouring the old Win95 and Win3.1 boxes at home turned up nothing, and while our web pages were backed up, a server snafu lost us our online copies…it’s probably on a zip disk in a cardboard box in the basement of my friend’s parents’ house….), and the one copy I do have refuses to run, even in compatibility mode. Que sera sera and all that, I guess.

    • valondar says:

       For me what I think of is the scenario editor in a strategy game – particularly say the one in Age of Empires series. I was able to design entire cities, named units with specific skills – make maps entirely about controlling one single fast moving unit as it slowly tried to kill a massive army of slow, cumbersome moving units, or playing a single charioteer in the middle of a city that’s simultaneously being besieged and facing a civil war (the aim being to help crush the internal rebellion and then turn the time against the invaders before it’s too late)…. or a game where you’re one missionary who gradually turns most of the hostile factions towards your religion.

      Coding might as well be Greek, but I love the idea of game engines that let me fiddle around and create my own mini-games. That’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing any game.

  4. GhaleonQ says:

    Drew, I think you overstepped a bit at the end to have a nice conclusion, and I mean that both from the “art and commerce, broadly speaking” view and the “video games and commerce” view.  I won’t nitpick, because it’s an otherwise nice article that captures the strength of the exhibit.  It’s unfortunate that, like the Smithsonian exhibit, the choices are mediocre and don’t match the thoughtfulness of the exhibit itself.  It’s obvious that Modern Art-quality care went into the display but not the research.  “Video game scholar-chroniclers” will have their own problems once they exist, I’m sure, but it’ll beat the equivalent of comics exhibits displaying The Killing Joke and Maus for the 50th time.

    1 thing I wish you had room to expand on is whether the viewers (players?) experienced it as a carnival attraction or a curated exhibition.  Did they swarm to Portal 1 because, “Aw, dude, Portal rocks, I wanna play Portal!” or because they think it’s School Of Athens?  And did how it was presented affect that?  What was the segment and how it was contextualized?  The 2nd major flaw of the Smithsonian exhibition (which I did see, and sorry again, Chris, if you read this) was that it felt closer to a video arcade than a museum.

    If the museum didn’t undermine, “Wow!” with, “Hm,” I don’t think commerce separates Metal Gear shirts from Street Fighter 2 exhibits.  Uniqlo and the Museum Of Modern Art both wanted to elicit the same response to get people in the door.  …And also I own an awesome Objection t-shirt from them so let them be.

    • George_Liquor says:

      No kidding about the research. They’re going to disappointed to learn that there really aren’t different games available for the original Magnavox Odyssey.

    • Girard says:

      I still vividly remember Chris Ware lamenting in the side notes to Quimby Mouse his reluctant participation in yet another gallery show entitled something like “Bang! Pow! Zap! Comics Aren’t Just for Kids Anymore!” (Possibly because my campus gallery had just hosted such a show, and, of course, Ware was included…) It feels like video games are presently in a similarly awkward spot.

      Not having seen the show, I do think MoMA – though their collection is understandably anemic – seems to be taking things more seriously than the Smithsonian did. Things like maintaining a ‘collection’ as they would for other objects, and their selection criteria having some sort of aesthetic consideration (from a design, if not fine-arts perspective) rather than the shallow survey “brief history of video games primer” feeling I got from the Smithsonian exhibit, seem like good signs.

      I’m not sure about the “it feels like a museum/it feels like an arcade” issue. A museum/gallery is itself a constructed space, and while its “empty white box” philosophy is designed, in theory, to make it equally amenable to any type of artwork, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is, and there are certainly artists/theorists who have argued that it is in fact deleterious. Some artforms operate best within their particular context (seeing Russian icons mounted on some gallery wall, divorced from their ikonostasis, feels, to me, like just seeing a severed limb hung on the wall), and it’s possible a popular artform like games is best served by something other than a traditional museum presentation. I don’t think the Smithsonian’s Nickelodeon Game Show Arcade presentation was successful, but I think it’s worth experimenting with other modes of presentation rather than forcing games to conform to a detached gallery presentation style that might exsanguinate them.

