Let’s Think Deep: Dante’s Inferno and It’s Place In The World

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Is Dante's Inferno offensive? Let's Think Deep. Also yes.

Usually I tend to be very silly and less serious than the typical individual when I write my articles. That’s just my style and also because I have the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. However, I’m about to go into a Let’s Think Deep that is going to tread on some extremely serious, touchy, and possibly inflammatory grounds. I’m going to be talking about Christianity, or more specifically, how Christianity appears in Dante’s Inferno. Not the classic Italian poem. No, the new video game based on said epic, and I use the phrase “based on” extremely loosely. So if you’re ready to Think Deep, let’s begin.

A Book You Should Have Read

If you don’t already know the background for the things I’ll be discussing, don’t worry, I’ll fill you in as best I can. Firstly, you need to know that Dante’s Inferno is the first part of three of The Divine Comedy, an epic poem written by a one Dante Alighieri, in which the author goes on a journey through Hell guided by the Roman poet Virgil, a real historical figure Dante looked up to. This is all very serious business here. Most people don’t realize that Dante’s Inferno is only part one of three since the other two parts, taking place in Purgatory and Heaven, respectively, aren’t as interesting since it is really hard to top the imagery that Hell can conjure up.

Dante’s journey takes him through nine circles of Hell, each having specific punishments and tortures for the various individuals trapped there for all eternity, usually involving ironic punishments for their sins, such as corrupt politicians being boiled in a lake of pitch, representing their sticky fingers and dark secrets. There are a ton of things like that (I chose a less-violent punishment for demonstration, but rest assured, it can get gruesome), and as Dante traverses these circles he speaks with various residents, learning what they did to end up here. What makes this even better is the inclusion of people Dante actually knew in the circles as a way of him gaining poetic justice (yes, pun totally intended). If he hated you and thought you made his life miserable in some way, you better believe he placed you in Hell somewhere along his trip.

Dante is a voyeur throughout the poem as all he does is just watch. He doesn’t get to save anyone or change anything, nor is he ever in any real danger since the whole point of this journey is to help him understand how NOT to wind up there. In the third part of The Divine Comedy a woman named Beatrice, also based on a real person whom Dante had never met in real life but always loved, escorts him through Heaven. And that’s the story of Dante’s Inferno and beyond as it was actually written.

So how the heck did EA take that and come up with this:

Oops, I don't think Visceral Games really "got" Dante's poem.

Because “God of War” Was already Taken

I played through the demo last night to fully understand what was happening in the game, and so far I have learned that, mainly, EA wanted to get in on some of God of War’s popularity but couldn’t use Greek and Roman mythology since it would look too much like God of War. So their likely conclusion was to absolutely bastardize a brilliant piece of literature and in doing so totally tick me off.

Dante’s Inferno, the EA version developed by Visceral Games, stars Dante, a knight of some sort from the Third Crusade that apparently has a sordid past. He is killed by some random, worthless enemy in the very beginning of the game but refuses to die and fights Death, somehow beating him and stealing his scythe (made from bones of course). Dante travels home to find his loving fiancé Beatrice dead, just because, and Lucifer is stealing her soul, prompting Dante to chase after him into Hell to find her, getting advice from Virgil as he goes. Do you see the connection to the original poem? Yes, I do too, and it doesn’t really hold up. If I made a soup and said it was based on a ham sandwich you’d probably look at me like I was stupid, even after I told you I put some ham in the soup just so I could call my soup a ham sandwich.

A Thesis Statement At Last

But now comes the tricky part: Why would EA and Visceral Games choose Dante’s Inferno as a suitable background for a video game? I can come up with multiple reasons. First, they want to get street-cred as the developer/producer that used a piece of classical literature for source material in a game, a point I’ll refute in time. Secondly, they want to be able to gather shock value for being able to say, “Yeah, we went there,” since Dante’s Hell, the one from the actual poem, is incredibly graphic and for mature audiences only. More on that later. And lastly, and probably most importantly, they saw how popular God of War was, as I already said, and needed a way to recreate that “epic storyline” without resorting to Greek and Roman mythology. That is where I’ll draw a lot of my arguments here. So let’s get ready to Think Deeper.

