Friday, March 15, 2013

Should Video Games Be Displayed In Museums?

While reading through the newspaper this week during dinner, (yes I know I still read physical newspapers, I’m weird), there was an interview with Miyamoto (Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda) sitting in the arts section. So of course I had to read it. It went through the usual topics that are hot right now: how to you feel about violence in games, what is the future of gaming, how do you feel the Wii-U is doing. But then it touched on the MoMA (The Modern Museum of Art) showcasing a selection of games for their exhibit. His response?

I still look at video games as entertainment. And it seems strange to me to take entertainment and preserve it as a piece of art per se.

He appreciates the fact that people wish to preserve games when they become obsolete, i.e. the hardware is no longer being used. At the same time, it’s odd to see video games as part of an art exhibit where they may not be played.

He brings up an interesting point, one that a number of film historians, critics, and theorists have been struggle with for decades. Film, television, radio, video games: these are all pieces of entertainment. Placing them on a pedestal in a museum is counter-active to their original intent: for people to listen, watch, and interact. While there is no doubt in my mind that all of us are grateful to see people take the time to preserve these pieces before they are lost to history. But the fact that we have movies in a museum that cannot be watched is perplexing.

The Smithsonian is one of the few museums that allow people to interact and play the games, which is the original intent of the product. But they are not meant to be played for entertainment, but as art. It’s a role-reversal. As we continue to move forward in game theory and critical thinking, we have to start asking ourselves if placing video games in a museum is right?

This isn’t a question about whether or not video games are art. Anyone could easily argue that the plastic can of Lysol wipes on my desk could be a beautiful, yellow piece to someone. Rather, by making something art do we destroy the original intent of the product? Lysol is a cleaning agent. By making it art, do we remove it from its role of cleaning or can it be more? Is it wrong to no longer allow Lysol to be Lysol? The same applies to video games. When we make it art, do we remove it from being a game for people to play?

Critical thinking on a Friday morning. I know. I’m mean.

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