The Issue of Masculinity in the MoMA Through Passage

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is an art museum in New York City developed in 1929 and has since been one of the largest and most influential museums of modern art. Its collection offers all types of modern and contemporary art such as architecture, designs, drawings, paintings, film, electronic media, and more. In fact video games are recognized in the MoMA as contemporary art design. As of now there are twenty-three games in the MoMA, some of which are: Minecraft, Pac-Man, The Sims, Space Invaders, and much more. 15moma-exterior-facebookjumbo2

Paola Antonelli

She is the current Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at the MoMA and states that all the games in the MoMA have the same criteria that qualify them as interaction design and are MoMA worthy. The qualities the games consist of are: aesthetics, space, time, and behavior. She defines each term like so: 3wv0m2pq

  1. “So the kind of interferences that you see here that look like beautiful barriers in the game are actually a consequence of the processor’s limitedness, which is fantastic. So aesthetics is always important.”
  2.  “And so is space, the spatial aspect of games. You know, I feel that the best video games are the ones that have really savvy architects that are behind them, and if they’re not architects, bona fide trained in architecture, they have that feeling. But the spatial evolution in video games is extremely important.”
  3. “Time. The way we experience time in video games, as in other forms of interaction design, is really quite amazing. It can be real time or it can be the time within the game.”
  4. “The real core issue of interaction design is behavior. Designers that deal with interaction design behaviors that go to influence the rest of our lives. They’re not just limited to our interaction with the screen.”

Passage, in the MoMA portrays aesthetics, space, time, and behavior, thus qualifying it as interaction design and MoMA worthy, according to Antonelli.


 passageThe game was created by Jason Rohrer, but it was meant to be a memento mori game, which is Latin for “remember that you have to die.” The reason it represents such a deepful meaning is because the game represents an entire life from young to adulthood to old and to eventually death. The game lasts five minutes no matter what you do, but you continuously move right. The player can choose to go down as well but as the player goes down, he or she will still be moving towards the right. The screen geometry only allows you to view a narrow slice of this maze at any given moment. You can see quite a distance out in front of you, but you can’t see anything to the north or south. You may see a reward up ahead but not be able to see a clear path to it.

Why It’s in the MoMA

Aesthetics: The game has a visual representation of life shown through pixels, therefore a bit blurry. This, however, represents life not being clear and people not knowing how their life will turn out, besides death.

Space: Passage is shown through a narrow line going towards the right. One can choose to go down through obstacles. However, if the player chooses to have a partner, space is limited. This is because it represents that in the real world one can not do much without being considerate of his or her partner.

Time: The game consists of five minutes. However, it has its own time within it, thus ones whole life.

Behavior: Antolleli states that the game should influence our whole life, which it does because we will die, therefore, connecting to all human beings. Howard Becker in Art Worlds and Collective Activity in Art Worlds agrees with Antonelli when stating,

“Someone must respond to the work once it is done, have an emotional or intellectual reaction to it.”(Becker)

Essentially, Jason was able to lead the player onto having an emotional attachment to the character.

Evidently, Passage holds the quintessential criterion that allows it to be considered interactive design in the MoMA.

HOWEVER, there is one issue about this. The main character in Passage is a white male with blonde hair, thus not everyone being able to connect with the character because not everyone looks like that. According to Simon Niedenthal he states,

“An aesthetic perspective can contribute greatly to research discourses, on gaming as an embodied and pleasurable experience, and can give rise to new ways of thinking about game design.” (Niedenthal)

Although, Passage portrays aesthetics through a computation sensation, it does rise a new way of thinking about game design in the MoMA because Jason Rohrerpassage1 is another male whose work is represented in the MoMa. Therefore, this creates a choosing procedure in the MoMa that is problematic because there is not much gender inclusiveness in the art world. Thus a new way of looking at MoMa for not being gender inclusive. Additionally, this contradicts Antonelli when she states the following:

Design really looks upon the whole world and it considers the world in all of its different ranges.”

This is contradictory because although Jason considered the whole world going through death, he did not consider that they all did not look male and blonde. He does mention that the character is supposed to represent him, but there really is no attachment from the character to the player besides Jason. The fact that Antonelli approved this game to be in the MoMA creates an issue of masculinity only in the art world because this has not been the first and last game created by a male in the MoMA.

On the MoMA website it states what kind of art belongs in the MoMA:

“That these forms of visual expression are an open minded series of arguments and counter arguments that can be explored through exhibitions and installations.”

Although, some art pieces do represent a series of arguments and counter arguments, like Passage arguing that people go through obstacles in life, but eventually face death. However, the MoMA is not being open minded about whose art pieces they believe should belong in the museum. Consequently, it is not Jason’s fault for creating a game that he connects with, but it is the MoMA to blame, for not valuing women’s art, thus a gender issue.

Guerilla Girls


Guerilla Girls is a radical feminist group of women who devote their time fight for women’s art in the art world. Therefore, they are trying to eliminate what MoMA is doing. Either men only sexualizing women in art or only portraying males’ art in museums. Roland Barthes in Death of the Author and Birth of the Reader states that

“the audience should be able to interpret the content their own way.” (Barthes)

Subsequently, Guerrilla Girls are interpreting art as it being gender exclusive, thus not the interpretation the artists want, and if they do not want the audience to only think about that, then the artists need be more gender inclusive through their art.


Passage, of course is just one example of a male dominant game in the MoMA, but other games like Portal and Valve represent male dominance in the art world. The game Portal, Kim Swift was one of the designers, but unfortunately was not given the credit by the MoMA. Only the males involved were given the credit. One can wonder why that is the case, but can conclude that theres is definitely is a gender issue.


Barthes, Roland. Death of the Author. 1967.

Becker, Howard. Art Worlds. University of California Press, 2008.

Niednthal,Simon. What We Talk About When we Talk About Game Aesthetics 


One thought on “The Issue of Masculinity in the MoMA Through Passage

  1. I recently stumbled upon this blog not quite understanding what it was, and stuck around as I recently completed a history module at my own university which was assessed through a blog similar to this. I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed this post and I think you made some really good observations.

    I really liked your introduction to MoMA as I would’ve had no idea what it was otherwise, the fact you gave background information about it, examined it through the case study of Passage and then linked it into your wider argument about the privileging of masculinity in modern art. I think this is definitely a massive issue within modern art and I’m glad you brought in the Guerilla Girls to demonstrate your point. I think it’s especially bad given how many diverse games there are nowadays and meet MoMA’s criteria so it’s really disappointing to see those games excluded while they continue to re/produce patriarchal values. Also, out of interest, is the Sims game they have there the very first one rather than one of the later editions?


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