You remember in The Divine Comedy where Dante fought with Death? Apparently I wasn't reading closely enough.

Credibility Only Goes So Far

As my first main point states, transforming Dante’s Inferno from an epic poem to an epic video game does garner some semblance of credibility since it’s something you rarely see in video games. It’s supposed to be a big step towards making video games more respectable, but they entirely fumble the concept when they attempt to think past, “Okay, so let’s ride on the respected poem’s popularity.” I’m an English major and a writer, so yeah, there are a few things I actually respect beyond Ninja Turtles and Super Mario Bros. I have a high love of Shakespeare for one because I’m big into writing dialogue and Shakespeare was the master of dialogue. I’m also big on Milton’s Paradise Lost as it deals with The Fall From Grace, a subject I constantly deal with in my own stories. You could probably see the connection to The Divine Comedy since it deals so well with Heaven, Hell, and what sends you to either according to one man’s opinion. So messing with this is going to immediately prick up my warning signals that something is amiss.

The thing is, they won’t be pulling in the people they want to pull in by saying the game is connected to classic literature. People that have already read Dante’s Inferno and loved it will absolutely hate the video game version, partly because it takes something they loved and took out all the parts they enjoyed. It will, however, strengthen the crowd of gamers that believe whatever they’re told about their games, so when they find out this game with breasts and decapitation and everything is “based” on a classic poem, they’ll get the impression that shallowness all around is not only awesome, but it’s defended by classical literature.

Also, basing something off of anything doesn’t instantly make it good. When was the last time a movie-game turned out to be even half as respected as the critically acclaimed movie it was based on? Were The Godfather games something stellar? Not exactly. Sure, they weren’t bad, but they definitely didn’t share the credibility that the movies do. But in this case, Dante’s Inferno isn’t just taking a basic concept and running with it, it’s completely forgetting the parts that the original was based on. Dante’s Inferno the poem was an allegory about the human soul’s journey to redemption and repentance. Dante’s Inferno the video game is about shock value through and through. Not getting the outrage here? Try taking The Chronicles of Narnia and deciding to make a video game where Aslan goes around killing everything in order to save some kids that accidentally stumbled into Narnia. See how the original fanbase reacts to the changes you make. I’m still undecided as to whether the new book-deal is a good thing or a bad thing since Dante’s Inferno the poem is now being reprinted with the same cover as Dante’s Inferno the video game, bone-scythe-wielding crusader and all. Sure, it’ll tick off a lot of people expecting the book to be anything like the video game, but at least it gets people to read the source material.

It's surprisingly hard to find "Family Friendly" images of this game. No kids, don't go looking.

A Shocking Truth

Now about my second point, the whole “shock value” thing, you lose any credibility you may have had using a classic poem when you decide to use as much shock value as possible afterward. You can’t rightfully say you were inspired by the poem when you then go on to sexualize violence to the basest degree. The God of War series romanticizes, sexualizes, and fetishizes violence in every way possible, but so does the source material of Greek and Roman mythology. Dante’s Inferno was, and I know I’m repeating myself, a poem about NOT romanticizing ANYTHING sinful. It was meant to be an extremely heavy-handed warning about any and all sins, even going so far as creating a “Boogieman” effect where the reader is so terrified to experience these horrors themselves that they are prompted to remember these details whenever they sin or come close to sinning. Dante in the story has no chance to fix anything he sees and neither does the reader. The shock value sticks. I’ll always remember the scene where Dante witnesses a line of souls eternally being sliced in half by a demon with a massive sword, only to be healed as they walk around and wait their turn to be hacked in half once more. That’s poetically shocking.