      MoMA’s experience exhibiting new media art and design in their Talk to Me exhibit a little while ago (which I also didn’t attend, but which generally seems to have been well-executed) indicates that their curatorial staff may be well-suited to presenting this kind of stuff in way that is appropriate to the unique interactive aesthetics of the form without indulging too much in “Gee whiz! Games are art now! Come play games at the museum!” rhetoric.

      I don’t know if I’d blame the curatorial staff for folks lining up to play Portal just because it’s “cool.” There are museum-goers for whom “that’s cool” is their main aesthetic criterion, and I’ve definitely been to, say, painting shows or traditional museums, with people who have gravitated to the “totally cool” paintings. I don’t know if curators of any artform can completely combat the presence of audiences who are in for spectacle rather than reflection.

      • It’s got to be tough because like a painting, if I go in without context to a game like Myst, I could miss out on a lot.  I think the SpaceWar exhibit at the Moving Image is moving in the right direction.

        What I’m saying is that instead of covering Video games with a capital ‘V’, I’d personally like to see art museums tackle video games in a more focused capacity, like First Person puzzle games of the 90s.

        Essentially their approach so far has been like a museum putting on an exhibit called “Painting: an overview of some of the best paintings from the beginning of painting to now!”  Too broad, museum guys, too broad!

        • George_Liquor says:

          That Spacewar exhibit looks pretty awesome, and I’m thrilled they included a mockup of the PDP-1 too. I think that beast is as much a work of art as the game it ran.

          In case anyone’s interested, The Computer History Museum’s website has extensive info on the PDP-1, including a playable version of Spacewar.

      • Girard says:

        Another choice MoMA is making that, while it focuses on a game I don’t have personal experience with, show’s that they’re taking their curatorial duties pretty seriously: Apparently they are collaborating with EVE Online to create a stand-alone server of the game so that “a bored researcher 500 years from now, can go down to an Indiana-Jones like warehouse, dig up the crate with EVE on it and fire up the server, undock and get blown up by a pirate NPC.”

        Obviously, the number of online games they can actually do this with is limited, and the strategy has its flaws (what is an MMO that isn’t actually “massive”?), but it looks like they are actually invested the the challenging questions of curation, preservation and archiving that people lament about current digital artforms but so few folks (apart from smaller institutions with limited resources, like EyeBeam, maybe) try to solve.

      • Steve McCoy says:

        Good point about white walls in museums. David Byrne  bring it up in recounting his trip to the MONA in Tasmania:

        • Girard says:

          David Byrne has an acute awareness of place and the way it impacts art. He’s written some great stuff (much of it included in his recent book “How Music Works”) about how different types of music are designed for different architectural spaces – like types of hip-hop that are explicitly designed to vibrate the windows of a car with a sick subwoofer, or chants that only work acoustically within the architectural style of the churches in the area the chants were first composed.

          Shoving a piece of art into a gallery is a bit like pressing a Gregorian chant onto a CD and playing it on a bookbox or whatever. It IS an efficient way to get that art out to people, but it is in some ways pretty compromised.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        Gosh, excellent post, Girard.  Thanks for your take on the questions I tried to open up.

        To tie your last 3 paragraphs together (and to avoid having to top your Nick Arcade reference), I’m curious as to the tension between making history come alive and making it the Hall Of Presidents at Walt Disney World.  I think concert halls, for instance, are historically not the places one would have “naturally” heard art music when the vast majority of the works were created.  To focus on Europe, it was churches, beer halls, drawing rooms, and stages, and often by “semipro” performers.  People who held the keys to high society set up concert halls and professional troupes to make the setting more abstract and, hopefully, set off the music so that listeners could appreciate it in a new way.

        So, I agree that 1 doesn’t have to live in a perfect white spacecube to “get” art, but I think there is some responsibility to…not undermine…distract from Portal 1’s inherent coolness such that I’m not fully on board with, “They do what they can.”

        But I WILL CHALLENGE COMMENT CAT TO BATTLE if your post doesn’t get picked this week.

  5. TheKingandIRobot says:

    It seems like that big ball would safely and cheaply get blasted high into the air and land on people. 

    Wouldn’t it be way easier to just expose one mine, look at that one to figure out how many mines are near it, and then proceed from there, always carefully checking each mine to see if 1 or more mines are adjacent?  Like some sort of sweeper.

