Long Night of Ideas
Being Faust – Enter Mephisto

Mephisto welcomes the guests
Mephisto welcomes the guests | Photo: Bernhard Ludewig

Love, familiy, friends – What would I sell my soul to keep? Not only Goethe’s Faust asked himself this question, but also the players of the game Being Faust – Enter Mephisto. After stops in South Korea and Hong Kong, the co-production by the Goethe-Institut and NOLGONG had its premiere in Berlin during the Long Night of Ideas.   

“Close your eyes for a moment and think about your last happy moment, about your deepest-felt dreams and desires,” a deep voice says. “And now imagine that these dreams come true all at once. Nice, isn’t it?” The voice is that of a young man wearing dark glasses who calls himself Mr M or Mephisto. He welcomes the roughly thirty guests who have gathered at the Goethe-Institut Berlin on 12 May for the Lange Nacht der Ideen, the Long Night of Ideas. Holding smartphones or an iPad, they are standing in a darkened room with several illuminated wall panels. On them hang original quotes from Goethe’s Faust. This evening, they are part of an unusual game called Being Faust – Enter Mephisto. 

In the shop of possibilities

Based on a modern interpretation of Goethe’s tragic play, each guest slips into the role of young Faust. To begin the game, they pick twelve value cards depicting their six most important values with which they will make a deal with the devil this evening: fame, wealth, power, progress, love, family, lust, beauty, liberty, knowledge, youth or faith. What is more important to me in life? What values can help me become truly happy? The offer is tempting. Then, in the virtual shop of Mephisto & Co, the values and ideals are finally offered for purchase in the form of Faust quotes. The players read the excerpts and attempt to interpret which of their values correspond to these quotes: “What shall I learn from? Or leave? Shall I obey that yearning? Ah! Our actions, and not just our grief, impede us on life’s journey.” Every time they match them correctly, they receive satisfaction points. The more quotes they get, the greater their satisfaction on the personal scale that is displayed on the smartphone.

This won satisfaction has its price, however. In order to buy quotes, the players must sell their friends in the modern and digital interpretation of Faust’s pact with the devil. From their contacts list, 66 friends are selected that each player can sell. The more important they are, the higher their monetary value. “Should I sell my sister or my friend – or both?” asks a player with a smile while her finger presses the “pay” button.

Faust in the digital age 

Being Faust – Enter Mephisto is what is called a “big game.” It was created by Peter Lee, a Korean game designer, and his team from NOLGONG in collaboration with the dramaturge Benjamin von Blomberg (Theater Bremen) and the Goethe-Institut. The game’s premise was the question of how and by what means Faust and Mephisto would meet in the digital age. The core, universal questions remain the same: What in life is important to me? What make up my personal values? What price am I willing to pay to be successful? The various virtual and physical game elements motivate players to question themselves and their digital environment, to compare themselves with other players around the world and, not least, to rediscover the literary masterpiece.

The game has already toured many cities, beginning in Seoul, where it set off genuine hype, to Tokyo, Shanghai, Malaysia, Johannesburg, Athens, Vilnius, Budapest, Prague, Hong Kong, Weimar and now in Berlin for the Long Night of Ideas and the Theatertreffen. “It’s fascinating to see how values in different countries do have different status. Love is a universal value everywhere, but in Johannesburg, for example, liberty was the most important value, in Europe it was knowledge and in China the family,” says Peter Lee.

Love, liberty and beauty – at what price?

During the game in Berlin the air in the virtual shop is getting more and more stifling. Everyone is concentrating hard. After ninety minutes, the game is over and the entire room exhales in relief. Mephisto first names the Power Seller, the person who sold the most friends during the game. “Was it easy for you to sell your friends?” Mr M asks the young woman. “To be honest: yes! It was no problem at all. I just wanted to continue shopping as fast as I could.” The winner, however, is the Golden Shopper, the person who gained the most satisfaction points. When asked how she feels, the winner replies, “Certainly smarter than before.”
  • Der Eingangsbereich Foto: Bernhard Ludewig
    Der Eingangsbereich
  • Smartphone und Ipad zeigen die persönlichen Zufriedenheitsskalen Foto: Bernhard Ludewig
    Smartphone und Ipad zeigen die persönlichen Zufriedenheitsskalen
  • Aus Karten werden die Werte ausgewählt Foto: Bernhard Ludewig
    Aus Karten werden die Werte ausgewählt
  • Besucher des Game Science Center Foto: Bernhard Ludewig
    Besucher des Game Science Center
  • Johannes Ebert, Generalsekretär des Goethe-Institus, begrüßt die Gäste Foto: Bernhard Ludewig
    Johannes Ebert, Generalsekretär des Goethe-Institus, begrüßt die Gäste
  • Gäste bei der Performance Foto: Berhard Ludewig
    Gäste bei der Performance
  • Gäste von Music in Africa in den Spreewerkstätten Foto: Bernhard Ludewig
    Gäste von Music in Africa in den Spreewerkstätten