Dante’s Inferno the video game doesn’t have shock value that means anything since you play as Dante yourself. You see something shocking in Hell, no problem, you get to kill it. The actual shock and horror of the events don’t stick in your mind, but rather how cool you look when you kill the demon in some spectacular display of “Hoorah!” and Quicktime Events. Just because it has an entire level devoted to the sin of “Lust” where everything is a phallic symbol or a breast or a piece of anatomy and then makes sure none of that looks sexy doesn’t make it poetic or clever or any of that. You want shocking with a point? Play Silent Hill 2. The enemies are all representations of sexual depravity in one way or another but you’re never told this straight-out. When you figure it out, it takes you to a new level of “Whoa,” but in Dante’s Inferno, no, it just isn’t happening. It just gets too difficult to make much of a statement when the main character is going around goring everything he sees with a scythe made from a human spine. Nuh-uh, not gonna fly.

Why is that? There has to be a point to all the shocking things you throw at someone and then beyond that there needs to be a real grounding point for people to relate to. In Silent Hill 2, the main character has lost his wife but harbors guilt since he was the one that killed her, though he has a subconscious discomfort with sexual images due possibly to the extended period his wife was sick before her death. There is character depth from seeing enemies inspired by subconscious fears or phobias. Dante’s Inferno just throws shock after shock at you but none that relate specifically to Dante since all he has to do is slash his way to rescue his lost love. Yes, there is a sub-plot about him repenting for his own sins, but those sins all relate to murdering people since he was a crusader and that’s all they did (no offense to practicing crusaders of course).

With using Hell as the jumping ground for the game, Visceral Games get to throw in everything they possibly want in terms of shocking. All I’ve done is play the demo and see the trailer for the game and I can already tell the sort of things they think are shocking and I can safely say, oops, God of War sort of did it first. There’s just a problem of having Dante being capable of fighting off any threat since he’s already killed Death. Why should these shocking things actually be shocking to him? Or to us for that matter? I’m at a loss there, so I’ll just move on to my most inflammatory point.

Turning a Religion into a Joke For Profit

So why Dante’s Inferno? As I said, the God of War franchise already had Greek and Roman mythology secured as its domain. No other big titles were allowed to touch it, especially when emulating the style of God of War, i.e. a hack n’ slash with Quicktime Events, a fascination with over-the-top fatalities, and above all an otherworldly atmosphere. Greek and Roman mythology is off limits, so where does Visceral Games turn? Christian mythology. And there is my main problem: They’ve reduced fundamental Christian beliefs and concepts to a level that matches Greek and Roman mythology. You. Just. Can’t. Do. That.

This is pushing it right here for tasteful.

Why is that? Because they’re also doing it wrong insomuch as the subject matter needs to be handled with far more care than they’re allotting it. This is all speculation off of the demo, mind you, but I’d assume I have a fairly good grasp of where things are going. If EA would like to send me a copy to review, sure, I’d be all for being a bit more fair in my assessment. As of now I have to go off of the demo and everything I’ve heard about the game, such as the marketing campaign of “Looking like jackasses.” So far EA has tried to do a marketing campaign that hits as many of the seven deadly sins at it can, with it’s E3 promotion going hilariously bad when it went for Lust, telling gamers to go snap a picture with the most attractive Booth Babe to win glittering prizes. Later, they sent game journalists a $200 check and said that if they cash it they’re guilty of Greed but if they don’t cash it they’re guilty of Waste. Finally, a box was once more sent to game journalists that when opened Rickrolled them and wouldn’t stop until they smashed the box, demonstrating Wrath. These sins cannot and should not be used as marketing campaigns since the executives at EA are attempting to be oh-so clever with things that aren’t exactly black and white according to individuals that believe and study the Bible. Even worse, EA hired people to protest their own game as a means of inciting some sort of promotion or news coverage. This means they effectively protested their own game in such a way that they made Christian protesters look bad, so now everyone will think you’re ridiculous if you ACTUALLY protest the game. That’s just shameful EA.

