Super Mario Bros. Not In The MoMA?!

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. is a classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game that was developed and published by Nintendo Co.. It is a platform game that came

Box Cover Art

out for the NES on September 13, 1985. The purpose of the game is for the main character, Mario to go through Mushroom Kingdom to try to rescue his love interest. His love interest is Princess Toadstool (or Princess Peach as most know her as) who was stolen from the villain that goes by the name of Bowser. The game has a multiplayer mode, where the second player has the ability to play Mario’s brother, Luigi. The game consists of  8 different worlds with each world containing 4 different levels. The game play consists of only being able to go left and right and jump up and down. There is no 3-d representation of space, however as Mario moves, so does the space. You can jump into tubes that lead to different spaces. While traveling, there is enemies that pop up that try to kill you. If you touch any one of them, then you have to restart the level. There is also a time limit that constricts the players from staying in a certtenorain level for unlimited amount of time. You start with 3 lives and you slowly keep progressing through worlds trying to save the princess. Mario has the ability jump on the enemies to defeat them, however as you progress through the varying levels, you have the ability to get items that enable Mario to kill the enemies with a projectile.  The items that Mario can get are coins, super mushrooms, fire flowers, super stars and 1-up mushrooms. Super Mario Bros. there is no tutorial on how the game mechanics work, the players have to learn through experience since they are forced to. Progressively the levels get much more difficult and there are more obstacles. On the final level, the player has to solve puzzles and they encounter almost all of the enemies all in one level. You are able to defeat the real Bowser and once you do, you save the Princess. However, she posses a challenge called Hard mode where there are modifications added to the game. When the game was released, it boomed and everyone wanted the game. The game sold millions of copies. This game created many successors to the point that it created a Mario Franchise. Even now, Nintendo is continuously creating new content for their platforms. Just in 2016, they released Super Mario Run on iOS and Android devices. However, as much as Super Mario Bros. has a legacy, it has not been able to be put in any museum.

An artist by the name of Cory Arcangel modified the cartridge of Super Mario Bros. to erase everything but only showcase the clouds. Since creating this art piece, Super Mario Clouds has been in 9 different museums from 2004 to 2015. This is as close as Super Mario Bros. has made it to any kind of museum. However, it made it into that museum since it was a form of modification which made it Video Game Art.  Super Mario Clouds is considered video game art since video game art is “art produced with or influenced by video games” (Clark and Mitchell, p.7). If a form of Super Mario Bros. can make it into a museum, then why can’t it be put into the MoMA?

MoMa and Video Games

The Museum of Modern Art is one of the most influential and aspiring museums for modern art. It s currently located in Manhattan in New York City. In November 29, 2012, Paola Antonelli, the Senior Curator of Architecture and Design, announced that the MoMA acquired 14 different games to their collection. She included these 14 games in the Applied Design exhibition.

Pac-Man (1980)
Tetris (1984)
Another World (1991)
Myst (1993)
SimCity 2000 (1994)
vib-ribbon (1999)
The Sims (2000)
Katamari Damacy (2004)
EVE Online (2003)
Dwarf Fortress (2006)
Portal (2007)
flOw (2006)
Passage (2008)
Canabalt (2009)

Before this installation of the 14 games mentioned above. From December 12, 2010 to April 10, 2011. The MoMA PS1 (focuses on contemporary art) included a large scale-interactive video-game installation called Long March:Restart (2008). It was created by Feng Mengbo and it uses a wireless controller to play. This game has strikingly similarities to Super Mario Bros. with identical gaming mechanisms. However, MoMA has yet to actually include Super Mario Bros. in there gallery.

After, she talked in a Ted Talk where she explained why she included games into the MoMA. Her guidelines will be used to try to argue why Super Mario Bros. should be put into the MoMA. Her guidelines were a criteria of selection, exhibition and preservation.

Paola Antonelli strongly believes in design, specifically interactive design. She states that she put video games into the MoMA not because she sees them as art but because she sees them as interactive design (which itself is an art form).

Video games aren’t art because they are quite thoroughly something else: code” Paola Antonelli (2013)

Code. Code according to Antonelli is what a video game is defined as. However, John Sharp states that “[art games] uses innate properties of games— among them interactivity, player goals, and obstacles providing challenge for the player—to create revealing and reflective experiences” (p.12).

