Gaming at the MoMA: A Look at Kill Screen’s “Arcade” Exhibition

For considerably better pictures of the event, I suggest that you head on over to Joystiq’s gallery.

This past Wednesday, the editors of the magazine “Kill Screen” helped put on a show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. This isn’t the first time that video games have been displayed in a museum, but the MoMA’s a pretty ritzy place, and so it was seen (by me, at least) to be a pretty big deal, a means to bring some of the industry’s more avant-garde fair to the masses. And for the most part, I think the evening could be called a success.

Starry Heavens

Admittedly, if I were curating that shindig, my list of games would have looked a lot different. Kill Screen’s selections seemed to be more about the beauty of mechanics, while I tend to prefer a little more graphical splendor when I’m gripping a controller. On the other hand, the event tied in beautifully — probably intentionally so — with the incredible “Talk to Me” installation, which compiled dozens of modern technologies that humans potentially use to communicate with one another. Some of the wackier devices on display like animal-sensory simulations, a fifth dimensional camera and a metal pair of underpants that simulate menstruation for folks who don’t menstruate (like guys) will get the most buzz, but the entire collection as a whole was just awe-inspiring. It’s so cool to see such technological innovation in one room, and I’m glad that video games could be lumped along for an evening.

So what games were on display? A lot of them have already been commercially released, including Limbo, Bit.Trip Beat and Echochrome, as well as a bunch  of iOS games on the top floor. But there were some game designers who took advantage of the huge space, putting together games that could never really fit in your living room (assuming that you don’t live in a mansion). Favorites included:

B.U.T.T.O.N.

  • B.U.T.T.O.N. – This stands for Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now, which sounds about right. Up to four players stand in front of their giant buttons and are given a series of instructions. For instance, my group was told to run to another room and then play dead. After a few random prompts, the game then asks you to screw over your friends in order to win. My girlfriend ended up knocking me out when we were asked to hold down the loser’s button for 10 seconds. B.U.T.T.O.N.‘s frantic pace reminds me a lot of WarioWare on the GameCube, and I would love to bring this to my classroom next year. This is such a killer party game, and one that would be friendly to any age group. The only problem is that if and when the game is ported home, you won’t have the oversized buttons to smash, and that was half the fun.
  • Starry Heavens – This gigantic board game in the sculpture garden was designed by Eric Zimmerman and Nathalie Pozzi. It played a bit like an over-sized game of Twister, and again, the rules were designed to encourage backstabbing and ruthlessness. (I noticed that this was  a subtle theme in many of my top picks that night.) The balloons overhead offered a nice atmosphere, but I don’t know how much people bought into the thematic background stuff about the lord of the sky (or something like that). Perhaps our board game experts Kaz and Tom would have appreciated it more.
  • Tentacle – While my Android didn’t take the greatest photos — as you can see — it at least allowed me to spawn my own tentacle in this multiplayer take on FlOw. Players could download an iOS/Android app that synced up with the game and created new avatars for everyone. From there, it was a race to eat as much organic matter as you could, though I guess I missed out on a cooperative element along the way. This game was one of many projected onto the wall, and I loved seeing the action up on such a massive “screen.”
  • PXL PUSHR – I’m not sure if this will ever see a commercial release, which is too bad, because I think designers Matt Boch and Ryan Challinor of Harmonix are on to something here. One player sets down squares on a grid displayed on an iPad, while the other stands in front of a Kinect and tried to touch all of those squares in the space around him or her simultaneously. Here, the set up was competitive, but I could see this setup working cooperatively, too. Switch the iPad out with an Xbox controller, and I think you have a potential indie hit.

As with any good Kinect game, you’ll look just a little silly when you play PXL PUSHR.

So overall, a fun show. I hope that if Kill Screen attempts this again next year, we see more games and more outlandish ideas, but this is a great way to lay down some inroads.

About the Author

Justin Justin is a social media community manager and a highly regarded Pokémon master. He loves platformers with googly eyes and downloadable games that can be completed in a single sitting.