Should We Expect More From Electronic Art's Inferno

Illustration for article titled Should We Expect More From Electronic Art's Inferno

The three works of Dante's Divine Comedy are ripe with possibility. Each of the books paint compelling pictures of the afterlife, describing heaven, hell and purgatory in vivid poetry.


It's these settings, so artfully detailed by Dante, that Electronic Arts hopes to tap into when turning the books into a video game, the developers told me.

The game opens, I'm told, on a scene of Dante sitting in the poem's secluded wood as he silently stitches a tapestry of his life into his own flesh. The introduction flashes back to Dante's real world military experience fighting with the calvary in the battle of Campaldino.

The first scene the developers showed me involved Dante, a lanky warrior dressed in armor and wielding an over-sized sword, clearing out a group of nondescript enemies packed onto the boat crossing the river Styx to the shores and gate of hell.

Instead of being piloted by Charon, the boat is Charon, his skeletal head forming a sort of figure head for the ship.

The fighting is combo-heavy, fluid, but stylistically not much different from other games of its ilk.

Other scenes in the game had me climbing along a well, talking to an ethereal Virgil, and finally doing battle with an army of unbaptized babies.


In the Inferno, one of the first scenes that Dante comes upon is a the first ring hell. It's here, in the original work, where unbaptized children and virtuous pagans live. It's a scene, when turned into a battle, that could be problematic, it seems. But the developers when animating these children damned by original sin turned them into spider-like creatures with scythe's for arms. The reimagining removes the shock some might experience when confronted by children sent to hell simply because they weren't baptized, but it also will likely remove some mainstream flack the game could have received.

Included in the game too are some of the real-world historical figures written into hell as a sort of literary punishment by Dante.


These shades keep their names, their punishments, you can even read about their real lives in the game, but instead of being perpetually punished for their in-life crimes, Sisyphus-like, Dante gets to pass judgment on them.

When Dante comes upon the 30 or so shades found in the game he can choose to punish or absolve them, permanently changing the metaphoric landscape of Dante's hell.


The developers acknowledge that when making the game they couldn't just follow what happened in the book, instead they used the vividly described hell as their backdrop.

"The setting is what we really latched onto," the developers said. "We wanted to visualize what he wrote."


Dante's Inferno the video game, I was told, is a tour of a broader hell than the one found in the poem it is based on.

But if it's the setting that the developers want to build a game upon, why drag Dante's characters, and Dante himself into their work? Why tinker with such a recognized and important work?


The impact of the Divine Comedy can not be overstated, it literally gave birth to the Italian language by combining the regional dialect of Tuscany and Latin. And it wasn't just that he used the language in his single greatest works, it's that those works proved just how expressive, how poetic this freshly minted language could be.

In Dante's books, the author is a voyeur, a passive witness to the many plights of man in hell, the perpetual wait of purgatory, the sublime rewards of heaven. He is not there to influence, or even to judge, but to report. The book, on some level, is the author's last chance to correct his ways, to return from his journey and to start living at a milestone halfway through his life.


Beatrice, Dante's great love both in life and in the fiction of the epic poem, is an unrequited love, an ideal never tested, never fully realized.

Not so in the game. While the developers seem genuinely interested in trying to present a tour of Dante's hell that remains at least mildly representative of the original works, it can't remain a passive experience and still be a mainstream video game.


Their answer: Make Dante the game's hero, Beatrice the game's damsel in distress.

It's this shift in perspective, no matter how tangentially rooted in history, that most threatens to deflate the experience of Inferno.


While I have concerns about the game and how its translation of one of the central works of the Middle Ages seems to strip away the work's nuance, message and importance, but the developers seem to be aware of this concern. And there are things they told me that give me hope.

The game won't explore the same common human experience of morality and redemption that the book did, it does look like it might refocus itself to explore one man's struggles with the same issues


In life, Dante was a very conflicted man: Married to one woman, in love with another; an exile of his beloved Florence; a reluctant warrior.

The game, the developers told me, will delve into Dante's personality and haunting experiences in the war in which he fought. It will also focus in on some smaller ideas and characters presented in the book and make them more central to the experience.


If Dante's Inferno succeeds does that mean that the team will begin working on games that translates purgatory and heaven into something that can be played through?

The developers acknowledged that Dante's three poems represent the full experience of his Divine Comedy and that it games that continue that story started in Inferno could happen, but for now, they remain focused on the current title.


I suppose, in making the game, the developers could argue that allowing the player to impact the experiences of hell, to fight against the damned and their eternal punishments, to finally realize the love of an ideal, is a reflection of today's mores. But this modernization of the classic undermines the lesson of the work: The choices made in life have serious and lasting impact on how you will spend eternity.

Dante's Divine Comedy is about, more than anything else, the redemption of man. Dante's video game is about finding a powerful setting, and perhaps, allowing gamers to act out a shallow farce.



I hope there's kids at school that will play the game instead of read the book for reading assignments. It would result in at least a few "WTF?!" moments when teachers are grading essays.