Museums acquire viral Australian video game Untitled Goose Game

“Are video games art? Of course they are, but they are also design,” MoMA said. There was a refusal: “Gamebollocks”, complained an art critic. A work of art “must be an act of personal imagination…the worlds created by electronic games are more like playgrounds.”

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According to Seb Chan, director of experience at ACMI, video games cross borders. “We preserve a work of art and a cultural moment, as well as documentation of what it was like to make art at that time,” he says.

goose game was a “global phenomenon” that captured a moment with its release in 2019: Melbourne’s heady, fertile, pre-pandemic year.

“It was so original that it captured people’s imaginations,” Chan says. “That local game scene had really grown – I see it like Australian music in a way, there are local scenes emerging and exploding onto the global stage. And games are the new pop music.

Museums and archives don’t want to and can’t capture everything, he says. “It’s about finding representative works, and I don’t think there’s a work that’s more representative of the recent scene than goose game. It’s also very rare to be able to work with the developers, the creators of the game so early in its lifespan.

ACMI does a lot of work to preserve computer games, but that often means battling with old technology or emulation software to recreate a lost platform.

In this case, they get live software that works on today’s technology, along with documentation and early versions of the development process, to give insight into how it was created.

However, they can’t get their hands on all the code – modern software is a web of proprietary libraries and frameworks that can’t be acquired.

“Once things become a cultural phenomenon, the ability of institutions to work with creators to ensure their preservation is very important, but it’s also very difficult,” Chan says.

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Each of the three institutions will use the acquisition in their own way, likely in exhibits that explore the creation of the game. Lisa Havilah, Powerhouse’s chief executive, says keeping the technology alive is one of their main challenges.

“There’s this amazing, creative content that’s being developed, but the technology is changing and it’s being left behind,” she says. “I think just as important as collecting innovation and technology is, it’s about collecting our Australian social history.

“This game got some people through the lockdown. games like Pac man, or that, are related to how we move through our lives. Technology is almost part of us. Games and the way technology works on our screens, in our hands, are an integral part of our social lives. And documenting that is so important.

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