Dante's 'Inferno' Makes A Hell Of A Video Game An epic journey through nine circles of fiery hell filled with monstrous beasts and condemned souls — Italian poet Dante Alighieri didn't know it at the time, but in the 14th century, he mapped out a pretty sweet video game. Some Dante scholars are a little miffed.
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Dante's 'Inferno' Makes A Hell Of A Video Game

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Dante's 'Inferno' Makes A Hell Of A Video Game

Dante's 'Inferno' Makes A Hell Of A Video Game

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The video game business is built on sequels and franchises: "Grand Theft Auto 4," "Rock Band 2" and endless iterations of "Super Mario Brothers" and "Madden Football." Today, gamers can fire up their PlayStations and Xboxes with a franchise that is 700 years old.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports on the video game "Dante's Inferno."

LAURA SYDELL: First, the cliff notes. "The Inferno" is a 14th-century Italian poem by Dante Alighieri. In it, Dante imagines himself taking a journey through the depths of hell.

Mr.�JONATHAN KNIGHT (Executive Producer, "Dante's Inferno"): He's fundamentally mapped hell with this poem.

SYDELL: Jonathan Knight of Electronic Arts is the executive producer of the video game.

Mr.�KNIGHT: He's created a visual topography, and there's a tremendous amount of structure and geography and weather and monsters.

SYDELL: The poem lays out nine circles of hell. Each circle has souls guilty of a particular sin: lust, gluttony, greed and so forth. The punishments are symbolic of the sins: Gluttons must lie in slush because of the garbage they made of their lives on earth.

Dante is guided through hell by the Roman poet Virgil. By the end of the poem, Dante has a deeper understanding of the Christian idea of sin. But to turn this poem into a video game, producer Knight says his main character had to be more active.

Mr. KNIGHT: Our re-imagined version of Dante is a warrior. He's a fallen crusader, and he's fighting his way through hell.

SYDELL: And doing it for love.

(Soundbite of video game, "Dante's Inferno")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GRAHAM McTAVISH (Voice Actor): (As Dante Alighieri) Beatrice.

Ms. VANESSA BRANCH (Voice Actor): (As Beatrice Portinari) I have to go with him, my love. I gave my word.

SYDELL: In the game, Dante goes to hell to free his great love, Beatrice. Along the way, he kicks butt, killing suffering souls.

(Soundbite of video game, "Dante's Inferno")

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: This is a far cry from the poem, which is filled with philosophical discussions and monologues about life and death. A few Dante scholars have bristled at the liberties the game takes with "The Inferno," but a lot of Dante scholars don't play games.

Jonathan Combs-Schilling does. He's a sixth-year graduate student at U.C., Berkeley, who spends hours hunched over Dante texts, mulling over its intricate meanings. When he relaxes, he enjoys killing monsters, playing his favorite game, "God of War." Finally, a game that gives him monsters and Dante.

Mr.�JONATHAN COMBS-SCHILLING (Graduate Student, University of California, Berkeley): I mean, he's a poet, and that is his - I'm actually going to find it hard to talk about the cultural worth of Dante while killing these heretics, but I will happily get back to that.

SYDELL: Combs-Schilling loves certain scenes, like when Dante crosses the river Styx into Hades on the back of the ferryman Charon.

Mr.�COMBS-SCHILLING: There are a couple moments where the landscape is close to being similar enough to something along the lines of how I had imagined Dante's description that it's a little bit exhilarating.

(Soundbite of video game, "Dante's Inferno")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As Charon) Through me, the way to everlasting pain.

SYDELL: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here is among the most famous lines of the poem and among the few that actually make it into the game. Combs-Schilling says a lot gets lost when you're going from epic poem to video game.

Mr.�COMBS-SCHILLING: In a certain way, we're not even talking about Dante's "Inferno." It's kind of a mash-up of certain aspects of it.

SYDELL: It's part of a long tradition, Combs-Schilling points out. Dante's classic poem inspired great works such as the illustrations of Gustave Dore and Franz Liszt's symphony.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: Combs-Schilling thinks making a video game of the poem is like composing music inspired by it.

Mr.�COMBS-SCHILLING: Because fundamentally, it's not a narrative in the way that a movie or a text, a work of literature is.

SYDELL: Combs-Schilling does have some reservations about the message of the game. Dante justifies a lot of killing to save Beatrice and to eventually redeem himself.

Mr. COMBS-SCHILLING: The way the game is structured, you feel okay doing the abhorrent things you do.

SYDELL: Despite the liberties taken by the game, Combs-Schilling has no fear that Dante's 700-year-old poem will last and probably inspire many more interpretations. There's also a special print edition of the poem being published with pictures from the game that producers say might draw fans to the original.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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