A demo for Dante’s Inferno was released on the Playstation Network about two weeks ago, with XBox 360 fans seeing the release this Friday. Like other people out there, I was pretty curious as to how the hell the first portion of the Divine Comedy was going to be adapted into a straight up video game. I mean, it doesn’t exactly lend itself for video game fodder. Then again, Electronic Arts isn’t producing a faithful adaptation of the game: it’s effectively a God of War ripoff: angry male faces off against a deity (Ares in God of War, Satan in Dante’s Inferno) to win back his love. Generic character has ridiculous weapon and magical abilities. Yeah, I mean, I’ve only read the Penguin Classics translated version of The Divine Comedy so there may be something lost in the translation, but I am pretty sure that Dante never wielded a gigantic feck-off scythe. I’m also pretty sure that Beatrice, the woman whom the real Dante Alighieri pined over, didn’t have the body of a stripper, complete with massive D cups.
That said, who cares if the video game companies take creative license with things? There’s money to be made and boobs to animate. We can’t let silly things like ‘respect for the classics’ get in the way of things! After all, Hollywood’s been doing it for years so why not the gaming industry?
Exactly. So, here are some potential candidates for the next Classic that could be remade into video games! To any of my former professors who may have accidentally stumbled across this: I am so very sorry.
John Milton – Paradise Lost
What is it about?
Heavily inspired by Dante’s own work, Paradise Lost was a 17th century epic poem written by Milton that dealt with the story of Genesis from the Bible. It was one of the very first works I studied as an undergrad and it looms large in our cultural subconsciousness: many of the ideas that folks associate with the story of Genesis. The Devil’s ‘origin’ as a fallen angel, Eve eating the apple of knowledge, the serpent that tempts Eve into eating the apple was the Devil disguised, actually came from Milton’s work.
Paradise Lost is also probably the first work that glamorized Satan: he is a central character for a great deal of the work and some readings of the poem see him as being a sympathetic anti-hero, so if you want someone to blame for making Satanism ‘cool’ for everyone, blame Milton.
The work has a ton of great source material, as the first book deals with the war between God and Satan, has a ton of Classical Greek references and deals with the notions of predestination and free will.
Taken at a drug store philosophy level, the ideas that are broached in Paradise Lost would make for great fodder for a video game. The often used quote, ‘better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven’ comes from this work and it alone could be utilized as the entire foundation of a video game’s paper-thin plot.
Seriously, look at that woodcarving depicting one of the scenes from Paradise Lost. That screams ‘make me into a video game.’
There was also a sequel, called Paradise Regained, that dealt with the temptation of Christ, although it was not as well received as Paradise Lost was. That doesn’t really matter because as we all know sequels are awesome and sequels = more money!
Play as Satan, one of the greatest of God’s angels, and suffer the fall that casts him into hell! Create Hell from the lake of fire you were cast into and recruit other fallen angels to your cause. Plot your revenge against God by traversing the endless Abyss before making your way to the newly created Earth. Poison it and doom Adam and Eve before working your way from there to the gates of Heaven itself where you fight through cadres of angels and other holy figures before taking on the Son of God (the unnamed version of Christ in the poem and who cast him and one third of all of
Heaven’s angels into Hell) and then God himself.
Will Paradise be lost or won? Find out!
Would probably be horrific, as Christian groups throughout the world would lose their minds over a game where you play as Satan, fight angels and kill God. Nietzsche would probably be laughing his head off. Imagine the reaction to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses by the Islamic community, but with a whole lot more ‘y’alls’ thrown in. The buzz, of course, could go either way: Paradise Lost could become the next Manhunt or it could become the next Mortal Kombat.
Daniel Defoe – Journal of the Plague Year
What is it about?
This is an interesting one. Defoe, he of Robinson Crusoe fame, wrote this semi-historical, semi-fictional account of the Great Plague of London in 1666. The outbreak was the last major incident of the plague in England, but also one of the largest: an estimated 20% of London’s entire population was wiped out. Defoe draws upon recorded data as well as personal accounts to create his journal. While the specific incidents were fictionalized, Defoe was comprehensive with the amount of detail he put into his work, as there are facts, figures and an assortment of mundane details to mull over, but there are some great moments in it that really convey the sense of fear and dread the inhabitants of London were feeling during this time.
The ultimate survival horror game, The Plague Year has you play as Henry Foe (uncle of Daniel Defoe and someone who actually did live through the Great Plague.) Forced to serve as an agent of the Crown in a city under quarantine, you must go about your duties while being careful not to get yourself infected in the process. Fend off crazed plague victims wandering the deserted streets, expose charlatans espousing phony cures, fight with rogue French agents who are trying to benefit from the chaos being wreaked and do your best to limit the spread of the plague throughout the city of London.
This time, you’re not just concerned with your survival, but the entire city of London’s as well.
Will you live to see another day or become just another statistic?