    • PaganPoet says:

      What shall you do, though, if you know there is one mine adjacent to your position, but there are two (or more) logical positions it could be? I mean, sure, you could just be brave and pick one, but it’s not like you can just hit “New Game” after placing a red flag in the wrong spot. I suppose you could mark both spots with some sort of “Question” marker and come back to it later, but even if you put it off, you’ll have to deal with it at some point, you know?

      • Whenever I come to a spot in Minesweeper where I know that I must make a guess, I just get it over with. If I live, that’s great. If I die, I just start again.

        I was thinking how, if one were to have a competitive Minesweeper tournament, it should be judged by how many victories a player can accrue in a fixed period of time.

        • PaganPoet says:

          Whenever I die in Minesweeper, I can’t help but think of all the puppy and kitty videos on youtube that I could be watching instead.

  6. George_Liquor says:

    I realize that MoMA isn’t the Museum of Science & Industry, but I hope they mentioned the technical achievements found in at least some of their exhibits. The innovative methods game developers found to overcome limitations in their hardware of choice demonstrate a level of creativity that’s at least on par with the games themselves.

  7. Effigy_Power says:

    “I’m here for the video game thing.”
    Yes, during the day he is befuddled, heartwarming and somewhat Canadian Drew Toal, but at night he fights crime or something.
    Seriously, very Clark Kent. Who knows what you are hiding?!

  8. Wearedevo says:

    Erm Dwarf Fortress wasn’t created in ASCII, and ASCII isn’t a language. It’s just a character encoding scheme. In other words, ASCII just means all the letters and weird symbols you can use in text on a computer screen. Side-note: Dwarf Fortress is better than any other game yet featured on gameological.

    • Jackbert says:

      I was all like “whaaa?” at that too and I’ve only taken an introductory C++ class.

      “The director made it using a camera – a tool often used in the creation of films.”

      But it does say “According to the information provided,” so maybe that was just the MOMA being weird.

    • Girard says:

      And as I understand it, the ASCII graphics in Dwarf Fortress aren’t actually rendered in ASCII, but are actually sprites depicting ACSII characters. Which it why it’s so easy to mod the game with different tilesets and so on, and why, despite appearances, you couldn’t run it on your old 386 DOSbox.

      That description was very awkwardly phrased. I don’t know if Drew misspoke, misunderstood, or if the wall text he was referring to wasn’t clear on the point.

      • Wearedevo says:

        Yeah, technically Dwarf Fortress *is* graphical… They’re just… really terrible graphics. I think he just didn’t understand what he was reading. Also, reading my comment back now, I sound like an insufferable asshole. Still, I stand by my side-note. DF is the greatest and they should do a feature. Gameological on the whole has been way too console-centric so far, meaning they’ve neglected a lot of the most interesting games.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          The term I’ve most commonly heard used is “pseudo-ASCII” to describe it.

        • George_Liquor says:

          That explains why the Mac version needs OpenGL. I figured an “ASCII-only” game like DF could run inside a terminal window.

    • Hey whoa whoa whoa whoa, I think they featured Super Mario World for the SNES once, so that DF statement is patently false.

      • Wearedevo says:

        Oh! Was that the one where they re-soundtracked it with Scott Walker’s “Tilt”?

    • beema says:

      Ok good, I was hoping I wasn’t completely insane in thinking that it was not a programming language

  9. stakkalee says:

    I have to take issue with some of MoMA’s choices in this exhibit.  Some of these games are more notable for their place in video game history than for any particular design aesthetic.  Pac-Man, the earliest video game currently in the exhibit, is lauded as a break from the “shooters” of that era, but it wasn’t the first “non-violet” game, nor was it particularly technically groundbreaking.  It’s presence in the pantheon of great video games is solely because it was popular.  Similarly, The Sims is acclaimed for being a game where the player “must respond to [the Sims] physical needs, emotions, and desires,” but how is this any different than a tamagotchi?  Yes, the programming is more complex, and the interface is prettier, but The Sims is innovative in the way that Halo 4 is innovative – by taking existing mechanics and features and polishing them.
    And looking at MoMA’s proposed list of future selections I see another problem, or at least another facet of the same problem – of the next 21 games listed, only 2 are from this millenium.  I think, with video games being such a young medium, there’s a tendency to fetishize their history, to make every bit of that history meaningful and important, and it’s really not.  I think MoMA succumbs to this sentiment to a degree – yes, Asteroids is an important video game, but design-wise it’s pretty unimaginative, even given the technical limitations of the time.  It’s like saying the Lascaux Cave Paintings are great art – they’re historically important, but technically primitive.  Give me the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel any day.

