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Research Forum: Tim Summers (Royal Holloway)
Staged opera in video games
Free and all welcome
This paper investigates instances of staged opera in video games. These operas may be pre-existing, such as Tosca in Hitman: Blood Money, or newly composed ‘shadow opera’ (to use Francis Rizzo’s term), like Der Fluch des Engelhart in Gabriel Knight 2.
Moments of staged opera are examined to understand what these games ‘say’ about opera, and what opera ‘does’ in games. Building upon arguments by Cheng, Collins and Thompson on games and Citron, Joe and Weiner on film, this paper identifies three dimensions of opera in games.
First, the paper argues that the staged opera challenges a supposed ‘great divide’ (Huyssen) of high/low culture by claiming similar pleasures in games and opera: the visceral bloodthirstiness of Tosca and Hitman, and the criminal exoticism of The Beggar’s Opera and Assassin’s Creed III. Secondly and similarly, the arias sung in Final Fantasy VI and Parasite Eve allow games to adopt a melodramatic aesthetic register (Hibberd, Singer), and yet paradoxically claim opera (and games) as sites of authentic emotional expression. Finally, Gabriel Knight 2’s staging of a fictional Wagner opera illustrates how opera sequences advance the game medium’s agenda for engaging and enrapturing players through Adornian phantasmagoria.
Contrasting with staged opera in film, the video game medium’s cultural status, avatar mechanism and approach to virtuality prompt different aesthetic agendas and results. By questioning the purpose and effects of these moments, we also confront what they may betray about the video game medium more generally, and the role of music within it.