There’s a lot of complaining and arguing going around — oh yes, on the internet — about Dante’s Inferno, the upcoming EA game loosely based on Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Many of the complaints revolve around the basic idea of EA turning a classic piece of literature into a third-person hack-em-up. To an extent, this is understandable.
However, I can’t help but wonder if everyone is getting up-in-arms over nothing. I can sympathize with not wanting to see a favorite work of literature massacred in the name of entertainment and sales. I really can. But when I watched the trailer, all I saw was a concept for a game that looked really damned fun (no pun intended). Am I wrong? Is there a place for taking a revered work of art and reimagining it as a hilariously violent video game?
I’ll continue after the jump, since I may get long-winded.
Adapting works of literature to the video game medium is still a fairly uncommon practice. Obviously, we’ve seen games based upon the likes of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, but those were more movie adaptations than book adaptations. Even the Conan the Barbarian games don’t strike me as being as difficult of a choice as The Divine Comedy. And dare I even mention Where’s Waldo?
No, Dante’s Inferno is definitely a stand-out, easily the oldest and most revered work to be adapted. (That is, of course, excluding The Bible. I refuse to intelligently consider something like Bible Adventures, here.) And awkwardly enough, it also appears to be one of the loosest adaptations yet, perhaps inducing a facepalm from anyone hoping to get through this peacefully. But no — if this adaptation is anything, it’s loose.
In Alighieri’s original poem, Dante himself is guided through the three realms of the afterlife — Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. (The video game is likely based solely on the Hell, or “Inferno,” portion of the poem.) The recent Dante’s Inferno panel at Wondercon revealed that the game will revolve around Dante traveling through the nine levels of Hell in order to rescue the princess from Bowser’s cas- er, I mean, to save his late fiancée, Beatrice, from Satan’s clutches. Already, the game is way off-course.
I think that the key, here, is to remember that this is based on Dante’s Inferno. Based on. I don’t believe that EA ever claimed to be developing a strict retelling of the story. And while the title does suggest a direct adaptation — Dante’s Inferno — it actually ends up being a play on words: The game’s lead character is named Dante; undoubtedly whom the title refers to, as opposed to Alighieri. So, while there may be a small handful of literary scholars who will end up feeling dismayed and deceived on release day, I don’t feel that the title is something to be legitimately bothered by.
Is the title a crass marketing ploy? (Well, we all know how gamers go ga-ga over 14th-century Italian literature…) The game is based on Dante’s Inferno, so I fail to see why it’s a bad thing that they’ve indicated that in the title. I guarantee you that three-quarters of the gamers who play this game will not have any prior knowledge of The Divine Comedy. The game may, however, inspire more-thoughtful gamers to actually read the poem. Is that a bad thing? No. It’s just a name. Alighieri’s reputation, and his original work, still remain the same as ever, no harm done.
Is it the seemingly exaggerated ridiculousness of the game? I mean, turning a 14th-century poem into a hack-and-slash game of the God of War/Devil May Cry variety — complete with demons having crucifixes shoved through their skulls, and the lead character apparently slaying Death himself and stealing his scythe within the opening minutes of the game — well, there’s a lot there to find ridiculous. But ridiculous can be fun. Why are gamers dying to get their hands on the forthcoming MadWorld game? Why do people love the Evil Dead films? Because they’re ridiculous.
Many in the industry desperately want to see video games receive the same respect as movies do, and we’re definitely moving in that direction. But I think it’s unfair to decry the game as a huge step backwards. Do we really want an industry filled with nothing but serious games? Has the entire film industry fallen into an abyss of mediocrity because Rob Schneider and Dane Cook continue to star in movies? Is BioShock any less of a masterpiece because Earth Defense Force 2017 exists? No. We cannot have legitimacy and respect at the cost of being able to laugh at ourselves and have a little fun. Gaming is fun, first and foremost.
The God of War series took Kratos and completely changed key aspects of the character. (To start with, in Greek mythology, Kratos was actually a huge Zeus fanboy, and never once attempted to overthrow him.) Did this deviation from the character’s original story diminish the games at all? An overwhelming majority probably wouldn’t even consider it an issue. Granted, God of War deals with mythology, and Dante’s Inferno deals with one man’s work of fiction. Still, a lot of the same general principles apply. When a work of fiction makes the jump from one medium to another, changes usually have to be made, in order for the transition to work well within that new medium. Acceptable losses, etc.
So, I implore you: Relax. This looks, at the very least, like it will be an amusing, ridiculous third-person action game filled with over-the-top violence. Best-case scenario, we end up with an epic, surreal, dramatic gaming masterpiece. I absolutely adore the design and style of what little I’ve seen so far. Whether it’s based on Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy or Matt Groening’s Life in Hell, I don’t care. A good game is still a good game. Even if its tagline is “Go to Hell.”