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MoMA curator explains design as focus of museum's video game exhibit in TED talk

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

The Museum of Modern Art's first video game exhibit ruffled a lot of feathers, but curator Paola Antonelli said in a recent TED talk that she felt games were necessary additions to the museum as examples of the importance of design in our lives.

Antonelli is the senior curator of the museum's Department of Architecture and Design, and helped lead the effort to add video games to the MoMA collection. The exhibit, Applied Design, launched earlier this year and includes 14 games such as Pac-Man and Tetris.

"All hell broke loose," said Antonelli, when MoMA announced its intention to bring in video games. Critics lambasted the museum for "putting Pac-Man alongside Picasso."

For Antonelli, the games-as-art discussion is moot; the goal of Applied Design, and the games in it, is to celebrate the medium of video games as interaction design. In response to those who charge that designers are aspiring artists, she said, "Designers aspire to be really great designers, thank you very much, and that's more than enough."

Antonelli continued discussing Applied Design as an exhibit designed to open people's minds about how design is omnipresent, flipping on its head a Gustave Flaubert quote about living in an ivory tower.

"I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it," said Flaubert, the French writer and author of Madame Bovary.

Antonelli quipped, "I consider myself the tide of shit."

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