It’s a question for the teachers of the ages: how do we captivate, enthrall, and intrigue our students with books written centuries ago? Do we sneak in Shakespeare through graphic novels (http://www.amazon.com/Hamlet-Fear-Shakespeare-Graphic-Novels/dp/1411498739)? Do we tell the Iliad – or a version of it – via Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom? Or how about this new idea, do we introduce Dante’s nine circles of Hell as video game levels to beat?
Electronic Arts (EA), the video game maker of Madden NFL among others, has recently released Dante’s Inferno, based on Dante Alighieri’s first book of The Divine Comedy. To quote the game’s website, players can “battle through the 9 circles of Hell facing fierce and hideous monsters, [their] own sins, and a dark past of unforgivable war crimes.” What writer of the early 1300s could have seen this coming?
While I support the idea of bringing great literature to new fan-bases, I cannot help but fear poor Dante rolling in his grave. When his allegory of Christian afterlife shaped by the viewpoint of the medieval world, largely considered one of the greatest works of world literature, is reduced to the adventure plot for some fourteen year old maniacally pressing buttons and splattering digital blood, I’m saddened. If that fourteen year old is intrigued enough to pick up the book, I’d argue otherwise, but I’m not convinced this is the goal of EA.
Exciting stories should be shared. I don’t blame EA for that. I would have no issue with video game versions of Joyce’s Ulysses (don’t get lost in this sentence!) or Kafka’s Metamorphosis (survive as a bug!) as long as they don’t become synonymous with simply thrillers of another age. There’s so much substance that would be lost if they were thought of in this way; but I suppose being thought of at all is a start.