Editorial: Great Works of Literature That Do Not Need Their Own Games, And Those That Do

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.)

It's me... with Dante... bitches.
Our hero with EA's hero. I'm the handsome one.

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.

I'm Virgil, I'll be your guide...
And on our left, we have a pit of eternal suffering. It really ties this circle together.

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.

Japanese painting is so cool
This is what the first girly manga looked like. LEARN IT WELL, CATGIRLS.

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.

GTFO
Lucifer begins the "emo" tradition.

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.

0 comments

  1. I’m sorry, but I have to completely disagree with you when it comes to Dante’s Inferno. I played the demo and I was very impressed with the game. It is FAR from shovelware.

  2. @Lane- Neither myself nor my outback shack were involved in the Inferno conspiracy I swear! I’ve been devoting all my energies to converting Rapelay into a work of classical literature!

    P.S. You forgot the obvious choice for RTS boffins; The Origin of the Species! As Kirk Cameron is all to eager to point out, the copyright has lapsed, and the premise is there for the license free raping!

    @Kaya122- Yeah, I believe their was something called Genji: Day of the Blade (or some generic such).

  3. @Bup: Lane called it. This is the rape of the written word.

    And virtually everyone I’ve spoken to who has played it has said “it is a bad game”. I say virtually because so far you are the only one to say otherwise.

  4. What did they say was bad about it? I’ve talked to probably ten people who really enjoyed the demo.

  5. I think that probably speaks more to the quality of Lusipurr’s aquaintances. I’ve heard that it’s quite a good GoW clone, I’m assuming that the people who are calling it a bad game are the people who are incensed by its literary rapage.

  6. @NooB: I don’t think that should make people feel it’s a bad game. It is basically GoW with a scythe, but that’s not saying that’s a bad thing. I really enjoyed my time with the demo (and I’ve even played through it a few times), and I fully plan on buying it on it’s release.

  7. Gabe from PA sums up the general opinions beautifully, which is that it is simply “not fun”.

    Quoted below:

    “In other news, did any of you guys grab the Dante’s Inferno demo? It’s like they took the Divine Comedy and turned it into a seventh grader’s wet dream. Tycho and I were laughing during most of the cut scenes. When Dante is sewing the cross into his skin we couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be funny, or if if they were actually serious about this crap.

    Somehow they managed to copy everything about God of War except the fun.

    That’s my back of the box quote.”

  8. @sn: Darwin’s Origin was recently redone, albeit covertly, as Spore. The best evidence against Intelligent Design is that we are not all walking penis monsters.

    @Bup: it was terrible. You can’t turn Dante into an action hero, at least not without doing irreversible damage to the material. What’s next?John Keats, consumptive barbarian?

  9. I 100000000% disagree with Gabe when he says they copied everything from GoW except “the fun.” I had a ton of fun playing the demo. Just as much as I have in the previous GoW games. I think people are prejudiced against the game just because of it’s relation to the source material.

  10. @Bup- For some people the butchery of inferno will stick in their craw, and they will look to find faults even if there are none (I don’t know I haven’t played it). I don’t yet know how I’ll receive it … If it takes itself over-serious like it’s bringing culture to the unwashed masses of gamers, then it will probably irk me … If on the other hand it is wryly self-effacing about its literary rape, and revels in it’s cheeky excess, then I’ll probably forgive it it’s transgressions. Afterall GoW absolutely rapes Greek Mythology.

    -I would be interested to see how many people who say that the game isn’t fun also mention their anger at EA’s use of Dante’s poetry, because they may just be looking for an excuse not to like it.

  11. @NooB: You could easily compare how GoW basically popped a squat and let loose all over Greek mythology to the way Inferno will most likely do the same to its source. I still don’t think that should make it a bad game. If you have fun playing it, who cares?

  12. Sometimes your anger, dissapointment or expectations can ruin your enjoyment of a game, even if the game in question is a good one. I didn’t enjoy FFXII despite it being a pretty good game (FF title not withstanding). The people who are really upset at EA’s use of Inferno will likely never be able to enjoy it, even if they do give it a fair go. I on the other hand am tentatively looking forward to seeing what kind of reviews it gets.

  13. And I look forward to arguing with Lusipurr about how it IS a good game on the next podcast.

  14. Well Lusipurr made his feelings about it clear months ago when Lee was still part of this site, it has nothing to do with the game’s quality, and everything to do with what it does to the source meterial.

    HAHA Inferno, buy it now on Blu-ray!

