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Spotlight on the art of video games


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The next month, Mortal Kombat Turning 30. Now look back at that 1992 arcade game and it almost seems weird. Animated 2D combat, pixel blood. But what many players may not remember — or simply haven’t survived to experience — is that Mortal Kombat is the eye in the violent storm of video games. Its spine-tingling gore was the subject of congressional hearings and contributed to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board that, to this day, ranks content and age into the game. Three decades later, Mortal Kombat is a classic, and debates about violence in video games are often considered over-the-top.

Paola Antonelli, curator of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, thinks a lot about this. Not special about Mortal Kombat, but about violence in art and its purposes. Currently, Antonelli is managing Never alone, an exhibition on video games and interactive design opens at the museum this weekend. When she arrived at MoMA 28 years ago, she made the point that Beretta guns should be part of the design collection. Others at MoMA have rejected the idea. Antonelli protested, saying that guns are depicted in all sorts of work, why isn’t there one in the collection? The reason is that paintings and sculptures often show represent of guns; Putting one in a museum would be an endorsement of its functionality. “We apply the same principle to video games,” says Antonelli. “We discussed a lot about unprovoked versus targeted violence.”

Final, Never alone not included Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Autobut it has This fight is mine, a game from the perspective of a civilian trying to survive the conflict. MoMA’s collection expert Paul Galloway describes it as “an extremely violent game”, but that’s not the point. “Some of the most exciting games tackle violence in a way that really pushes us forward,” he said.

Antonelli and Galloway see video games as cultural artifacts worth discussing. People have been discussing them for a long time, but the exhibition runs until next spring, in order to give the game a more prominent artistic background. It’s not just about the case that creating graphics or storytelling for games are goals worth pursuing, but it’s also about showing that the way people interact with them isn’t entirely different from the way they interact with art.

This is true of the title of the exhibition: Never alone. Derived from the game of the same name — which is part of MoMA’s permanent collection, like everything else in the exhibit — it’s a testament to the fact that although people want to paint gamers as villains, Lonely shooting in their basement, but video games can be community -Building. This only became more true in the Twitch era. Last week, when I was walking around MoMA’s exhibition while it was still under construction, the evidence of this was easy to see. There are games—Pac-Man, Space Invaders-display. But there are also many interactive design tools, like the first generation iPod and Susan KareSketchbook of icons for the original Apple Macintosh. The aim, Antonelli told me, was to demonstrate that, with games, art is created when the player interacts with a designer’s work. Each turn is unique.



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