Myst- Not in the MoMA


Proving something isn’t art is a hard thing to do because art is such a vague entity that it can be found in literally anything. Since I have chosen a game that is in the MoMA obviously it is art, but is it art enough? Does it fit the requirement of ‘video games as art’ thoroughly or just a few parts of it?

To help pick a prompt I read through Paola Antonelli’s requirements on having a game in the MoMA and tried to cross reference with all the games that are in the MoMA. As I read through their descriptions I was able to somewhat understand why those certain games were chosen to be in the MoMA. Some had a unique history to it and others had different ways they were built. From the list I initially picked out three games ( Vib Ribbon, Dwarf Fortress, and Myst) that I thought really don’t need to be in the MoMA because I initially viewed these games as ordinary, like they have made no significant impact to our culture or society, but eventually narrowed my choice to Myst.

Dwarf Fortress

Playing Dwarf Fortress was quite the experience, especially since I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time. Dwarf Fortress is a construction building game where  the goal is to establish civilization for the dwarfs so this includes motions like finding property, assigning jobs, collecting and storing goods. Initially the graphics looked very outdated, but I think I was so used to 3-D visuals that I didn’t realize how much has changed since the release of the game in 2006. This game is has its place in the MoMA, because of its graphic design technique through American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). So basically instead of wasting time and money on the newest graphics and music, the developers of Dwarf Fortress decided to go retro.



If you look at the description on how to play Vib-Ribbon you will notice that the game looks like any other obstacle course game, press a button on the controller and jump over a wall. Yah that’s what I thought too, but apparently its greatness is in the music. You see the game was made by a game designer/ musician in Tokyo, Matsuura. So the purpose is to play along with any chosen music of your choice in your PlayStation. Yup, that’s pretty artistic.



A interactive puzzle based game, where the first person point of view leads the player to different areas on an island to find clues and solve mysteries. The game’s 3-D graphics and animation were a breakthrough for its time in the 1990s. Cyan Incorporation’s goal was to focus on the beauty and mystery that the player experiences through game play.



Initially when I played the game I was so lost. I had the downloaded the game onto my phone and I think the app version is very inefficient because no instructions were provided on how to play I kinda had to figure it out by tapping on random places on the screen. So it starts off with an intense intro almost like I’m watching a movie. It shows someone falling on a black screen almost like they are falling into another dimension and there is a narrator in the background giving a spiel on “destiny” and all. The next thing you see is the character’s point of view, you are standing on a island and you tap on the the top, bottom,left, or right of the screen to move around. As you continue on the various paths, there interactive locations as well. For example I can tap on a building, and as I get closer to the building I tap on a door to go inside, and when I’m inside I tap on picture frames,a  bookshelves or a fireplace to get closer and inspect the objects. Through this you eventually find out the context of the game, and learn that you must pass through “Ages” to continue the game.

myst 2

The creators of Myst, Cyan Inc., focused the game around the realness of the places within the game rather than the game play. Another thing that that is different is that it is intended for a broader audience ranging from kids to adults. This game had a lot of firsts “There were some dramatic breaks from traditional gaming – no dying, no shooting, no starting over, no inventory, and it would require a CD-ROM drive” according to


“Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside “ordinary” life as being “not serious,” but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly.It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means.” (Caillois 123)

Myst is most definitely a video game, we have Huizinga’s definition of play and Roger Caillois’ levels of play to prove it. The video gaming culture has its own communities that that are built to a certain genre of video games, game consoles or even generations of the same video game. Myst has become widely popular since its initial release. Sequels of Myst include Riven: The Sequel to Myst, Myst III:Exile, and Myst IV:Revelation.

1.Free: in which playing is not obligatory; if it were, it would at once lose its attractive and joyous quality as diversion;

2. Separate: circumscribed within limits of space and time, defined and fixed in advance;

3. Uncertain: the course of which cannot be determined, nor the result attained beforehand, and some latitude for innovations being led to the player’s initiative;

4. Unproductive: creating neither goods, nor wealth, nor new elements of any kind; and, except for the exchange of property among the players, ending in a situation identical to that prevailing at the beginning of the game;

5. Governed by rules: under conventions that suspend ordinary laws, and for the moment establish new legislation, which alone counts;

6. Make-believe: accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life.


So is it art? I mean sure it has some cool graphics, and intense 3D visuals like never before its time, but that doesn’t necessarily make it art. If the reason for Myst’s placement in the MoMA is because of the fact that graphics were advanced for its time then maybe it would be more suitable in a history museum.

The aesthetics in a game can be found in its visuals and mechanics. According to Niedenthal in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Game Aesthetics” he concludes that the aesthetics in games come from the process of playing the game in which the game is experiences through our senses. This aesthetic is very minimal in Myst. The experience of the player in  Myst is easily predictable because it has a certain genre assigned for a certain audience. Compared to all the games in video games history, how does Myst stand out? That’s just the thing it doesn’t. It has a interactive puzzles, first person player perspective, background narrative, and levels. This sounds a lot a like Jesper Juul’s classic game model. You know the one we’ve been talking about all semester? It goes something like….

“A game is a rule-based formal system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels a/ached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable.” (Juul 36)


Paola Antonelli’s requirements of a game (behavior, aesthetics, time and space) in the MoMA comply with Myst, but to a very low degree. Behavior from the players are an expected reaction due to unchanging genre and audience. Since all the hype in the aesthetics was put into the first game, the renewal’s don’t have a lot to change. The only real thing in this game that factors under space, is the 3-D spatial orientation in the original version and may have been one of the very first video games to do so. Time is like another criteria for experience, this game is certainly time consuming and as my I invest my time I slowly build a experience, which is different for everyone. Overall Myst can easily be taken out of the MoMA due to lack of art and but more interaction design.


Jesper Juul. (2005). “Video Games and the Classic Game Model” in Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press: pp. 23-54. 

2.Simon Niedenthal. (2009). “What We Talk About When We Talk About Game Aesthetics.” InDiGRA 2009: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory.

3.Roger Caillois. (2006 [1959]). “The Definition of Play and The Classification of Games” in Game Design Reader. Edited by K. Salen and E. Zimmerman: pp. 122-155. 


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