London - Pac-Man and The Sims will soon be displayed alongside works by Warhol and Picasso at New York's Museum of Modern Art after the gallery decided that video games count as art.
The aesthetic and artistic value of computer software has been debated for years, but on Sunday the museum sided with enthusiasts and developers by acquiring 14 well-known games to start a new category in its collection. One expert who advised the curators said gaming could become “one of the most important” art forms.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) sought out scholars, historians, critics and legal experts from the computer games world to draw up a list that includes The Sims, a series which by last year had sold more than 150 million copies, Another World and Portal. Art connoisseurs may raise their eyebrows because visitors will actually be able to play the games in the gallery.
Paola Antonelli, senior curator in MoMA's department of architecture and design, said there was a 40-strong “wish list” of games to bring into the collection, including such arcade classics as Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Pong and Snake, which was popularised on Nokia mobile phones.
The first 14 games will be installed in MoMA's Philip Johnson Galleries from March. Ms Antonelli said: “Are videogames art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe.”
MoMA is not the first venerable institution to back videogames. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC hosted a six-month exhibition entitled “The Art of Video Games”, charting the evolution of the medium and featuring titles including Pac-Man, Earthworm Jim and Final Fantasy VII.
Chris Melissinos, the guest curator of the Smithsonian exhibition, who also advised MoMA, said: “This decision indicates that video games have become an important cultural, artistic form of expression in society. It could become one of the most important forms of artistic expression.”
The debate has proved controversial. In 2005, the US film critic Roger Ebert said he was not aware of anyone who could name a game “worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, film-makers, novelists and composers”.
Mr Melissinos said: “People who apply themselves to the craft view themselves as artists, because they absolutely are. This is an amalgam of many traditional forms of art.”
The argument that computer games could be viewed as art received a boost last year when the US Supreme Court ruled that they were like other works of art and their right to free speech should be protected under the First Amendment.
Ms Antonelli said the exhibition would look at the “historical and cultural relevance, aesthetic expression, functional and structural soundness, innovative approaches to technology and behaviour, and a successful synthesis of materials and techniques”.
The other titles in Moma's initial collection are Tetris (1984), Myst (1993), SimCity 2000 (1994), vib-ribbon (1999), Katamari Damacy (2004), EVE Online (2003), Dwarf Fortress (2006), flOw (2006), Passage (2008) and Canabalt (2009). Future additions to the collection could include Space Invaders, Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter II.
The most recent title on the museum's wish list is last year's Minecraft. - The Independent