Apparently Electronic Arts, one of the world’s leading video game producers, is gearing up for the release of a new action adventure game that is based on the first cantiche of Dante’s Commedia – Inferno. The aficionados of medieval poetry are bound to get upset by the news – and indeed, at first thought it is difficult to imagine how could Dante’s allegorical masterpiece possibly be converted into a video game format without a major butchery. The trailer has a distinctive Lord-of-the-Ringish feel which will probably further deepen the suspicion that the end result will not be up to the notch. The Divine Comedy has became one of the central and sacred texts of the Western literary culture – something to be awed by, studied and treasured, looked but not touched. Commedia is kind of a perfect example, something that can’t be improved and every attempt to translate it to another medium, such as prose for example, will inevitably leave out something fundamentally important. And even if it wasn’t Dante – there is a fair amount of general scepticism in whether video games are intrinsically suitable for conveying anything but the most primitive of narratives. Also, there is certainly not much in terms of successful examples of great works of literature having been successfully converted into video games – or vice versa, for that matter.
This led me to approach the same issue from the other end – the so-called adventure games actually do have a genre of sorts. Of course, it depends on what exactly does one consider as “adventure games” – I think most would agree that Indiana Jones’ series rightfully belong there, while I would personally be hesitant qualifying Tomb Raider as such. Also, many MMORPG-s draw heavily from the original adventure game genre while doing away with the scripted storyline for the most part (in-game quests or missions being an important exception here). And then there are the likes of Myst or Diablo and Neverwinter Nights.
However, if I were to try and bring one analogy from the literature in order to summarise what adventure games are like, I would probably pick bildungsroman. Adventure games are usually in third person (although many also allow first person perspective, if not for anything else then for combat parts) and usually consist of more than just a string of puzzles – they are about character development. At their best, adventure games have actually came pretty close to literature in creating both the narrative and the ambience – Benoît Sokal’s Syberia is probably the best example of this, but there are several others. Best adventure games employ clear stylistic elements – Syberia draws from steampunk, Max Payne from film noir and hard-boiled detective genre, Silent Hill from horror, etc. And while I must agree that so far I haven’t came across a computer game with a story-line remotely as gripping as a good novel can be, there is a lot more to good literature than gripping plots – or even plots in general, as Mario de Andrade’s Macunaíma demonstrates. So maybe it is not the problem of video games after all. At the time when Lumière brothers screened their first short movies about workers leaving the factory or train arriving at the station it was no doubt difficult to imagine how could that medium ever tell a gripping emotional story or be a form of high art.
All that being said – The Divine Comedy is certainly a challenge on many different levels. In that regard I’d say that Don Quixote would have been much safer a bet. It remains to be seen whether the project will prove successful, and, even more interestingly, SHOULD it prove successful shall it have a sequel – Dante’s Commedia certainly has a potential for that. A video game based on Paradiso – now that would be really interesting, although I’d be ready to lay my money on the fact that it will be a complete flop in commercial terms.