Video games zap their way into top New York museum

Pac-Man and other legends from the video game world became the latest and perhaps most unlikely additions to the Museum of Modern Art's illustrious collections in New York on Friday.

Fourteen games were displayed in the elegant contemporary design gallery on the third floor as part of a wider exhibition called "Applied Design," which celebrates trends in contemporary design.

Pac-Man (1980) and Tetris (1984) get the full treatment, mounted on small screens set into a dark wall. Each has an accompanying label that explains its history, while Pac-Man gets an additional display, called a distella map, of its original code.

A neighboring room featured Myst from 1993, Another World (1991) and Sims from 2000, the air filled with music from the games.

The rarified atmosphere of the MoMA makes an unusual place to satisfy nostalgia for these video relics, but visitors can do just that -- the museum has provided controllers, although there are headphones to keep the noise down.

Games requiring multiple players are the only ones unavailable.

There's also SimCity 2000 (1994), vib-ribbon (1999), Katamari Damacy (2004), EVE Online (2003), Dwarf Fortress (2006), Portal (2007), flOw (2006), Passage (2008) and Canabalt (2009), where the entire life of a couple plays out in under five minutes.

But is it art -- particularly in such a prestigious institution as the MoMA?

Paola Antonelli, senior curator for the museum's department of architecture and design, has no doubt.

"The whole world has always believed that they were a form of art," she told AFP.

"Frankly, I am not interested at all in the discussion about video games or even chairs being art. I find design one of the highest form of human creative expression and when something has great design that is more than enough."

That approach and the museum's desire to expand its exhibits on interactive designs is what underlines the show, which took more than a year and a half to prepare and will be up until January 2014.

MoMA chose the games from a multitude of candidates, studying their cultural significance, their aesthetic quality, but also hard to quantify attributes like "the elegance of the code."

"Definitely function is important," Antonelli said. "It also has to have a certain attitude towards form, that is also a means of communication."

A sure-fire way to decide on which to include is this, she added: "Would the world miss it if it didn't exist?"

This is just the start for what MoMA hopes will be a 40-strong collection eventually. New arrivals being lined up are Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), Zork (1979), Tempest (1981), Yars' Revenge (1982), Marble Madness (1984), Super Mario Bros. (1985), and The Legend of Zelda (1986).

But there is no rush, she said. "It is also our job as a museum to preserve whatever we acquire."

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