Under the direction of Paola Antonelli, MoMA recently acquired 14 video games. These acquisitions have received a lot of flak from the community of art critics. They object to the showcasing of mundane video games in the same premises and seemingly at par with great masterpieces of Van Gogh and Picasso. Their contention is that video games are not art and so they don’t deserve to have a place at MoMA. Antonelli who is senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, New York completely agrees with the critics on one aspect. Video games are definitely not art – because they are design – interaction design to be specific and hence they deserve a place at MoMA.
Being an Industrial designer and a general appreciator of all things arty (and by the powers vested in me by self-publishing websites), I’d like to give my take on the matter.
Museums don’t just horde pricey artworks; they collect artefacts which are a symbol of the time they belong to. Canvases by Van Gogh are included in museum collections not because they are beautiful pictures, but because they mark an important art style. These artworks are a reflection of the culture and popular tastes of the time when they were created. An impressionist painting on the museum wall basically says that by the 19th century the general public (or the art circles of Paris) had moved beyond (or grown tired of ) appreciating classical painting styles which depicted holy deities and had instead begun appreciating the luminosity of colours contained within sunlit scenes from everyday life. And it’s about time that we moved beyond having an affinity for the idyllic scenes of peasants harvesting crops and start appreciating the beauty in things which are closer to our present day life. One approach to do this has been demonstrated by Brendan O’Connell, an American painter whose muse is Walmart. Another example, albeit a bit closer to home, is Subodh Gupta. He is an Indian artist whose chosen medium of expression are high gloss stainless steel utensils – an uncelebrated symbol of the average Indian household. Walmart and stainless steel utensils are artefacts which symbolise our times. And so are video games, the only difference being that they are digital artefacts. This is my first point in favour of MoMa’s digital acquisitions.
For the second point, I concur with Antonelli. Video games truly are the purest form of Interaction design. For those who don’t know – Interaction design deals with the design of effective interfaces which allow humans to communicate with machines in order to get a particular task done. There is interaction design in your fax machine, your TV remote, the ATM, a website and also in the cockpit of a fighter jet. Interaction design has always been around, but it is only recently that big companies have come to terms with the power of good interaction design. Google for example has recently begun a major design overhaul of all its services, be it Gmail, Google search or Youtube. (If you are using any of these services, you would have noticed). And Accenture has bought over a design firm to integrate its technology offerings with good design. This era is becoming a sort of a golden age for interaction design. And even today the metaphorical giant leap forward in this area rides on the shoulders of videogames. Gestural interfaces have found their first mass acceptance in the form of Xbox 360s and Nintendo Wiis. Five or ten year hence gestural interfaces could possibly become a more innocuous part of our lives – and that possibility exists only because we have gesture based videogames today. We cannot discount the contribution of videogames to the progress of interaction design & to technological advancement in general.
Ms. Antonelli describes in detail the significance of each videogame which has been inducted into MoMA’s collection over here. As for me, I would just like to say that – let’s not be high-handed enough to categorize something as juvenile just because it is quite literally child’s play.