Video Games as Gesamtkunstwerk

Recently I attended a lecture concerning the idea of Richard Wagner, and his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, which translates to "a total work of art", "universal artwork" or "complete art work", and how this manifested in his later operatic works.

His idea was that all the different prominent art forms in his time - painting, music, poetry, theatre - were weakened by being separate, and that art is strongest when you combine all the different art forms into one to create Gesamtkunstwerk. He decided to accomplish this through opera.

Since Wagner, however, we've had some technical innovations, like film, which in my opinion, became the new medium for Gesamtkunstwerk. If anything, it fulfilled Wagner's ideas more successfully, as he believed that art should be free of class constraints, but his opera was only ever truly accessible to the wealthy elite - whereas film is much more accessible.

And now, I'd argue that video games have the potential to become the ultimate fulfilment of the ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk. If you can think of a medium of artwork, it's possible to incorporate it into a video game and have it work in unison to other art forms within the game.

So, which games can you think of that fulfil the ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk? To what extent do you agree that video games have potential to be the ultimate medium for the unity of the arts, and how well do you think this potential has been realised so far? Do you think that the artistic potential of video games is best realised through Gesamtkunstwerk or are video games better as art when they are more simple?

The main flaw is that Wagner made music, while games are games. There are those of us who don't consider games an art and don't play for art. I'd say any game that is 'complete art work' and therefore not focused on the game (as I find most games called out for being arty have a lack of or flawed gameplay) which would make it a bad game.

I taught a course on Western Culture at a university and this year I started by arguing that Video Games are the greatest form of art, for the same reasons that Wagner gave for opera. The funny thing is, there are a lot of great operas that have terrible plots, just like video games. (I actually enjoy opera, but a lot of it was just as popularist, pandering or just plain daft as the film or game industry today)

Tom_green_day:
The main flaw is that Wagner made music, while games are games.

not really. wagner was also a poet, novelist, stage director besides being a composer and maestro.
and his idea was to combine different forms of art to a singular masterpiece.
so this kind of works within this theory.

Autotelic:

And now, I'd argue that video games have the potential to become the ultimate fulfilment of the ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk. If you can think of a medium of artwork, it's possible to incorporate it into a video game and have it work in unison to other art forms within the game.

why have the potential to become one, when they already ARE a gesamtkunstwerk in and of itself.

i mean you have a visual style and presentation that works with a written story alongside a compossed score.

thats the big 3 forms of art (music, poetry and painting/artwork) comming together to form a greater piece of art.

and that was kind of wagners idea. he just realised it with the means and technology he had in his time.
the opera gives you also a visual, accoustic and perhaps spiritual stimulation of your being like a really good movie would do.
and they were kind of the movie theatres of nowadays. the opera was well recieved by the common folk at his time and not as high class as it is today.

if he wouldn't had died in 1883, but way later when movies started to become a thing, i am sure he would be happy to see that his idea of a gesamtkunstwerk becoming reality in form of films.

I can't think of any games that really, truly qualify... but I'm certain it's coming. Looking at some of the very artistic games that have been coming out recently make me pretty hopeful. I think we're only just beginning to delve into "games as art." Stuff like Bioshock, Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, or Gone Home are some examples I can think of off the top of my head with some very artistic pieces or notions... but I can't name a "Gesamtkunstwerk."

Yet.

Um, you haven't watched this video have you?

It's a guy going through the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk and making the argument that Dark Souls is an example as is the Portal and Ico/Shadow of Colossus series. It's a great video and I recommend it to people unfamiliar with the concept.

To add the the examples he gives, I'd say the recently released Papers, Please is another example. It's probably the only video game example of the dystopian genre that successfully uses gameplay to convey the underlying authoritarianism aside from the story. It also has a bleak artstyle and low-pitched music to accompany the feeling of dread.

I feel that Hotline Miami would certainly qualify, and I feel that VVVVVV, Dustforce, and Super Meat Boy would as well. HM is a pulsing, vibrant, psychedelic, and visceral work with a story that says the story doesn't matter. Vx6/DF/SMB are all surreal works that combine inspiration from the past with the know-how of the present. They are also designed to be completed, not merely beaten. Vx6 does this with exploration while DF and SMB both require perfection, albeit in different ways. I also feel like a case could be made for Fallen London as well, but I'm not sure yet.