But why am I bothered by the game itself? Because of one simple function the game allows Dante to do: either condemn or absolve souls. Let me stop for a moment of poetic silence and let you think about the meanings behind this before I continue. So once more, Dante, the main character of the game, is able to choose between condemning souls by gutting them, or absolving their sins by forcing a glowing Crucifix into their face.

Contemplate this now.

I'm serious.

If you haven’t seen a problem, and I’m seriously not trying to be silly, you need to think REALLY hard about what’s happening here. Yes, it falls under MY deadly sin of a video game giving me a stupid morality choice based on two extremely polar opposites. Beyond that the real question is two-fold: Who is Dante to be given this power over people’s souls and why does he have this power? The Crucifix Dante uses is one that Beatrice gave him to symbolize their eternal love. He then blesses it himself and it gains what appears to be magical powers, such as being able to shoot white Crucifixes as a ranged attack and, as aforementioned, to absolve souls.

The Crucifix seems to be everywhere in the demo by the way. Dante begins the game by stitching a red cross to his chest, to his CHEST, so that he remembers all the sins he’s done in his past. He has the Crucifix weapon as well which glows white whenever it’s used. Late in the demo a large wooden cross falls across your path and naturally, said cross is on fire. Fire demons spawn from the burning cross and once killed, parts of the cross break away until you can continue past. You have got to be EXTREMELY careful when using cross-imagery in things you do, but all I’m seeing is the cross thrown around haphazardly because it can be and in some cases as shock value once more.

And Then God Takes a Nap

So I still have to ask: What makes Dante so special? It’s one thing to say that someone is “The Chosen One” and that’s why he’s able to do all the things he does. Sure, fine, I’m all for “The Chosen One.” I have nothing wrong with that. No, it’s what Dante as this particular Chosen One can do that has some problems: absolve sins. I can’t phrase that any more accurately since the choice pops up saying “Punish” or “Absolve” when you have enemies at the end of your scythe. I don’t want to get down and dirty about this, but if my memory serves me correct, and I’m pretty sure it does, the only guy according to Christianity, the source material the game is so heinously taking from, that is able to truly absolve souls is Jesus. Please, someone correct me if I’m way off here.

Remember this guy? You can't use Christianity as a background without also putting Jesus above everything else. It's just how it works, otherwise the fundamentals of the material breaks down.

So if Dante can absolve souls, mostly just used as a finishing attack, what makes it favored over condemning souls? One way gives you experience points used for upgrading attacks while the other fills up a Redemption meter used for larger, more devastating attacks. So while you can choose to save certain souls, what choice does it come down to? Is your Redemption meter depleted? Well, looks like it’s time to save souls and all that. Is it already full? Awesome, time for more experience points. They’ve reduced something that’s already charged with controversy into little more than a means to fill your attack meter, otherwise known as: made it completely inconsequential whether this guy is saving souls because he wants to or because he needs to. Beyond being insensitive on a stupid level, that’s just bad character motivation.

Let’s say God has given Dante the power to choose the fate of any and every soul he encounters. What would that mean for the game? Dante is encouraged to destroy everything that gets between him and Beatrice and only really stops to save souls when he needs to charge his ultimate attacks. Why would a just God allow this to happen? We’re playing with SOULS here. The game is somehow going out of its way to point out to you that souls are entirely meaningless beyond your own selfish gratification, both to you and to whatever God allowed Dante to be in the position of power he’s currently in.

So this is how EA sees the Christian mythology? Yes, Dante wrote about Hell in a very extreme way, and he placed real people wherever he saw fit, but it was him doing it, not the reader. In the video game we get to make these moral choices as the actual gamer and suddenly that starts to feel a little weird to me. I’d be totally okay with the game if it just had some guy running through Hell wasting everything in his path as long as he wasn’t also granted powers over any and all souls he meets.

