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Going to hell...

Are plans to create a game based on Dante's Inferno likely to burn up or be a roaring success...

In an announcement that has shocked lovers of both videogames and medieval poetry, Electronic Arts have announced that they are in production on a ‘third-person action adventure adaptation’ of The Divine Comedy.

The studio working on the project, Redwood Shores, was the team responsible for the recent horror project, Dead Space, which managed to combine a punning title (it’s about zombies in space) with visceral gore to commercially successful effect.

Personally, I don’t have any intrinsic problem with developers starting to pillage ancient literature for inspiration, although it’s hard to feel too optimistic about the outcome of this following EA’s slaying of The Godfather a few years ago.

A quick look at the teaser trailer on the official site should confirm your expectations. On the form of Dead Space, the best we’re likely to see is a skillfully atmospheric action game sometime in the next 18 months or so.

Of more interest than the game is perhaps the footnote to the release, where Dante’s Inferno is listed as one of the registered trademarks associated with the project. This clarifies things greatly. Dante’s Inferno ™ is a brand extension.

This is becoming a habit for them. I can’t understand why EA would invite such inevitable comparison with the source material by explicitly attempting direct adaptation again - as they did with the Godfather project (Coppola memorably describing it as a ‘misuse of film’).

Borrowing the atmospheres and gravitas of ancient stories and symbols has worked remarkably well for pop culture. Dan Brown in fiction and George Lucas in film both understand the potency of a quick steal from ancient history. Even videogames have regularly used elements of the historic past to colour their worlds in work such as God of War and Uncharted.

So why does EA appear insist on licensed adaptation when it can only really hurt them. For lovers of Mario Puzo, Ford Coppola or Dante Alighierhi, all these projects can really do is expose just how not their source materials the game ‘adaptations’ are. How unlike literature or poetry the videogame is - and that’s the real tragedy. For the audience that really might need convincing, the many virtues that videogames do possess are obfuscated by the weight of their licenses.

EA has made some bold, innovative releases in the last few years, proving that they’re not only capable of tired, conservative dross. We can only hope that Inferno isn’t a step back, although one supposes they could always fix any problems in a sequel.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.