Tom_green_day:
The main flaw is that Wagner made music, while games are games. There are those of us who don't consider games an art and don't play for art. I'd say any game that is 'complete art work' and therefore not focused on the game (as I find most games called out for being arty have a lack of or flawed gameplay) which would make it a bad game.

By saying: "I'd say any game that is 'complete art work' and therefore not focused on the game", you are referring to gameplay, right? I hate to break it to you, but the games you and I play in our spare time consist of more than just gameplay - they include graphics, narrative, and sound as well. In that regard, considering video games to be the collaboration of different art forms - i. e. a 'complete art work' - isn't some wacky scheme to change video games forever - it's something they ALREADY are.

What's funny is, that a video game not focused on gameplay - as you put it - would in fact be a horrible piece of 'complete art work'. A whimsical art style alone does not a great video game make - if the other components are faulty, the combined product suffers as a whole.

rhizhim:

Autotelic:

And now, I'd argue that video games have the potential to become the ultimate fulfilment of the ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk. If you can think of a medium of artwork, it's possible to incorporate it into a video game and have it work in unison to other art forms within the game.

why have the potential to become one, when they already ARE a gesamtkunstwerk in and of itself.

That's true. To clarify, when I specified "potential", I was referring to the medium itself - that gaming, as a medium, has potential to be Gesamtkunstwerk but only certain video games do fulfil this ideal.

Autotelic:

rhizhim:

Autotelic:

And now, I'd argue that video games have the potential to become the ultimate fulfilment of the ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk. If you can think of a medium of artwork, it's possible to incorporate it into a video game and have it work in unison to other art forms within the game.

why have the potential to become one, when they already ARE a gesamtkunstwerk in and of itself.

That's true. To clarify, when I specified "potential", I was referring to the medium itself - that gaming, as a medium, has potential to be Gesamtkunstwerk but only certain video games do fulfil this ideal.

to be fair, we have few examples on any kind of media in existence.

my interpretetion of wagners theory of a gesamtkunstwerk was that he somewhat wished art to strive for or even become something that is close to movies.

and in this regard , his prediction or ideal turned out to become true/reality.

we now regard movies as a form of art.

and thats what wagner ideal was all about. seeing more than one form of art come together to form a bigger form of art.

thats why i said you could technically see movies and video games as the gessamtkunstwerk he described.

even when some say that video games arent art because you interfere with the artpiece, while the same people disregard that you have but little choice as to play a video game different from what the artist/developer decided for you.

thats why the the first bioshock twist was such an effective bashing on the players head.

but thats another story.

to put it bluntly, i can imagine wagner saying "having something that combines music, art and poerty would be pretty fucking sweet. maybe they could call it moving pictures." and thats just it, but people are now interpreting much more in it.

deathbydeath:
I feel that Hotline Miami would certainly qualify, and I feel that VVVVVV, Dustforce, and Super Meat Boy would as well. HM is a pulsing, vibrant, psychedelic, and visceral work with a story that says the story doesn't matter.

I'm not sure that's quite what the game says. I'm a big Hotline Miami fan (maybe you noticed from my avatar) and I've read many interpretations of the game. IMHO, it's a type of "meta-game," where Jacket has no idea what is happening to him because YOU, the player, is making him do this. Hence the memorable questions and phrases, "Do you like hurting people," "You will never see the bigger picture," and "Where are you right now?" The game is an exploration of our vicarious experience of violence in video games. The story is indeed purposely contrived, but that's to again lead you back to the idea that you're killing because you, the player, wanted to, and for no other reason. The answering machine (or game) was the excuse you needed.

Whether or not that qualifies as conventional art we'll never know since art (like everything else in life) is subjective.

I think video games have the potential to be the purest art form ever created, again, IMHO. People argued films were just novelties back in the day. Think about it, film is a series of photographs that take advantage of the phenomenon of "beta movement" or persistence of vision, to trick the brain into thinking that you are watching something actually move. Would this sound like art to you? More like a fancy flipbook if you ask me.

Video games are the first medium that can approach the task of fully realizing an alternate reality. Movies, on the other hand, no matter how extensively the universe is designed, can only show you a tiny slice of it, and your imagination extrapolates that. The creative freedom of video games is almost infinite, once the technology gets there. Remember, gaming is still in its infancy.

 

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