Thursday, February 6, 2014

re: "Possibilities and Pitfalls of the Video Game Exhibition"

In "The Possibilities and Pitfalls of the Video Game Exhibition," Nicholas O'Brien talks about his experience in attending game exhibitions at Museum of the Moving Image and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and finding their curation and installations lacking -- specifically, they don't afford visitors interacting "properly" with longform single player games, because the self-awareness and performance of a museum context means you will never really engage with the game.

A couple years ago, I was of the same opinion and I even complained about the same institution, and now I'm surprised that I've changed my mind and I find this opinion kind of short-sighted...

Both of the museums he cites are basically these sterile polished surfaces where art goes to die. They're respected well-funded institutions where art transforms from something done on streets and in studios to something that you mustn't touch (please step back, ma'am!) in exchange for some perceived benefit of more exposure or cultural canonization. To some extent, it is impossible to engage with any of the art in any of these museums, ever, because that's not what these museums are trying to do. Instead, they're still back at step 1: arguing to a skeptical public that video games might have some artistic merit or that technology can be more than just a product. They're also a way of helping tourist parents bargain with their culture-denying boys -- look Kevin, there's video games at the museum, see there's something for everyone!

(CONFESSION: Okay, well, the one good thing that MoMA does is the rotating performance art stuff in the atrium. Those are probably better curated games than the video games themselves.)

In short, these are the AAA equivalent of art exhibitions. They are big moneyed institutions full of smart people and skilled production staff, but their size makes them slow at changing directions or trying radically new things.

Similarly, you'd be a fool to play Halo 5 and complain why video games haven't changed for a decade -- Halo 5 is going to be another romp about shooting space-magic squad AI aliens, and that's okay if that's what it is, but it certainly isn't an experimental frontier.

The bigger oversight in O'Brien's piece is that there is so much better video game curation going on, just in New York City not to mention the entire world, so why are you looking for the future of game curation in the Halo of game curation? Do you look for spiritual fulfillment in a shopping mall as well?

Doug Wilson already tweeted a short-list of promising game curators: "Some rad peeps who *are* already doing forward-thinking game curation for museums: @Babycastles @dinosaurrparty @taleoftales @KOKOROMI #FF"

I would also add things like NYU Game Center's "No Quarter" which actually commissions new games designed expressly for public exhibition (!), as well as the work of Wild Rumpus most recently with their upcoming "fancy videogame party" in Toronto with the Hand Eye Society -- and Jake Elliott and co's intimate exhibitions of small games at various Chicago spaces, most recently with "Experience is Limited to the First Person" -- and let's not forget Lunarcade, an "indie games circus" spearheaded by the Santa Ragione guys.

There is more video game exhibition going on than ever before, and these exhibitions all play with format and presentation in much more creative ways than MoMA or Moving Image... They just need some help getting the word out, apparenty?