    • Girard says:

      Those cave paintings are seriously pretty sophisticated, and were definitely pushing the “technical limits” of the time – they incorporate the unique structure of the cave walls in considered ways, they represent animals in a more naturalistic way, and they make use of formal tricks like repetition to capture movement (actually, considering most of our contemporary experiences with images are moving images and multiple images in films, games, and comics, one could make an argument that static Renaissance tableax are more “primitive” in that respect than the stuff in Chauvet or Lascaux, which actually depict movement and time). I would without hesitation call them great art.

      Rather than try to compare whether Chauvet or the Sistine Chapel is the “better” piece of art, it’s probably more useful to acknowledge that both are great, and operating in very different contexts and media, and to discuss what makes them so notable when compared to other work within the same context. The assertion that the Sistine Chapel is “better” than Chauvet feels meaningless to me, but there’s probably plenty of fruitful discussion to be had about what makes the Sistine Chapel more remarkable/successful a piece of art compared to all the samey also-ran Renaissance church painting you can find in pretty much every museum and church in Italy.I think generally with art and culture we need to be very wary of the myth of progress and the idea that newer automatically equals better – perhaps especially with games which bear the dual crosses of being a commercial artform frequently presented in a “newer is better” context in advertising, and an electronic artform contained in a medium that, per Moore’s law, is very rapidly and tangibly increasing in power.Of course, we also have to be wary of the pitfall of nostalgia, and overinflating the old and established (and cherished form our childhood pop experiences) at the expense of the new and untested.

      These kinds of exhibits, especially since they’re dealing with what is still largely a popular and commercial artform, have a tricky, narrow path to trace between devolving into the game-world equivalent of insular, backward-looking classic-rock radio, and a trade show touting the new and exciting things happening in computer games.

      • stakkalee says:

        OK, I was being a bit glib there at the end, but the point I was trying to make is that nostalgia seems to play a big part in the MoMA exhibit, and that’s a particular danger in a medium like video games that is A) young and B) heavily dependent on commercial success.  The Lascaux paintings are held up as an example of historically-notable prehistoric art, but they’re “notable” only because we have very few examples of prehistoric art to compare them against; they’re famous because they’re, well, famous.  Similarly, Pac-Man is included in this exhibit because of it’s impact on the culture, not from any particular merit of artistry or design.  Why start with Pac-Man and not Space Invaders, when the latter required development of completely new hardware, which seems much more notable from a design standpoint?  I like Kyle’s (@twitter-88752419:disqus) idea above – instead of focusing on a broad array of video games I’d rather they start smaller and actually focus on the similarities and differences of a particular genre or time period.

        • Girard says:

          The Chauvet caves aren’t notable in spite of a lack of artistry or design, though. They’re notable because they exhibit aesthetic and conceptual elements unique, and in some ways more sophisticated, than a lot of other prehistoric art (such as sculptures from the same paleolithic period), and they have expressive qualities that they share with much modern and contemporary art (Picasso, probably 20th’s century painting’s biggest heavy-hitter, resembles Chauvet moreso than it does Michelangelo).

          We can’t sell something short just because it seems “primitive” at first blush (especially when “primitive” becomes an increasingly useless term the more scrutiny it falls under).

          And I don’t know that the assertion that Pac-Man is objectively worse from a design standpoint, as well as the offhand dismissal of its cultural component, totally hold up. The fact that it was probably the first game with a really strong identity/character at its core is a pretty significant cultural step, and that’s certainly an aspect of the game’s overall design, if not specifically its mechanical design. As far as that mechanical design goes, Pac-Man seems like the more complex, emergent system to me, with its multiple independent entities each with their own distinct, rudimentary AI.

