Newsmakers

Pac-Man Fever: Video Games at Museum of Modern Art in New York

If the last time you played Pac-Man was at the local arcade when you were a kid, you may be surprised to find the game on your next visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. But here is the Pac-Man experience in what you might call a “pure” form.

“I would like for a moment for people to forget arcades, to forget beers, to forget the kind of seedy and sticky carpet,” said Paola Antonelli, senior curator in the museum’s department of architecture and design. “I know that’s fun but I would like them to just focus on the interaction. So it’s the screen, the game, the controller, and that’s it.”

It is interaction design, not art, for which MoMA has installed Pac-Man and 13 other video games in a new exhibit.

“I consider video games a form of design that is amazingly important today and that is going to become even more important in the future, because it is a way we interact with machines and screens,” Antonelli said in an interview for “Newsmakers” on ABC News/Yahoo! News.

She pointed to research which found that the average American spends anywhere from four to eight hours a day in front of some type of screen, from smartphones to iPads to computers and television. Especially when it comes to video games, that experience is not passive but can profoundly influence the player.

“Experience is a mixture of esthetics, of movement in space and time, of behavior,” said Antonelli. “You know the game designers design our behavior. It’s amazing if you think about it. They kind of control our free will. They direct us toward a certain kind of personality.”

Visitors to the design galleries are invited to play many of the games, including Pac-Man, Another World and Portal. The more advanced ones, such as Myst and SimCity 2000 have representative displays of the game being played. The 14 on display are part of a total wish list of 40 video games which will include Pong, Space Invaders, Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter II.

Popularity was certainly not the first criterion for any of the games’ selection, according to Antonelli.

“Pac-Man and Tetris are masterpieces and milestones,” she said. “Pac-Man is in the collection because it was one of the first instances in which a maze, a two-dimensional maze, made you feel like you were a part of a three-dimensional world.”

It is the technology and design of video games that lend themselves easily to an interactive exhibit. But they may also give MoMA and other museums a way to immerse visitors in more traditional forms of art, such as a painting by Picasso.

“The interaction that we’re seeking now with the Picasso is of a different kind,” said Antonelli. “We’re studying how we can use technology in order to make people feel that they can walk in the Picasso or they can have more of a connection to the Picasso. I think that technology will help us modulate that participation and that interaction more in the future.”

For that reason, the concept of design, such as that found in Pac-Man and other video games, has lessons to teach in the greater world of art.

“I like to say that the only difference between an artist and a designer is that an artist can choose whether to speak to other people or not,” said Antonelli. “A designer has to do it by definition. But there are many artists who also seek this communal feeling. When it comes to video games it’s almost impossible to avoid it.”

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