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Electronic Inferno

The latest chapter in the odd afterlife of Dante's classic

11:45 AM, Feb 11, 2010 • By KATHERINE EASTLAND
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Electronic Inferno

'Dante and the Divine Comedy' (1465) by Domenico di Michelino

If life is like a box of chocolates, then the televised Super Bowl is like an Oreo. The chocolate wafers are the game itself, and the ads are the cream filling. If you watched those ads, you probably saw this one, heralding that Electronic Arts is bringing to an Xbox 360 and/or PlayStation 3 near you its reimagining of Dante's Inferno. Yes, the Inferno is now a video game. This means that you and I, by punching buttons, can traverse the nine circles of hell, fend off three-headed Cerberus, gaze on Minos, King of the Underworld, and chop off demons' heads with a scythe and the "Holy Cross" weapon to reach blessed, beatific Beatrice—who, in a plot twist, has been murdered. In fact, there are quite a few plot twists. Dante, for instance, has just returned from fighting in a crusade in EA's retelling. Oh, and Virgil is curiously absent. Otherwise, it might be too easy to reach the ninth circle and move onto pugatory.

The game doesn't aim to replace, or even summarize, the book. Just take a look at its website. Furthermore, EA has also released a paper edition of the Inferno, illustrated with stills of the game (which might leave you pining for William Blake's illustrations or  the engravings of Gustave Doré). Dante's Inferno simply toys, albeit shamelessly, with the hell-mapping classic in the hope of turning a high profit—which EA needs to do after dishing out so much money for the Super Bowl spot.

As you might have guessed, to the consternation of some Dante scholars, the game itself isn't interested in philosophy or the Christian idea of sin (though sinners in torment abound) or anything else that has depths too great to plumb in an action-driven game.

But of course Dante's Inferno the video game isn't philosophical or theological or even poetic. This is Dante as buff warrior, after all, and a video game is best when it focuses on what its medium can pull off best: special effects and sounds, costumes, etc. So by all means, focus on perfecting the wispiness of Beatrix's white dress, or Dante's high jumps and demon-killing arms. In casting a book into a different medium there are going to be elements lost in translation anyway. Those who want to read the Inferno for all it has to offer will pick up the book of their own accord.

Depending of the success of Dante's Inferno, there might be more classics-turned-video games entering the market. EA and other companies would do well to take a peek at this story over at Wired. It compiles a list of 10 other literary classics that could be cast into  games. My favorite: "Mark Twain's F.I.N.N." To Wired's list, I'd like to humbly add Eliot's Waste Land, mostly because I want to hear televisions say "O O O O that Shakespearian rag" or twist their tongues with this peal of bells: "Weialala leilalala."

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