People have been trying to quantify what exactly constitutes “art” for centuries. Scholars have debated the semantics of the idea over and over again, and the definition of the word has changed as new mediums and new artists emerge to challenge the status quo. Like any other new form of media, the artistic validity of video games has long been debated, and there was a time when most of society viewed games as toys for escapist man-children. Thankfully, that perception is changing, and respected art institutions are gradually warming up to the idea that yes, games are indeed art.
Following the lead of the Smithsonian, the New York City Museum of Modern Art is including Namco Bandai’s cult classic Katamari Damacy as part of their new exhibit, entitled “”Century of the Child: Growing by Design.” The exhibit, which runs from July 29th through November 5th, examines the influence of child-like imagination and naivete on modern design sensibilities.
It may not sound like it, but I think this is a pretty big deal: other museums have done exhibits focusing on video games before, but they’ve always treated them as a sort of novelty, and they’ve always segregated games away from the “real” fine art. NYC MOMA is treating Katamari Damacy differently: it’s being included in the exhibit because it’s a piece of art that fits the exhibit’s theme, just like every other painting or sculpture or piece of industrial design. They’re treating the game just as they would any other piece of art in their collection, and I think that’s a pretty big change. Sure, Katamari Damacy is appearing in an exhibit about works targeted to or inspired by children (which doesn’t help the whole “games are for man-childs” thing,) but the game’s inclusion is a good example about how mainstream perceptions about gaming are changing. Who knows, if this keeps up, maybe someday you’ll see Ocarina of Time or Ico next to a Jackson Pollock piece.