Sweden: video games are one of the most important innovations in history

The other day I visited the “Swedish Museum of Technology”, a sweet, family-focused place in the very greenest and loveliest part of Stockholm. I was there with a noble purpose. The museum is currently hosting a 2000-square-meter exhibition (the biggest in its history) called “100 Innovations”, picking out and representing the one hundred most important technological innovations of human history, including agriculture, the wheel, movies, money, and antibiotics. Oh, and video games.

Which brought to mind two questions: 

1. How have the intelligences behind the Swedish Museum of Technology decided that video games are an important enough innovation to be put in this context?

2. What games will they choose to represent this innovation?

Approaching the video game booth yielded the answer to the first question, with large letters on the walls stating boldly that “Computer games are not just play and undemanding entertainment. Games are often a new form of storytelling.” Pretty wide-sighted for a public museum, and the text accompanying the exhibition includes several game-culture savants like Nolan Bushnell, the Fairchild VES and Jane McGonigal.

Which brings us to the booth itself, located separately from the other innovations (presumably to not overshadow the more subtle visual of old refrigerators and early 20th century ball bearings. These things are just not quite as fun to stare at as video games).

The case to the right contains assorted memorabilia: old consoles, a hilarious “Super Tetris” box, Myst and some Wii controllers.

More interesting, however, is the interactive section going on on the left side of the booth. The smart bet for what game should be playable would probably be Super Mario Bros and a NES controller or maybe two Wii-motes slotted into tennis rackets, but instead, there’s a keyboard

and a mouse on a low table and a translated version of Minecraft running on a big screen.

Weirdly, the exhibition presents the game almost completely without context apart from two sentences of instructions and a quick mention in the booklet (pointing out that both Minecraft and Battlefield are financially successful Swedish-made games). Other than that it is made to stand on its own, with no mention of why it was worthy of representing the whole of video games. Nationalism, perhaps? Or something more?

One would imagine there would be a plaque somewhere saying something about how Minecraft is one of the most important video games of recent times, how it lead the charge in a new wave of large scale, high player-agency games, how it resurrected the mod-scene, how its simple design produced an incredibly creative game community and how it’s popularity proves the extent to which game players can be trusted to provide their own goals. As it stands, the Minecraft section is little more than a play corner for passing kids, pleading for disinterested parents to stay a bit longer.

The kids seemed to like it though, which is always something. It beats ball bearings.