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Why the Dante's Inferno criticism can go to Hell

5:00 PM on 02.28.2009 // Jim Sterling

Much ado has been had over Electronic Arts' Dante's Inferno, a God of War-esque action game that has used the famous poem of the same name as its thematic backdrop. As in Dante's epic, players will have to travel the nine circles of Hell, but instead of painting a vivid view of Christian afterlife, they'll be planting crucifixes into the heads of noobs and reveling in mindless slaughter while sentient genitalia gnash at them.

For some reason, this is wrong.

If you have a problem with Dante's Inferno as EA perceives it, or if you think the game looks lovely and that the book owls should just shut up, this article is highly unlikely to change your mind. However, you might piss and moan at it, and that's always worth a post.

The majority of you will already know about Dante's Inferno, although I doubt just as many have read it. To briefly recap for those who, like me, are too lazy to read, it's part of The Divine Comedy, a literary work almost 700 years old in which the author and eponymous hero observes the afterlife, visiting Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. As you might have gathered, Inferno is set in Hell, and it is from Dante's work that we have the famous "Nine Circles" -- the realms of Hell reserved for those that have sinned in varying degrees of evil.

It is one of the most respected works of all time, full of medieval political commentary and insights into ye olde worlde. Obviously, some people have a problem with such a highly regarded literary classic being turned into a violent and blood-soaked third-person action game where crucifixes get smashed into heads for fun

Personally, I think it's great. Hilarious, even. I also think we need to really lighten up. 

First of all, any videogame based on a book is going to take artistic license. It'll be difficult to base a book on The Divine Comedy without having to make stuff up a little. Or a lot. However, is it really that insulting to the original work? So EA has taken a famous poem, adopted a number of themes and characters, and made the rest up. It doesn't really take anything away from the poem, does it? If anything, I think it adds something. 

I personally love to see fresh takes on old books or history; the crazier, the better. God of War is a good example, where traditional Greek myths have been radically altered. They're not especially faithful to the old Greek ideas, but rather an updated look that only adds to the original by providing a new outlook. A Gorgon was not more snake than woman, but their representation in God of War is still refreshing and rather striking to behold, while retaining the general theme of the original template. 

I doubt Dante's Inferno will be as fresh as God of War, but it's still a radical departure from the established text, and that kind of thing always intrigues me. We already have the book, so do we need a game that's exactly like the book? I don't think so. 

That's the mature response to this whole situation. My first and more childish instinct, however, is that it's incredibly funny. Here we have The Divine Comedy, one of the most respected and regarded literary pieces in human history, and EA has reduced its insights and historical contributions into crucifix braining and tasteless taglines like "Go To Hell." Have we really lost our senses of humor to such a degree that we can't appreciate the irony in that? 

It would be like taking Romeo and Juliet, setting it in space, and having Romeo rescue Juliet from a race of giant insects that are plotting to put a pox on both their houses under the rule of Macbeth, who is inexplicably in the story for some reason and also a massive fly. Personally, I'd find that hilarious, although I'm sure some in the literary world would be offended. 

Electronic Arts really isn't doing anything too wrong, or even uncommon. Loosely based intellectual property is fairly standard, and new, dramatic twists on established material is a good thing, not a bad thing. The Divine Comedy is still here, and will still be here after EA's game is released, just as respected as ever, and maybe with a few more people knowing it exists. Let's stop being po-faced about the whole thing and learn to enjoy the sillier things in life. 

Besides which, c'mon. Crucifix. In. The. Head.

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory

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