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Städel Universe: From the idea to the game

The web game STÄDEL UNIVERSE, developed together with game designer Peter Lee and his South Korean agency NOLGONG, invites you on a journey through the Städel universe. In this interview, Antje Lindner from the project team provides insights into the development of the hybrid application.

Franziska von Plocki — 18. April 2024

Hier den Artikel auf Deutsch lesen.

How did you get the idea to combine gaming with art?

The idea had been around for some time. Peter Lee presented “Being Faust—Enter Mephisto” at a conference on digitalization and gamification held by the Aventis Foundation in Frankfurt am Main: a game developed by his agency NOLGONG in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut. We were immediately impressed by the successful link between Goethe’s classic and the reality of the players’ lives—an approach that is also crucial for art education at the Städel Museum. After all, art provides a glimpse into past epochs and at the same time can visualize forward-looking ideas. It can touch us emotionally, challenge our perception and change our perspectives. With every work of art, you can theoretically immerse yourself in a world of its own—an ideal prerequisite for a game.

Play testing at the Städel Museum

Exhibition view, photo: Tetyana Lux

The game is called STÄDEL UNIVERSE. What’s the meaning of the name?

People have always wanted to understand the world with the help of the universe. The constellations in the night sky are a map of human history. The same applies to paintings and sculptures. They are contemporary testimonies that provide unique insights into different eras of society. People have been collecting knowledge in libraries, archives and museums for thousands of years. Even older is the use of the night sky to determine the rhythm of the months and seasons. It seemed obvious to us to combine works of art and stellar constellations in the game. And the Städel Collection invites you to immerse yourself in a universe all of its own: the Städel Universe.

Prototype screenshot

With STÄDEL UNIVERSE, we want to send our visitors on a journey through the universe of art. Players are confronted with real-life, ethical and moral issues as they encounter works of art. Old certainties are examined and new questions are developed. The better we know and understand our past, the better we can develop an awareness of what is happening in the present and classify current events. This is how the idea of incorporating time travel and constellations into the game came about.

How does the game begin and what do the players learn about art?

The mission begins with a call for help from the future: for inexplicable reasons, knowledge is going lost—a process that, according to the message, is happening right now. Calls for help have therefore been sent to various knowledge archives, such as libraries and museums. One of these messages ends up in the hands of the player. His task: to restore the knowledge with the help of the works of art in the Städel Museum.

Examples of game mechanics

To do this, players have to solve tasks in which they deal with human emotions, religious topics, scientific or ethical issues. If new content is deciphered, players gain new insights in the game and their knowledge is secured for the future. They also learn about the vocabulary of art history: from visual perception to historical context to compositional analysis. Basically, the players practise “reading” pictures. The game offers our visitors the opportunity to engage with the artworks independently, at their own pace and, above all, interactively. Players are actively encouraged to develop their own point of view and make observations—and ultimately solve their mission.

Game workshop at the Städel Museum with the NOLGONG team, May 2023

What challenges did you encounter during the development of STÄDEL UNIVERSE?

There were many unanswered questions at the beginning: How can something as individual and subjective as viewing art be brought together with the structures of a game? How can we draw attention away from the smartphone to the originals in the museum space? How do we address adults? How do we deal with the regular rearrangements in the exhibition spaces? The large number of works and themes in the museum’s collection offers countless possibilities, but also presented us with the challenge of making a balanced selection.

How did you meet these challenges?

The development of solutions took time and the teams also had to come together. While NOLGONG initially focused on the appropriate game mechanics and thought about the routing and networking of the game with the Städel Museum’s Digital Collection, the Städel Museum team worked on the content to be conveyed. It was particularly challenging to take the rules of the game mechanics into account when creating the content. An overarching storyline was also needed to bring together the individual narratives in the game and create a meaningful context. The dramaturge Herbert Schwarze was a valuable advisor, answering critical questions with patience and humor.

Data access to the digital collection via interface

Why should I definitely play STÄDEL UNIVERSE?

With STÄDEL UNIVERSE, you can get to know 36 works of art from the permanent exhibition. In your encounter with art, you can discover and learn, adopt new perspectives and deal with fundamental questions of humanity. In principle, the game asks the questions: What does art do to me? What does art mean to me? How can I learn more about myself through art?

STÄDEL UNIVERSE will be available from May 16.

Supported by
Commerzbank Foundation and Aventis Foundation

The team at the Städel Museum working together on STÄDEL UNIVERSE is made up of Dr. Chantal Eschenfelder, Antje Lindner, Anne Sulzbach, Alexandra Reißer and Natalie Wasiljew.

The questions were asked by Franziska von Plocki, Deputy Head of Press and Online Communication, and answered by Antje Lindner (Education & Outreach) from the project team.


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