  15. GoW doesn’t take a shit all over Greek Mythology. It uses it as a base from which to construct a very violent–but otherwise original–story.

    DI takes one of the most important pieces of single-author literature in the world and twists it into some sort of perverse, inverse representation of what it is meant to be. Rather than the soul’s search for salvation, it has become just another vehicle for self-gratifying violence and gore, dressed up in a sacrilegous guise of superficial religiosity.

    It’s the difference between a new story about one of Arthur’s Knights, and a version of Huckleberry Finn in which the titular character is a gay pedophile who rapes little black slave boys on his trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans where he can finally make the big time sucking loads of city cock.

  16. If Bup had fun with it, I say good on him. The game’s probably not for everybody (I’ve never gotten sucked into the God of War series, so I imagine I don’t be that interested in DI), and if Lusipurr doesn’t want to play it because of the literary-rapage, that’s his prerogative. It’s not like the game will somehow replace the (I’m guessing vastly superior) literary version in any way, you know?

    @Lane: I like your idea of a Jane Eyre game, but instead of a dating sim, you could play Bertha in her quest to burn Thornfield to the ground, ultimately ending with a jumping-off-the-roof quicktime event. I don’t see how it could go wrong!

  17. @DG: I like it! What about a survival horror type game? “Silent Attic?” You stealthily avoid all interlopers, including that plain but spunky governess that’s stealing your man away, in a plot to end it all in fiery death!

    Victorians were fucked up.

  18. @Lusipurr- Your experience with EA’s Inferno backs up my point nicely, you abhor it for it’s desecration of a great piece of literature, but that is quite aside from whether or not it’s a competent hack and slash adventure game.

    Imagine for the moment you are NATE LILES; you like boobs, farts, Twilight and well made GoW clones, now what are you going to think of Inferno?

    For the lion’s share of Inferno’s audience the literary pillage should be a non-issue, and they will likely enjoy it just fine. It’s still completely understandable that you would dislike it for perverting something you love, it’s certainly not going to be for all people. As for me I’m not entirely sure what my reception to it will be, as it really depends on how they choose to use the source material. I am however keen to give it a go, and think it’s absolutely hillarious that you have to fight unbaptized babies!

  19. Speaking as someone who has never read The Divine Comedy, I can’t really offer an opinion as to whether or not the source material has been desecrated or not. I’ll reserve judgement until I have read them for myself, but I will say that the written works better have copious amounts of blood, decapitation and nudity or I will be VERY disappointed.

    In all seriousness though, I played the demo and for the most part I liked it. It really does play EXACTLY like God of War, and I had fun with the 15-20 minutes I had with it.

    My issue with it is on the opposite end of the site’s members who have read the literature: rather than what it has done with the source materail, this game’s content really was stolen from God of War. As it was said on the podcast, save for the swap in mythos, they are EXACTLY alike. The controls, the light/heavy attack combos, the quicktime finishing moves, even little things like the health/mana fountains.

    I almost feel bad for the creators of GoW, because their work has been stolen. Not that it rally affects them at all, it’s not as if I and most GoW fans will be buying this instead of GoW 3. I still plan to get GoW 3 at launch and will probably wait to get this after a price drop. It’s just the point that EA is going to make a lot of money off a game that wasn’t truly made by them, which admittedly, isn’t really anything new…

  20. @DefChaos – “stolen” might not be the word. from what I understand people who used to work on GoW made DI so maybe they’re just doing what they know. when Sakaguchi went off to make Lost Odyssey he wasn’t stealing that’s just how he makes games. then again I could be totally wrong and I’m actually talking out of my ass right now.

    @NooB – as well constructed as that argument is I gotta side with Lusi on this one. whether or not the game is good or bad is a moot point. some works of art just shouldn’t be fucked with. people really don’t have limits. if I ever see an FPS based on Glory, I’m movin to Canada.

  21. Rubbish, everything gets fucked with, how faithful is My Fair Lady to Ovid’s Pygmalion? How much reverence was shown to Homer’s Odyssey during the filming of Oh Brother Where Art Thou? There are a finite number of story archetypes within the realm of human experience, which tend to just be repeated ad infinitum. Everything old is new again, the only variables are how overt or covert it’s usage is, and whether or not the source material is acknowledged. For me it is fine so long as EA takes the idea, and then makes it completely their own (and a little tongue in cheek wouldn’t hurt either), I’m not that precious.

    But of course Lusipurr isn’t wrong to feel the way he does, if you feel strongly about the source material, then it’s impossible to divorce that from your experience of the by-product, but that’s not necessarily a flaw in the game.