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February 25, 2009

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Hack-and-Slash Literature

So long as we’re talking about classic literature morphing into monster movies, let’s take a moment to look at Dante’s Inferno, a new video game, um, loosely based on The Divine Comedy:

EA’s take still features Dante as the protagonist, but the poet-philosopher is now a hulking veteran of the Crusades. He returns home from war to find Beatrice, the subject of his love and admiration, murdered. When her soul is “kidnapped” by Lucifer himself, Dante dives down to the very depths of hell, armed with Death’s scythe, to win her back…

Dante’s Inferno stands in a rather awkward place. The source material is a treasured piece of culture, yes, but it’s far less likely to incite fanboy wrath than would a videogame adaptation of a contemporary movie or comic book series. Liberal arts majors might be shocked to find Dante morphed into a hypermasculine action hero. Other people won’t care…

On the bright side, the story behind Dante’s Inferno was pretty much fleshed out back in the 14th century, detailing hell’s nine levels and many of the potential boss characters, so the development team likely just needs to fill in the blanks.

Look, classics get adapted, translated, bowdlerized all the time. But it’s important to remember that in popular culture, people don’t remember the original — they remember the bowdlerization. I bet in a few years, we’ll start to see college students who “know” that Inferno is about Dante rescuing Beatrice from Hell.

All the same, if they get the centaurs and the lake of boiling blood right, I am there. And who knows? Maybe some of the kids might even learn what “simony” means.

Posted February 25, 2009 at 6:10 | Comments (7) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Video Games


AND, is there going to be a boss fight with Brutus??

I'm assuming that you're going to have to fight Brutus, Cassius, and Judas all-at-once or back-to-back.

I usually think of bowdlerizing as removing the obscene, not adding it

Posted by: Polish Alice on February 25, 2009 at 10:02 PM

There was a bidding war in Hollywood last year over the rights to this game, with Universal paying seven figures for the film rights to a game based on a public domain work.

I'd say that is on par in terms of ridiculousness.

I like to use "bowdlerize" to mean "popular adaptation that selectively alters the original," which gives the term a wider range of meaning and seems fairer to Bowdler.

You could say, this is the big difference between our time and his = The Family Shakespeare had to tone the text down, Dante's Inferno has to jazz it up - violence-wise, anyways.

ALTHOUGH I would not be surprised if actually the video game is sexually, religiously, and of course intellectually tamer than the original text - "oh, people won't understand this, and this will be offensive..." Bowdler lives on!

If the god of war people are involved there will probably be some erotic, button-mashing minigames in the mix.

What better way is there to explore absolute good and absolute evil than a videogame?

If they throw in some scripted scenes from the poem playing out in the background (like half-life), this could be a pretty good version of Dante's Inferno. Fighting through hell while sinners are fittingly punished around you might be more real on the PS3 than in a book

Posted by: Polish Alice on February 26, 2009 at 07:10 AM

Yeah! Let the events of the poem play out in cutscenes? Or maybe periodically poking through in voiceover in Italian? That would rock -- and totally add a layer of mystery and depth to the game.

See, game designers need to scoop up some recently-minted literature PhDs to consult on these things. We come cheap, we have no prejudices about the format as such, and we can think of awesome ways to incorporate stuff from the book to MAKE THE GAME BETTER. Get in touch, folks.

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