So when I talk about it [interaction], I don’t talk only about video games, which are in a way the purest form of interaction, unadulterated by any kind of function or finality.” Paola Antonelli (2013)

Paola Antonelli’s Guidelines for getting into the MoMA:


“As in other forms of design, formal elegance has different manifestations that vary according to the technology available.” Paola Antonelli (2012)

According to Antonelli, it is important for a game to have aesthetics. There are many ways you can see as Super Mario Bros. as being aesthetic. For example if you trail each jump he does, it can be seen as a melody that is controlled by the player. Simon Niedenthal (p.2) defines aesthetic as three major things:

  1. The sensory phenomena that the player encounters in the game.

  2. Aspects of digital games that are shared with other art forms.

  3. An expression of the game experienced as pleasure, emotion, sociability, formgiving etc.

Considering Niedenthal’s definition, Super Mario Bros. conveys the a good portion of the senses. You are able to see, hear and touch aspects of the game. You see the screen, you hear the music in the game, and you touch the controller that controls the virtual world of the game. The aspect that this game shares with art forms is the color scheme of the game. The designers of the game, designed the game to have a variety of colors that please the eyes. Pleasure is an expression the game experiences since when you finally rescue the princess, the player feels pleasure in finally finishing and accomplishing the ultimate goal.


“The space in which the game exists and evolves—built with code rather than brick and mortar—is an architecture that is planned, designed, and constructed according to a precise program, sometimes pushing technology to its limits in order to create brand new degrees of expressive and spatial freedom.” Paola Antonelli (2012)

According to Antonelli’s definition of space, Super Mario Bros. contains a specific kind of space. The game is 2-D with varying color schemes. Mario is able to move forward, back and up. An interesting concept of space is when Mario goes into the tubes, he disappears from the visualsuper mario bros cartridge representation of space and comes back in a different space. The mechanics are the same but the environment has changed. The coding of the game enables the player to teleport into varying different spaces. The game consisted of only 32 kilobytes of memory, so it was definitely pushing technology to its limits by having such complex spatial orientations in compact memory storage.


“Interaction design is quintessentially dynamic, and the way in which the dimension of time is expressed and incorporated into the game—through linear or multi-level progressions, burning time crushing obstacles and seeking rewards and goals, or simply wasting it—is a crucial design choice.” Paola Antonelli (2012)

Time is essentially something very important in games. Without time, there is no pressure to finish the game or to compete against anyone. In Super Mario Bros. there is concept of time on the top corner. This lets the individuals fight their way to the finishing flag. Especially since the game does not include any kind of manual, individuals are forced to learn the game while trying to beat the clock. There are many individuals who have devoted their lives to a concept called speed running. This concept consists of players trying to finish a level as quickly as possible. There are tournaments hosted for people trying to get world records and these tournaments are focused around time and the concept of competition.


“The scenarios, rules, stimuli, incentives, and narratives envisioned by the designers come alive in the behaviors they encourage and elicit from the players, whether individual or social.” Paola Antonelli (2012)

According to Antonelli, Behavior is the most important in the criteria for the MoMA. Super Mario Bros., has scenarios, rules, stimuli, incentives and narratives. It has scenarios since there are multiple worlds and modifications of the core game that makes each level and world a different experiences. Whether you are playing for fun, for achievements, or for speed, the game has variation. There are clear rules in the game, you have the rule of time, the rule of your interactions with the obstacles, and the rule of gravity. Time is an important rule that keeps the player playing. The rule with obstacles, says that you can’t touch certain ones but you can others. If you touch the bad ones, you lose a life which essentially makes you restart. Gravity is a rule that focuses the players on how to jump and when so they do not hit certain obstacles or fall to their death. The stimuli and incentive that this game conveys is the satisfaction of passing each level. You feel pleasure by passing a level, finishing a level quicker than your friends or finishing a level with the most points. The narrative of Super Mario Bros. is simple, you go and save the princess from the big bad villain. Of course, the villain has minions that he has sent to stop you, however the good guys always win at the end.


Ultimately, Super Mario Bros. is a revolutionary game in the gaming industry. Individuals who might not play the game, know of the game. There has been so many successors to this landmark in history that it would be nearly impossible for someone to not know of this game. Considering other games that have been included in the MoMA, there is no reason why Super Mario Bros. isn’t in the collection. It contains all of the criteria that Paola Antonelli asks for plus it contains such a huge legacy that it is absolutely ridiculous that its not in the gallery. This game is a timeless classic.


As John Sharp states;

Super Mario Bros. provides a useful baseline for what a video game is.  All the core components of a game are present: a goal for the player to achieve, actions with which the player can pursue the goal, and resistance thwarting the player’s progress toward the goal, all contain within a play space” (p.8).


Antonelli, Paola. “Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters.” InsideOut. The Museum of Modern Art, 29 Nov. 2012. Web. 09 May 2017. Retrieved from

Antonelli, Paola. (2013). “Why I Brought Pac-Man to MoMA.” TEDSalon NY2013. Retrieved from

Clarke, Andy and Mitchell, Grethe . (2007). “Introduction.” In Videogames and Art. Bristol; Chicago: Intellect. pp. 7-22.

John Sharp. (2015). “Artgames.” In Works of Game.

Niedenthal (2009). What we Talk About When we Talk About Game Aesthetics.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s