Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dante’s Inferno: Against the Reboot

Electronic Art’s Visceral Games Studio recently released an action-adventure game loosely based upon the Inferno portion of Dante Alighieri’s renowned epic poem, Commedia. The popular game is perhaps the most recent example of a successful reboot, the reworking of a classic literary text or formerly popular storyline of recent memory that has fallen on hard times, but still retains the potential to be a commercially viable narrative for a new generation of media consumers. Reboots vary widely in their fidelity to the original vision of the source material; however, their general aim is not as an homage to the author but for commercial gain or a fundamental philosophical and artistic re-envisioning of the story or both.

Electornic Art's Dante’s Inferno transforms a sublime epic poem about Dante’s metanoia into a violent Crusader quest masquerading as a story about love. The game play consists of a bellicose hero brandishing Death’s Scythe and a Holy Cross as weapons in his bloody pursuit of Beatrice through the various circles of Hell. There is a superficial resemblance to the poem in that there is some overlap with places and characters. But make no mistake, this is not Dante Alighieri’s Inferno! This is the brainchild of programmers who hope to capitalize upon modern gamers’ obsession with blood and gore combined with Dante’s imaginative descriptions of the underworld.

The broader themes and theology of the epic poem are not only discarded but radically subverted. Dante is no longer the penitent soul who awakes, finds himself lost in a dark wood, and humbly seeks a way out of the valley of death, utterly relying upon grace and the intercession of saints for his salvation. Instead, he is rewritten as an avenging medieval warrior who has experienced something of an apotheosis, rising to the status of a pagan demigod, a la Gilgamesh or Achilles. Who else but a god could defeat Death after all? Who else but a god could “absolve” or “forgive” souls postmortem after all? Who else but a god could possess power over both “holy” and “unholy” artifacts and persons after all?

I do think there is some merit to the notion that the video game may encourage a few brave souls to venture into the original source material. I also agree that most gamers will realize that EA’s interpretation of the work is probably woefully inaccurate and divergent from the author’s original purpose. The problem is laziness. Call me cynical, but I have taught enough students to realize that-- as much as it pains me to say this—there are precious few, if any, students who will bother with doing the necessary homework to sort out the subtle (or in this case, not so subtle) differences between the reboot and the original text.

In short, most gamers simply won’t care enough or will be unwilling to put the time and attention into the issue to appreciate the true Commedia. And to make matters worst, their sloth will probably seep all of this misinformation into their consciousness to the point where they will associate the game with the worst misconceptions about the epic poem. In the final analysis, when people ask gamers about Dante’s Inferno, they will think first of the game, not the poem, and that will color anything they have to say about it. And that, my friends, is the true tragedy of this reboot.

No comments:

Post a Comment