The PoP! Stars narrow it down to the cream of the crop in categories ranging from (but not limited to) Comics, Movies, Toys and Geek Culture in general. This is the PoP! Top 6-Pack.
Earlier this month, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC opened a new exhibit dedicated to the artistry of video games. This exhibit doesn’t just focus on the visual appearance of games, but the overall design, from the way players interact with the game to the elegance of the code.
“Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe. The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design—a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity. Our criteria, therefore, emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects—from the elegance of the code to the design of the player’s behavior—that pertain to interaction design.” – the MoMA blog
Minecraft is on the list to be included in the MoMA exhibit in the future, for good reason. At first glance, Minecraft is kind of a butt-ugly game. Comprised entirely of cubes, vanilla (unmodified) Minecraft doesn’t win any awards for beauty. That is, until you start playing. With the ability to build anything out of these blocks, Minecraft is a beautiful and intriguing game.
In addition, Minecraft is customizable with an endless amount of skins, mods, and user-created worlds. There is an insane amount of player-created machinima on YouTube. Minecraft is the creative person’s game, bucking the standard linear narrative of traditional games and opening up an entire world in which to play.
Final Fantasy VII
The Final Fantasy games have long been known for beautiful graphics. However, as the game that popularized the Japanese RPG game style and the most popular amongst Final Fantasy fans, VII is the one that gets included in our museum exhibit.
It’s a beautiful game, but that’s not the only reason why it should be included. With a storyline revolving around eco-terrorism and the world-destroying mega-corporation Shinra, it’s a powerful social commentary.
It also contains one of the most unsettling death scenes ever in a video game. For all the bloody, violent games in the world, Sephiroth killing Aeris was a pivotal moment in game history. One of the characteristics of great art is that it evokes an emotional reaction. This scene does just that.
Duck Hunt might not strike you as an overly beautiful, artistic video game, but it wins points for being the game that made light gun games popular for home consoles. Duck Hunt made us love our NES Zappers, and I dare you to see one without having the urge to play the game. This different way of interfacing with a game is what makes Duck Hunt unique and museum-worthy.
That’s not the only reason, though. Through a simple premise, and one small character, Duck Hunt has the ability to evoke an extreme emotional response. To illustrate how a great character can define a game, look no further than Duck Hunt’s dog, often called one of the most annoying video game characters ever. As a game that has ingrained itself within pop culture, Duck Hunt is a great candidate for museum inclusion.
Braid is an independent game that is not only beautiful to look at, but also turns the mechanics of gameplay on its head. While Braid follows “Mario rules” (rescue the princess, 2D platformer, jumping on enemies) it adds an additional level by manipulating time. The game can move forward and backward through time at will, with time behaving differently in each level.
Braid also deserves consideration for having a deep philosophy behind the design of the game. Designer Jonathan Blow wanted to deconstruct current video game trends, to make the manipulation of time a critical part of the story, to communicate non-verbally how to solve puzzles, and to make many puzzles skippable to avoid the dreaded rage quit.
World of Warcraft
As the largest and most popular online multiplayer game, World of Warcraft deserves a spot in a museum. The interactivity of a multiplayer game is one of the goals of great art; to get people talking and involved.
Due to its constantly-updated nature, WoW also has some of the best graphics available in gaming. While consoles are constrained by hardware limitations, PC graphics cards are easier to upgrade. The graphics in WoW are also noteworthy because the game needs to run on the widest variety of computer systems possible. Not only is it a beautiful game, but it’s also widely accessible without expensive hardware.
The Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail predates any game in MoMA’s exhibit, having been originally created in 1971. While the Apple II game we grew up with is not much to look at, its relevancy comes from teaching history in a way that is immersive and innovative. No educational video game even comes close to the cultural legacy of The Oregon Trail.
The Oregon Trail is still going strong over 40 years later, with recent versions being released for the Wii, PC, and as a phone app. You can even play the Apple II version in your internet browser.
I know that all of you in the PoP!ulation have your own ideas on what games should end up in a museum exhibit. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments below. Also, a big thank-you to the PoP!ulation members who answered my question in the Facebook group. You’re the best!