It is hard to miss news of Electronic Arts’ latest corruption of the digital flesh, Dante’s Inferno. (Side note: Christians protesting a game based on Dante because it features Hell, of all places that might crop up in a Dante-derived work, is the most unintentionally hilarious thing of 2009.)
Fans of classic literature will recognize this as part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically, the travelogue narration Dante gets of Hell by no less than Virgil, Roman poet extraordinaire. How exactly one turns the keystone of Italian literature into something so base as a piece of Electronic Arts shovelware is beyond mortal ken. Some strange alchemy is indeed at work here, possibly involving the Illuminati, reptiloids, British Royal Family, and a man who lives in a shack in the Australian Outback and holds the secrets of all eternity. One suspects it will involve a literal rape of the written word.
However, people should not be quick to dismiss the idea that masterworks of literature, great pieces of the written word that have enthralled and spellbound generations of readers with their deftness of language and wit, could ever possibly be translated into some other medium. In that vein, here are three canonical works that should be made into video games.
3. Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë (the umlaut makes it metal) wrote Jane Eyre as a reaction against Victorian morality and its subjugation of women and female happiness to abstract and restrictive moral codes, while at the same time attacking class stratification and the classification of people’s moral worth by their material possessions. It also features a crazy wife that is kept locked away in the attic, which is silly, because that is where one stores evil twins. Crazy spouses are to be kept in sheds behind the servants’ quarters. Barbaric.
At any rate, Jane’s trials and tribulations of being a round, free-spirited peg in a world of square, corseted holes would make the perfect base for a dating simulation game. Screens and screens of text can fly by, to be pored over endlessly by hopeless romantics hoping that the right combination of answers will somehow lead to another ending besides Crazy Old Mrs. Rochester burning down the house. Of cousre, it never would, thus symbolizing the futility of being British and attempting to find romance.
2. The Tale of Genji
The world’s first novel could be the world’s first successful adaptation of the written word to the button-pressing medium of video games, and if anyone can do it, it is the industrious Japanese video game companies. Stylistically, The Tale of Genji is a long and rambling soap opera told in installments for the entertainment of bored medieval Japanese noblewomen. In other words, the genesis of the modern novel and shōjō manga is the same.
In the spirit of great Japanese RPGs, The Tale of Genji would start with the son of the rightful Emperor of Japan and forced to live his life as that of a commoner. He would make friends with a cadre of colorful characters, including an age-inappropriate love interest, and make enemies of powerful courtiers and his wicked stepmother. However, given some of the stylistic… quirks… of the Tale of Genji, the ending might be a little difficult to manage, at least without a tenuously connected sequel. Oh wait; tenuously connected sequels are the bread and butter of Japanese games! A pattern emerges, connecting both the old and new of Japanese art!
1. Paradise Lost
But the absolute best work of classic literature that needs to become a video game is Paradise Lost, the ultimate real-time strategy game. It simply cannot get any more epic than Lucifer in rebellion against God. The two greatest supernatural powers in the universe, squaring off in (un)holy war to determine the fate of mankind. Souls would be the ultimate resource to mine, and with (at least!) two campaigns, the game would have intense replay value. Imagine the sequel, Paradise Lost II: The Battle of Armageddon! A campaign that lasts a thousand years, combined with a seven-year expansion featuring tribulations such as the world has never seen! Kirk Cameron could be engaged to do some voice acting…
Sorry, it is easy to get carried away.
On the other hand, Milton’s Lucifer is one of the finest anti-heros in literature. To create actual sympathy for the Devil is a feat not even the great bard Mick Jagger could perform reliably. The tension between the inevitably of fate as ordained by Almighty God versus the player’s desire to make his or her own choices is the stuff game mechanics designers wet their cheeto-dust stained sweatpants over. The ending cinematic would revel in eschatological glory.
So, EA, if any executives happen to read this, make this happen. Get started right away. Just shelve Dante’s Inferno, for the good of mankind. Get the designers on the soul-gathering mechanic right away. And bring cheetos. They are your only hope.