          If Space Invaders had been picked instead of Pac-Man, I could imagine someone just as easily making your exact same argument, that they had chosen a less sophisticated game from a design perspective simply because of its pop-cultural impact (Japan having to mint extra 100-yen coins to meet the demand, etc).

        • stakkalee says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus I feel like I’ve dragged us off-topic with the cave paintings, which was only tangential to my point.  My concern is that MoMA’s choices of examples of historic video games seems to place a higher degree of importance on the cultural cachet of their selections than I think some of the selections warrant from a design standpoint.  I disagree with your contention that Pac-Man was the first game with a strong central character, but I take your point about the emergent properties of the game.  These aren’t the selections I would have made; I’m sure my opinion will have more weight once my own modern-art gallery opens (with blackjack!  And hookers!)  By the by, have you played Art Game yet?  I haven’t played the 2-player mode yet, but both 1-player modes were super-fun.  I actually played the Alexandra Tetranov version like true Tetris for a few lines before I realized what I was supposed to do!

        • Girard says:

          I think any selection this small, from such a large and far-ranging medium, if going to be inherently flawed. But I don’t know if it can really be said that they’re shooting for cultural cache over design here – I mean this is an exhibit that has eschewed Mario and included Dwarf Fortress. Also of note is that this isn’t a “game show” like the Smithsonian thing, but a design show including various other designed objects that were included following presumably similar criteria. I don’t think 
          Martín Ruiz de Azúa ‘s “Basic House” was chosen because it’s a culturally ubiquitous household name (because it isn’t), and I likewise don’t think Pac-Man was chosen because it’s a household name (despite the fact that it is). The MoMA has been consistently displaying works that the general visiting public are unfamiliar with, why would they suddenly become shy about challenging museum-goers?
          Also, I suspect Pac-Man’s display works well with this complementary bit of computer-generated visual design by Ben Fry, which visualizes the complexity of its systems.

    • Video Games it seems, more than any other medium, need a cushion of time for outsiders to truly appreciate them.  People talk about Myst, and Sonic, and DOOM, like it’s nothing, but if you would’ve gone back to the time those games were out people would’ve been less likely to extol their greatness but maybe that’s due to changing attitudes, I don’t know, I need more coffee.

      • PaganPoet says:

        Is “more than any other medium” really true, though? Hell, Beethoven’s 5th was almost universally trashed by contemporary reviews when it premiered.

      • valondar says:

         I think the issue is Kyle when we talk about the greatest films ever made the critical picks tend to be a couple of decades old (Citizen Kane and Vertigo), and with novels they’re liable to be centuries old.

        The same kind of gradual building consensus happens with videogames, they’re just a much younger medium.

  10. Steve McCoy says:

    Fun article, but it lands with a clunk because of the last paragraph. It’s not as though there aren’t commercial tie-ins for any of the games at MoMA.

    …Or any of the other art at MoMA

    • SamPlays says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure this article benefits from attempting to take a strip out of pre-future mainstream games. In all fairness, I doubt many gamers in 1980 would have predicted that Pac-Man would become an exhibit in an international museum over 30 years later. It might seem easy or even appropriate to devalue the majority of modern video games but, as demonstrated by Pac-Man, time and retrospect can work in odd ways.

  11. beema says:

    Katamari is the best game ever.

    • PaganPoet says:

      I wish I could agree, because just about everything about it is right up my alley–the colorful art style, the concept, the goofy characters, the catchy music; I just can’t get used to the controls, for the life of me. Granted, it’s been a few years since I tried, maybe I should give it another go.

    • Citric says:

      My nephews killed it for me. They would show up and play for hours. Eventually I hid the games in a storage room and told them I sold them.

    • SamPlays says:

      I was really surprised to learn Katamari was included among the MoMA collection. Not that it’s a bad game but it just seems “slight” compared to some of the other games. But keeping their stated criteria in mind, it makes perfect sense. But did the museum consider the game to be spatially interesting because you’re rolling a sticky ball around a 3D map, or because you’re collecting an escalating scale of “material debris” like tacks, dog houses, cars, trees and skyscrapers? Maybe blowing up mines using your katamari was the element missing from those games?

  12. hyphen_ateit says:

    Nice to read that I’m not the only one who goes to Uniqlo mainly for the socks.