The 14th century terza rima by Dante Alighieri has long been ascribed as the foundation for the modern Western perception of Hell as well as how many aspects of Christian morality figure into the system. When I first heard that Inferno was being modeled into a video game, I was instantly enamored with the endeavor, being one of the seemingly few people on the planet with a foot in both gardens, so to speak – one who both loves the poem AND video games. Everyone seemed to approach the concept as bearing irreconcilable differences, but upon seeing the final product, I only know my initial reactions were warranted.
The last thing I expected to encounter within a game structured upon a foundation set by part one of The Divine Comedy, however, was an unbiased and unaltered presentation of Christianity and its morality. Of course I realize that these are characteristics crucial to the original poem; I didn’t doubt in that sense. I just had no reason to expect Visceral Games and EA to actually uphold those concepts in their own product.
The first scraps of footage I saw from the game were of game-play demonstrating the abilities of Dante, the remorse-burdened Crusader with seriously warped redemption issues. He has two primary weapons: a scythe pried from the hands of the Reaper himself, and a cross from his love and sole (or soul?) pursuit. The scythe I had come to expect, as it is a weapon of brutality as well as mythic significance. That is not what surprised me in this demonstration. The cross is what threw me for a loop. To see one battling their way through the nine circles of Hell with their power being a massive cross of light searing through the darkness – that image just bears too much personal significance for me to ever have dreamed of seeing it in a video game, let alone a mainstream video game.
In another time and place, perhaps I wouldn’t have been surprised at this. The fact of the matter is, though, that Western media has exposed its wont throughout the years, and video games are no exception to this tendency. Christianity and its particular degree and perception of morality have long been displayed as being of ill repute and commonly the objects of scorn by the mainstream media. So to see Dante’s Inferno so faithfully presenting the power of Jesus Christ is shocking. I recognize that these are elements strong and necessary in the original text, but that certainly didn’t bind Visceral Games to presenting them as such in their game. The strongest and boldest of symbols, the cross, being given such power and applicability in Dante’s Inferno is nothing short of stunning when contrasted to the industry and society out of which the image rose.
As mentioned, the application of the cross in the game strikes me personally on a deeper level than it was probably intended. The Christian demographic of players most likely are not the majority, nor would it make sense to consider them as such, but being one the gravity of the scene which Visceral and EA have presented does not fall on blind eyes with me.
None would contest the meaning of the cross in today’s world, and the same understanding will undoubtedly be carried into Dante’s Inferno – the cross only means one thing: the death of Jesus Christ and the redemption He brings as messiah. Visceral could have presented this while undercutting its efficacy through a myriad of plot twists and what-have-you, but they didn’t. From the beginning all the way through, the cross is the one and only source of light throughout the scouring of Hell. Attacking with the cross sends blindingly bright emblems of the cross soaring off into the darkness, scourging it of its minions. What could this be but a faithful presentation of the Christian tenet? Jesus Christ is the defense against the powers of Hell. The cross is the weapon against sin. It is through the cross that sin and Lucifer and Hell all found their defeat. Never would I have even dreamt to dream that a mainstream video game would so efficiently and faithfully translate these truths.
Not leaving it at that, the entire basis for the absolving system leaves me in wonder. Not the ingenuity of the system itself, but the thoughts that went into it. The way absolving works in Dante’s Inferno is that upon encountering particularly significant damned souls, Dante has the option of punishing them or absolving them. Punishing takes no effort whatsoever; it is just the push of a button to make the choice. Absolution, though, actually requires the player to work towards such an end. The system is not unlike Guitar Hero, sins float across a cross and the player captures them by pressing the corresponding button the moment they cross it. The more sins you capture the faster they come and it can become quite difficult. As EA has stated, that is actually the entire point of the system, to show that in life holiness and the conscious decision to forgive takes time and is worth the effort. Clearly, the heart of Inferno was truly captured by those behind this game.
There is a faithfulness to Dante’s Inferno that I would never have expected to encounter, but I can honestly say it makes me happier than I ever expected the game alone to make me. The game is a spiritual journey not just for Dante, but the player as well. It is surely not a game for everyone, and I know all will not share my views, but if this in any way augurs a shift in the hearts or portends an expanded understanding, then the gamer can only benefit from such advancement.
Dante’s Inferno: Big Ideas, Small Problems. Kotaku. 9 Feb. 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2010.