Wednesday, June 3, 2009

E3: Much Ado About Dante

Many of us read the literary classic of Dante Alighieri in college. It is the story of a man who is lead through the circles of hell by Virgil. It is not a standalone work, though it is often read as one, but is part of The Divine Comedy. If you have not yet read the entire work, do so. This work deserves its place as a literary classic.

But this is a gaming blog, so enough with literature.

The Dante's Inferno that is drawing attention this week is a Visceral Games title to be published by EA. Basically, take God of War, set it in hell as imagined by Dante Alighieri, and crank the gore to eleven. Interestingly, it also drew protesters.

Yes, protesters. Somewhere EA executives and smacking themselves wondering why they didn't hire enough protesters to make this a bigger deal. As Grand Theft Auto has taught us, nothing sells a game like people sayings its bad.

But the controversy will come, and much of it will be literary. To say the developers took liberties with the story line of The Inferno when making this game is roughly the same as saying that vegetarians take liberties with the recipe for meatloaf when cooking one. From what I can tell from the trailers, if EA didn't tell us this game was based on The Inferno, we would never know. Going to hell certainly isn't a new concept in gaming. Diablo went there in extremely creepy fashion thirteen years ago, and gaming hasn't been the same since ***.

And yet, I'm not sure I can complain. Reviews from E3 seem fairly good. If the game had a different title, I don't think anyone would think twice about it. Besides, we all know by now that no story can survive unchanged from book to movie or from movie to game. Should it come as all that great a surprise that Dante's Inferno the game seems to have only a passing resemblance to Dante's Inferno the book?

What matters is that the flavor the original is kept. The book is an exploration of nature of man (please, literature majors, hold your fire: I'm trying to be brief here). If the game keeps that as its defining metric, I think it will deserve its title.

The horror should be palpable. I don't mean cheap slasher movie kind of horror. I mean Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker, Dante Alighieri horror. Action titles soaked in blood are a dime a dozen. Dante deserves better than that. Give me a title so disturbing I don't want to play, but so addicting I cannot stop. Give me raw despair in digital form, and this game will do its namesake justice. A high standard, but Dante's Inferno deserves no less.

***A related side note: fire up Diablo, the original, and play through it again. Notice the artwork... namely the naked and somewhat dismembered torsos contorted into horrible positions and bound with barbed wire. Could anyone get away with that callous and gratuitous a flogging of our senses in a game today? And is that a bad thing? Thats another topic, I think.

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