Thursday, February 11, 2010

Abandon All Hope

The last time I played a video game was over twenty-five years ago when I played Pac Man with my daughters at the 7-11 store. For some years now, I believed that any attraction to this activity had long since disappeared from my brain, limbic or otherwise.

Then, before Christmas this last year, I read a review of a video game that featured spies in Renaissance Italy. Apparently, together with plots, poisonings and ninja-like maneuvers came details of Italian architecture and geography. I hinted that this might make a great reintroduction to the thrills of the video chase for me but then learned that not only would I need to acquire the game itself, but that this then required a console and TV setup that made the whole thing too complicated. No Renaissance assassins for me. (A nephew, however, benefited from my intrafamilial hinting and he received the game for Christmas.)

Now, just as I had become reconciled to never returning to the video game arena, I see a review of a video game in the New York Times featuring an unlikely action hero: Dante (the poet) in a new video game edition of "Inferno!"

The game's creators said that research showed that most people had heard of Dante and the "Inferno" but didn't know what it was about. This game is designed to fill in that gap. Some changes had to be made. As the executive producer of the game explained, "It's Dante, who's kind of passive, and he's a poet and he's philosophical. We had to take the bold step of saying, 'How do we make this guy an action hero?' "

In the video game, Dante is not the passive writer we have known but perhaps not respected all these centuries but rather a brawny knight returning from the Crusades to discover that his beloved Beatrice has been murdered. Lucifer has captured her soul and Dante must pursue them through layers of hell to rescue his beloved. Now I am suddenly wondering what it would take to acquire the needed console and screen to play this game. I can kill demons and engage classical literature all at the same time!

The New York Times review goes on to quote some reactions from the world of academia. Some scholars question the changes in plot and character that such an adaptation requires. Some do not think this will attract young people to further reading of the classics as a side benefit. I am too old to worry about whether this game will interfere with my literary development. Any time spent with Dante, whether the passive, philosophical poet or the refurbished brawny, armor-clad action hero, is bound to be a hoot. February needs some hoots.

This all got me to thinking. How about other video game versions of classics. As long as we are permitted to make adaptations to story and author how about providing Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" with some ninja-like powers, or enabling her author to roam eighteenth century England solving relationship tangles? "Moby Dick" would be simple. (I want to be the first to register as a character by typing in "Call me Ishmael.")

Dickens provides terrific range for gaming. Can you and Pip in fact realize your "Great Expectations" or will you lose your lives before triumphing? For serious gamers, I think William Faulkner could be adapted to let you explore Yoknapatawpha County in more detail than you ever thought possible.

Finally, the very best gamers among us might spend June 16, 1904 with James Joyce in Dublin (it would be necessary to buff him up some and provide him with weapons mightier than the pen) as you team up to make sure that Molly Bloom concludes with "yes I said yes I will yes" and not anything like, "maybe" or "whatever."

Now, how can I get that console?


  1. The most obvious classic for this treatment seems to be "The Odyssey." Here is the twist. As Odysseus, the gamer, you can either figure out how to get out of each scrape or read the book (included). Anyone who comes up with the mast-tying trick on his own wins automatically. For a more esoteric game, consider Tristram Shandy - The Game. Here the object is to try to figure out what the object of the game is. PLayer has all the super powers imaginable, but no idea what he is supposed to be doing.

  2. Having recently returned from the family sojourn to the Keys where I chose Absalom Absalom for some light-hearted beach reading, I'm going to second GBW on Falconer. Two actions only: ZOOM IN to get up close and personal (heck, you can smell them!) with physically and spiritually ruined individual characters, and PULL OUT so that you can see how all of these broken people are part of a much larger picture of broken cultures, societies, okay--of broken humanity. Maybe there could be one more action-whenever you have to read a sentence 3 times to really get it, Falconer gets cuffed.

  3. (From W. Faulkner via E Zuroski): How about the little missy who spells my name wrong gets cuffed up the side of the head?