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Gesamtkunstwerk – A discussion about Wagner and games

October 18, 2010

Recently I had an interesting discussion with Florian Bodenschatz, our Audio Director at Bigpoint. We sat down and shared some thoughts about storytelling and the Gesamtkunstwerk.

In short, with the Gesamtkunstwerk Wagner described his idea of blending all or many art forms into one, unique piece of art.

During our discussion we came to the conclusion that games are without doubt a form of art, which fulfills this idea, because it combines graphics, music, writing, architecture and many other art forms. But games are, in our mind, not only a Gesamtkunstwerk, they have also the power to bring the idea of total art even further, because they have the power to include the audience in the artwork.

So far only a very few games make use of this power, but hopefully soon we’ll see more titles, which will use the combined power of art and interactivity.

One thing that really stood out for me as a writer, narrative and quest designer was the term:

Writing without words

Probably the most cited sentence in screenwriting is: “Show, don’t tell!”. Unfortunately, too often games still fall short and rely way too often on telling and unnatural dialogue.

A perfect example for writing without words, are the last seconds of the StarCraft 2 cinematic “Betrayal”. In this cutscene we can see the last seconds of Kerrigan as human and how she is betrayed by Arcturus Mengsk. The last seconds of this cutscene perfectly show how she feels in this moment. Without words we can feel her desperation, her disappointed, her anger, her betrayal.

The combination of the game play experience from StarCraft 2 with all the story parts that are revealed during the missions is what I understand under the term Gesamtkunstwerk. This is what our goal as game developers should be. Creating fun, entertainment in a perfect piece of art, but to achieve this, we need to overcome our classic model of sorting our teams in categories like programmer, artist, writer etc. We need to understand that we’re all storytellers and that no matter what we do is important for the stories we tell. Only a team that works together as one, like the Borg, will be able to create a Gesamtkunstwerk.  

We’ve come a long way, let’s not stop here, but strive for great entertaining games and meaningful stories.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 8, 2011 9:43 pm

    Well, I’m not sure I would go as far as equating it with “The Borg,” but I see your point. I look forward to a game that only uses action and adventure to capture an exciting moral theme that inspires and enlightens players beyond what is to what can be for all things good.

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