Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dante's Inferno: tread carefully

So the guys at EA Redwood Shores have announced their next project, and it's Dante's Inferno.

And that's great, but I hope they realize the importance of getting this one right.

Dead Space is a stellar game. I finally finished it a couple days ago -- great sci-fi, great horror, great gameplay. We can probably expect similar quality in the team's next project. And their recent experience with creating horror will undoubtedly aid them in recreating Hell.

But, still, I worry. At this point, you can't base a mainstream game on such a pivotal work of classic literature as Dante Alighieri's and not expect that to grab the attention of non-gamers. Mainstream news worldwide will take notice. How respectfully or carelessly the original work is adapted into gameplay will be widely reported on.

Those reviews, previews, and interviews could have a profound effect on how games and the industry is perceived for many years. If EA Redwood Shores impresses the greater public, it would be a big step forward. Otherwise, reasonable doubters and willful naysayers alike will have more fuel for their arguments.

I also worry because Dante's Divine Comedy is a faithful religious work, and game designers are not known for being pious or reverent. The only religion in Dead Space is wild and deadly fanaticism. Such fanaticism does exist and is scary, so I can only hopefully assume the lead designers don't perceive all religion to be so irrational.

The Judeo-Christian concept of good and evil is difficult to translate into gameplay. Evil is merely an absence or twisting of good, as darkness is an absence of light. Evil spirits, including Satan, are utterly powerless except as God allows (for the sake of our maturation and free will). Humans rarely battle demons directly, and even then (usually exorcisms) our power is prayer... appealing to and trusting in God's love for intervention. Angels and demons are far, far more powerful than humans. It is God and His love for us that protects and saves us. Prophecy, spontaneous healing, bilocution, stigmatas -- such powers come from God, not from us.

Dante's tale is more about viewing, hearing, and conversing than about interaction. So seeing Dante hacking and slashing his way through Hell raises concerns about sincere representation, though such gameplay could certainly be fun. Dialogue and prayer are difficult to translate into good gameplay.

Redwood Shores should also consider the meaning of Hell, the beliefs which shaped Dante's work. Hell is chosen by the damned. It is a willful separation from God's grace. We're all familiar with knowing what the right, loving action is and choosing to do differently. Many know God's love and reject it. Pain, sadness and anger occur when things aren't as they should be. When creatures made for love reject love, they embrace darkness and torment. Hell is punishment, but it is also self-punishment.

Part of the purpose of understanding Hell is fear. All parents know that toddlers can't be expected to always obey (to act justly, learn and grow) out of love and understanding. Fear is necessary. When children grow to be teenagers, they are more capable of love and understanding, but fear remains necessary as a fallback. Emotion and will often overpower reason, and in those moments we need fear. Even adults need fear of consequences, a fact which much of our legal system is founded on. God has revealed Hell to humanity because we need that fear to fall back on in those moments when we want to reject -- or merely postpone -- love.

Knowing Hell also illuminates God's grace and goodness. Hell is evil without a mask. In our world, evil usually take the form of corruption -- something good distorted into poison; slow death. If one can understand evil in its essence (Hell), and pure good as well (Heaven), then recognizing good and evil as they are entangled on our world is a more manageable task.

EA Redwood Shores is tackling one of the world's most respected works of literature, as well as a setting which is taken very seriously and believed to be real by billions of people worldwide. I'm very happy they're doing so. I hope they give the subjects adequate study and reflection, as well as respect in the finished product.


  1. Fantastic writeup. Good thoughts. Are you Catholic? I am not but I'm familiar with Catholic theology. I hope they do this well also.

  2. That game looks at tad too disturbing for me. I am interested in the storyline though, it better be something intriguing. There is a lot of potential and plenty of source material.

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  4. Looks like Dante's Inferno has appeared as a videogame before, Wikipedia cites:

    'Beyond Software wrote Dante's Inferno in 1986 for the Commodore 64.'

    This site( has a .zip file of the original game.

    Religion & videogaming can be a recipe for disaster, Condemned 2 flirted a little but to base a videogame around a religious idea, that's another story!

    Will be keeping an eye on EA's DI...

  5. I think they've already summed up their approach at the end of that video...

    "Go to Hell."

    I highly doubt there will be any philosophical reflection on religion while you slay hordes of demons.

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive)

  6. @Jason, true dat, see Blizzard's Diablo 1, 2 and 3

  7. Very interesting explanation of "the Judeo-Christian concept of good and evil" thank you. I can't say I have any hope that the game will reflect this, though.


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