Design in the Digital Realm: Paola Antonelli’s Most Recent Acquisitions Include Pac-Man, Tetris, and SimCity

Our attraction to video games would not be as powerful if their worlds weren’t so immersive, and we have design to thank for that. The games we play and ultimately cherish inhabit well-constructed spaces that have the power to draw us in and captivate, not unlike a well-furnished room or an awe-inspiring tower. That makes them a fitting addition to MoMA‘s permanent design collection, which has just acquired the first 14 games on senior curator of design and architecture Paola Antonelli‘s wish-list of 40.

“The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design,” writes Antonelli on MoMA’s blog. “The space in which the game exists and evolves—built with code rather than brick and mortar—is an architecture that is planned, designed, and constructed.”

The first 14:
Pac-Man (1980)
Tetris (1984)
Another World (1991)
Myst (1993)
SimCity 2000 (1994)
vib-ribbon (1999)
The Sims (2000)
Katamari Damacy (2004)
EVE Online (2003)
Dwarf Fortress (2006)
Portal (2007)
flOw (2006)
Passage (2008)
Canabalt (2009)
Those still to come:
Spacewar! (1962)
An “assortment of games for the Magnavox Odyssey console” (1972)
Pong (1972)
Snake (originally designed in the 1970s; Nokia phone version dates from 1997)
Space Invaders (1978)
Asteroids (1979)
Zork (1979)
Tempest (1981)
Donkey Kong (1981)
Yars’ Revenge (1982)
M.U.L.E. (1983)
Core War (1984)
Marble Madness (1984)
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
The Legend of Zelda (1986)
NetHack (1987)
Street Fighter II (1991)
Chrono Trigger (1995)
Super Mario 64 (1996)
Grim Fandango (1998)
Animal Crossing (2001)
Minecraft (2011)

But where is the buxom Lara Croft and her swinging ponytail, you might ask? While many life-long gamers in the comments section of Antonelli’s post lament the exclusion of various cultural obsessions — “I could not imagine such a list without the inclusion of World of Warcraft,” writes one — she spells out the stringent selection criteria of this very limited list. After consulting various “scholars, digital conservation and legal experts, historians, and critics” with the seriousness one would consider a blue-chip wood-and-metal, real-world design, she hewed down her list based on very specific qualities. Aside from the obvious aesthetics of a game — she totally hates on “Tempest”‘s pixelated look, which is why you won’t find it here — she took into consideration each game’s cultural impact, technological innovation, and most importantly, the interaction it elicits from the user.

“The interaction translates in the digital world what the synthesis of form and function represent in the physical one,” she says. Our love and appreciation of the craftsmanship and ergonomic innovation of a Knoll chair, for example, is parallel to that of the poignant storytelling of Link’s quest to save Princess Zelda.

Gaming enthusiasts can look forward to playing the first 14 games in some capacity in March, when they’ll be installed in MoMA’s Philip Johnson Galleries.

— Janelle Zara