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Dante the Peeping Tommaso

February 5, 2010

Dante the Peeping Tommaso
By Marissa Meli

Why the real-life Dante deserved a restraining order, and what that means for video games

Dante Alighieri wrote the greatest work of literature of all time. He was also a wimp. Not just any wimp: a creepy wimp. In Dante’s Inferno, the game loosely based on the first third of The Divine Comedy, Dante is a built cut of man-meat willing to do anything to retrieve his beloved Beatrice, who has been spirited away to Hell. In real life, Dante did love a woman named Beatrice, but he did it from a distance.

The player’s motivation as an incarnation of the main character is part of what makes video games great. Whether you’re willing to own up to it or not, sitting through a 100-hour JRPG isn’t done solely out of a desire to level up. We want to see our characters gain what they’re after. After all, we literally are them. Their dreams are our dreams.

But let's compare Dante to other 2010 gaming heroes; Kratos from God of War and War from Darksiders are both driven by their passions. After Ares tricked him into murdering his own wife and child, Kratos swore revenge on the gods and tore his way through what seemed like every last one of them. Presented with images of the family we loved and lost, we - as players - remained invested, determined to exact our own personal vendetta. War, antihero of Darksiders, resides in a realm between light and dark. His passion is maintaining the balance between the two: it’s why he exists. We - as human beings - can’t truly relate to an abstract concept like keeping the world from unraveling at the hands of two opposing forces. Of course, that is, unless your parents divorced when you were a child, in which case War might really resonate with you (here’s hoping for an expansion pack where he gets to celebrate two Christmases). On the whole, we don’t feel War’s passions coursing through our veins, and though Darksiders is full of kick-ass action that draws us in, most players won’t make that crucial bond with the protagonist that makes a game a truly unforgettable journey.

That’s where our Italian friend comes in. Dante is poised to make the most unforgettable journey in inhuman history: a descent through the nine layers of Hell.

From what the trailers tell us, Dante is on a quest to retrieve his beloved Beatrice, who is murdered and then kidnapped to Hell. History (and the actual poem) tells a different story. As Dante journeyed through a forest, he fainted and experienced a religious vision in which, depending on what you believe, he actually visited Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, in that order. The poet Virgil was his guide through Hell, but when it came time to visit Heaven, he could go no further as he was a pagan. By the time we’re about two-thirds of the way in, and way past The Inferno, Dante encounters Beatrice. At this point in history, Beatrice has been dead for many years. As Dante imagined it, she was one of a select few to make it into Heaven, which is why she was able to greet him. The perfect woman, she serves as God’s mystical chauffeur.

This would all be well and good - a perfect love letter - save for the fact that Dante only met her twice in real life. And by met, I don’t even mean a handshake. We’re talking a smile and a nod at best. As a nine-year old, he became deeply enamored with her and never let up, even after she married another man and died. Dante married another woman, who raised his children while he composed a book of love poetry, all dedicated to Beatrice. It should’ve been this woman who met him in Heaven, because she was clearly a saint to put up with such total crap. This total crap was referred to then as “courtly love” - a very spiritual, unnoticed, unrequited love that inspires a lifetime of one-way devotion. We now refer to it as “stalking,” and Dante was its king. Today, Beatrice would have issued a restraining order against the man, and her estate would have followed up when, 20 years after her death, he wrote about her guiding him through Heaven in The Divine Comedy.

In a way, there’s no better motivation for a gamer than pursuing a beautiful woman. But it needs to be done from a place of control. Had the game version drawn more literally from Dante’s life, it wouldn’t have been such an enjoyable piece of escapism. Why would anyone pay $60 to inhabit the scrawny body of a wuss prone to fainting who obsesses over a chick he saw twice, when real life for plenty of gamers means inhabiting the scrawny body of a wuss prone to fainting who obsesses over a chick he saw on Battlestar Galactica? Instead, we want to be badasses: muscular killers who have never so much as set foot in a library because they are too busy managing the beautiful women fawning all over them. No, thank you, actual Dante: we want to be imaginary Dante, the only guy capable of saving the girl. And you can bet your sweet bippy that should the rumors come true and EA actually makes a video-game adaptation of Macbeth, the only strings Lady MacBeth will be pulling are G’s.

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