The Question I Didn’t Get to Ask

I just finished participating in the amazing Art History of Games conference. And the last panel, moderated by Ian Bogost, included Whitney curator Christiane Paul and game designers John Romero, Harvey Smith, and Richard Lemarchand. I thought of this comment too late to say it then but I want to say it anyway.

Earlier Christiane had said that certain games, like DOOM, don’t belong in a museum, but that it wasn’t about high and low, that she didn’t believe in that distinction. But as I was listening to the panel, I thought about the influence of heavy metal on the creation of DOOM, about how John and the rest of the folks at iD had wanted to capture the speed and power and over-the-top energy of that music in the game. And I couldn’t help thinking that this distinction was all about high and low. And the thing is, that’s ok. That’s what it means to be a smart person with good taste nowadays, we recognize that high and low exists, not as a value judgement, but as different modalities, different tones, different styles, and then we make value judgements within those different modalities.

DOOM doesn’t belong in a museum, not because it’s not worthy, but because it’s rock and roll. It’s too fast, too loud, too hard, and too fucked up to be in a museum. There are some games that will work in a museum and some that won’t ever and that, by itself, doesn’t say anything about their value. We need both.