Wrapping Things Up

You know what? Given the facts of everything, given the obvious resemblance to God of War and the religiously charged imagery and the shock value, I’d still probably play the game if it wasn’t called “Dante’s Inferno.” Why? Because currently it gets to hide behind the title. Everyone that gets in a stink about the game can’t focus blame on EA or Visceral Games because it can all get deflected to the original Dante’s Inferno since, “Dude, that poem was eff’d up!” I’d have far more respect for the game if it were called “Land of Dis” or “The Nine Circles” or some other “epic” title like that because then at least the developers would have to stand tall and say, “Yes, we made these decisions because we felt they were important to the game.” But instead we get the epic Italian poem turned hack and slash shock-fest and I, for one, couldn’t be more frustrated.

To sum everything up, I’m worried that EA’s Dante’s Inferno is offensive without needing to be since it clearly uses Christian mythology to replace Greek and Roman mythology in a game, allowing it to rip off God of War without being sued. In the process, they’ve granted the title character the power to judge the fate of souls but not made said character Jesus, the only one in actual Christian mythology capable of doing such a task and thus making it potentially offensive. In the end we either have a means to get people to read the original poem The Divine Comedy or we have a lot of people that actually read The Divine Comedy feeling completely cheated since something they love is being reduced to the lowest-common denominator. Does that about sum things up? I think so.

And now we come to the end of this beast of an article and the final important detail: What do YOU think? Does all of this sound like something that’s gone too far? Have you played the demo and feel that I’m way off on my conclusions? Do I just seem combative for no reason? Or am I right on one or more of my points? I both want and need to know what you think and the only way short of writing me a letter is posting a comment here. Let’s really get some discussion going this time. This is one of those debates that could really mean something.

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

7 Comments

  1. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the crusades and all this source material is based on catholicism. In that particular case, the church is given the power of absolution. EA’s Dante is clearly catholic. Now whether you choose the dark or the light is soul-ly up to the player. Huh? Huh!? Ahhhh, bad joke. But seriously, the game is highly blasphemous.

  2. This game is pretty good, I must say…but perhaps it does have some blasphemous elements. But, come on, there is lots of sacrilege in Western culture, so much it’s become socially accepted and ingrained into the fabric of American society…I mean, come on, do you know what half of all Americans find funny to watch on TV?

  3. You’ve got a good point. I admit, I got a bug up my rump and ended up writing whatever was on my mind, regardless of subjectivity. On further review, you’ve got a good point.

  4. Ok, so, you feel insulted because of the title right, I understand the Divine Comedy has no comparison, but its a video game, what did you expect, a videogame about morality, where you chose to help an old lady cross the street or return a forgotten wallet back to the owner.

    By the way, The Divine comedy is not the Bible, Dante was not a prophet. its just something he came up with, not by Divine inspiration.

    EA is right Dante decided what characters would be in hell and for what reason in the book. Now the absolving matter mmm…, I dont know what religion you practice but in Catholicism, if you go and confess, the priest tells you to go a do a task, soch as going to church, praying certain prayers, etc. and by doing that he is absolving you of those sins you confessed. Not only Jesus can do that, again… according to Catholicism,

    And again isnt the book an personal interpretation of hell. There is no material to make a videogame out of the book alone.

    I think you just let yourself go because how you feel about the book and the comparison with the game. Your article is very good though but it could have been a little bit more subjective.. but then again who is…

  5. You haven’t read the original book, have you? You had me up until the end there, and then you ruined your argument with a phrase like that. That’s a shame.

  6. I played the demo and thought it looked awesome. Im trying to rent it right now but only because i have a policy on not buying games unless they have multiplayer, but i honestly dont care if it has religion or not, just because you play a game that has christianity as a main point in the game doesnt mean you should go bath in holy water and whip yourself because of your sins. Jesus doesnt mind, its all in good fun, its not like dante is eating babies in there. Oh and on another note, nobody cares if it bastardizes the origional book, because is was proably not nearly as cool as the game.

  7. Very deep thoughts indeed. This game appears to blur the line between right & wrong so badly that every human action, no matter how heinous, should be viewed as fun or not fun. Sounds pretty sociopathic to me, trivializing the most deeply held tenats of behavior. Good article.

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