Video games are an amazing artistic medium. They are able to tell a (sometimes) involved and interwoven story, give the player powers they could very rarely have in their actual lives, and, if all goes correctly, simply provide fun. The story, however, is by far what interests me the most. If a game has an amazing story, it is able to pull me in in ways that other games just canít. These games also usually leave behind the greatest legacy; Chrono Trigger is a great example. However, itís my contention that many of the games that accomplish this feat draw inspiration from the best possible source; the entire library of great literary works. In many games, this is obvious; however, in others, the connections are not quite so easy to see, and itís one of these that will be the focus of this article. My belief is that the classic side-scroller franchise Mega Man,whether advertently or inadvertently, took the framework of its story from the first cantica of Dante Alighieriís epic poem The Divine Comedy.
The Divine Comedy is split into three distinct parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The first is the best remembered by most people, and has had a massive impact on almost every aspect of every form of art. At its most basic, it is the tale of Dante being led through the 9 circles of Hell, being shown the various punishments given for each sin. The visit culminates in a meeting with Lucifer, who is at the lowest level, devouring the immortal souls of three of the greatest sinners: Brutus, Cassius, and Judas. Allegorically, itís the tale of a man finding his spiritual salvation in a world that besets him with evil on all sides.
Mega Man, however, is the story of a robot lab assistant turned warrior, attempting to fight the minions of the evil Dr. Wily, who betrayed Mega Manís creator, Dr. Light. In order to do this, he must fight his way through (in all but the first game) 8 dastardly robots, each with a themed level and weapon. This culminates in Mega Man invading Wilyís fortress, eventually meeting the man himself, and destroying him (at least until the next game).
On the surface, the two have very little in common, but when you start to break each Mega Man character down to their base characteristics, things start to connect a bit more. Letís start with Mega Man. He can easily be seen as Dante himself; wandering through the 9 levels of the game, attempting to learn from each, and succeeding by attaining a new weapon. Dr. Wily is Lucifer; heís the archetypal bad guy who betrayed Dr. Light in a bid to take over the world. Dr. Light is God; he created Mega Man, Roll, and many other robots, and fights to keep the world free of evil. Each Robot Master represents both a different circle of hell, and the host of fallen angels that followed Lucifer after his downfall. While there is no obvious match for Virgil, the ancient poet who guided Dante through Hell, I believe that the player fits that role perfectly. You are there to guide Mega Man through all of the levels, hopefully getting him through unscathed, exactly as Virgil was tasked. Taking all of this together, the lines begin to blur between Mega Man and The Inferno.
However, things begin to get really interesting when you start looking at the structure of the game itself. Mega Man must fight his way through the 8 realms of each Robot Master and Wilyís fortress, each of which corresponds (while not literally, metaphorically) to one of the 9 circles of Hell. He is forced to fight clones of each Robot Master in the final level, which can be seen as Danteís continual internal struggle with each sin he encounters. Finally, Mega Man reaches Dr. Wily, and destroys him. Mega Man defeating Wily is ridding the evil from the world, allowing him a chance to live a life of peace once again. Related to The Inferno, it represents Danteís denial of Lucifer and all the sins he stands for, overcoming the base evils in order to reach an understanding with the Divine. In a sense, when Mega Man defeats Wily, he is denying the evil that his robot brethren are capable of, instead embracing the good that they also carry with them. In other words, he is denying Lucifer (Dr. Wily), and accepting God (Dr. Light). Thatís some pretty heavy stuff for a simple side-scroller.
I believe that studying the forerunners of modern stories can enrich every art form, video games being no exception. While the creators of Mega Man may not have intentionally taken their cues from Dante, the similarities are hard to deny. The fact that it was probably not intended speaks volumes about the power of literature in day to day life. Not only does it say that certain works of literature have become part of the insistent background hum of culture, but that they are able to influence without anyone being aware. I feel that video games should be treated as any other art form, and one of the most interesting things to do with art is to follow the threads to other pieces of art that influenced it. Video games have yet to really be studied in this way, but I feel that it is important that it begins to garner this attention. If a seemingly simple game like Mega Man can retell the story of The Inferno in such an innovative way, any video game could be hiding similar strokes of literary genius. And I hope to find many more.