A complete lack of zombies utterly confuses the hell out of Resident Evil fans who expect a 1700s version of Nemesis to jump out at any moment. The archaic language and slow, plodding pace results in a small, but devoted fanbase of the game. Plans are made for a sequel, but support is pulled and the studio that made it folds, leading to many, many online petitions and fansites devoted to the game.
Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is a Victorian novel and like many works of its time, deals with issues of morality and character. The eponymous character is an orphan who is of little means who is able to make something of herself while still remaining true to herself. It harkens back to Pamela by Samuel Richardson, a godawful read that I was subjected to back when I was an undergrad. Jane Eyre is a little less dry, though, and has some interesting elements to it that give it a dark edge to it. While being asked to become mistress to a Mr. Rochester, Jane discovers that he is already married and that he keeps his deranged grotesque of a wife Bertha locked away in the attic. Bertha lurks in the background, the source of several strange events eventually being attributed to her and serves as a warning of what could happen to Jane should she grant Rochester’s wishes.
The book also deals with social issues (as was common with Victorian lit…Charles Dickens, anyone?) and has a slight tinge of the supernatural lurking about it. There was the aforementioned antics of Bertha, but Jane herself lets her imagination run away with her, as she initially confuses Mr. Rochester with a ‘gytrash’, a supernatural dog. In other words, all great fodder for a potential video game.
Bertha herself became the focus through which a broader study of Victorian literature was done, in Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman In The Attic, showcasing how female characters were shoehorned into the ‘monster’ or ‘angel’ roles, an attitude that has carried through to this present day. (Look at the double standards that exist between men and women regarding issues such as sexuality or power. Women are typically slot into certain roles and are demonized for going outside of them.)
Jane Eyre is set to be married to Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester in a short 5 days due to circumstances beyond her control. While charming, there is a dark side to the enigmatic man. For one, everyone around him has the unfortunate tendency to turn up dead…including Jane’s best friend Helen Burns. There are rumours about that tie him to the London’s seedy underbelly. Uncover a gruesome plot that runs to the highest levels of the Church of England and put a stop to it before Mr. Rochester is able wed you. Jane must be careful not to invoke the ire of Mr. Rochester lest she end up dead herself, but she must find clues, gather information and solve puzzles before she finds herself with a fate worse than death: married and under the tyrannical thumb of Rochester.
The game is buried by reviewers who hate the nonsensical, unintuitive puzzles, excessive use of FMV and byzantine language. It becomes a bigger dud than Daikatana and an industry joke for years. Non-gamers point to Jane Eyre as a perfect example of a juvenile medium trying too hard to be taken seriously as ‘art.’ Roberta Williams loves the game and declares it her favorite of all time.
The Diary of Anne Frank
What is it about?
Most folks are familiar with the story of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who went into hiding from the Nazis during World War II. The autobiography gave readers a glimpse into the hardships suffered by Jewish people during WW2 and Frank’s journals went on to become one of the most celebrated 20th century works and has received a film adaptation. Not a whole lot else to say about it, really.
A re-imagined Anne Frank is the star of this stealth based action game. Hide from and kill Nazis as you work to free prisoners of war and your Jewish friends. Come up with innovative ways to kill SS Troopers as you work your way through the Netherlands as the scrappy teenage Anne. Think Wolfenstein meets Metal Gear, but BETTER.
Banned in Germany, the game earns almost universally reviled hatred and disgust, although a few oddballs hail the ‘historical realism’ and ‘innovative controls’ as great features. Noam Chomsky speaks out in defense of the game, arguing on grounds of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Virgina Woolf – To The Lighthouse
Oh God, how I hated this novel. Hailed as a masterpiece and an excellent example of ‘modernist’ literature, Woolf’s stream of consciousness novel was an annoying, grating read. Chronicling 2 days of a family’s outing (each day being years apart) the book was seen as being profound and amazing and thrilled critics. I found it to be a mass of gibberish and a boring chore to slog through and to this day can’t understand how people love this work.
You might be wondering what am I doing ranting about this book. Isn’t there more to it than 2 days and a simple outing? No, seriously, that’s all the ‘action’ that goes on in the book. The more notable aspect of the game is how it was written, as stream of consciousness as a form of narration really hadn’t caught on yet. I can understand why the book gets the praise that it does, it doesn’t change the fact that I personally found it incredibly painful and what not. Anyways…
A Tower Defense game, but with a twist! In control of a solitary lighthouse, you must fight against a nonsensical stream of enemies that look like something the designers of Katamari dreamt up while high on PCP and LSD. Upgrade your lighthouse to protect yourself and defend against those who would lay siege to your room with a view. The game also boasts over ten years of gameplay, an achievement no other game can match. Huzzah!
Despite being advertised as having ten years of gameplay, in-game is condensed and the vast majority of that time is condensed in a short cutscene. Most players are capable of beating the game within a day. That said, reviews are generally positive and fans go gaga over the ‘innovative design’ and ‘fantastic artwork.’ Less is said about the garbled code that can sometimes make the game unplayable as defenders simply write the glitches off as ‘adding flavor’ to an otherwise fun, short game.