Dante’s Inferno and Torture Imagery


On February 8th, 2010,The New York Times online page published a review of Dante’s Inferno for X Box 360 by some journalist by the name of Seth Schesel. In this review he writes about how close the “feel” of Dante’s Inferno is to that of God of War, how the game Inferno has very little owing to the poem Inferno beyond the name and theme, and some other heavily opinionated statements which he words as fact. There is one line, however, that caught my attention. Before he remarks about a giant Cleopatra spouting unbaptized babies from her nipples, Schesel states confidently that “images of Virgil spout lines from the poem at you once in a while, and Dante’s ranged weapon appears as crosses of light, but there is no heavy religious imagery and never any real sense of horror or torment.”

Before going into why this statement is wrong and what this statement might mean in terms of gamer culture as far as the torture part is concerned, it might be prudent to point out that if an accurate visual representation of the medieval Hell, innumerable depictions of Lucifer and his fallen angels, several references to the crusades, representations of the seven deadly sins, and some commentary on the corrupt nature of Catholic priests and bishops are not heavy religious imagery, then I don’t know what qualifies. Now, what does the above statement reveals in terms of gamer nature? This statement brings to light one of two possible situations. The first possibility is that Schesel, as well as likely some other gamers, do not fully comprehend the scope of the narrative in the game. Each of what many gamers have described as “demons and whatever” are actually souls of people who did not “enter heaven”. Each “lust demon” Dante “kills” in the game is actually a former prostitute now condemned to lust and rage forever in the fiery pits of the Lust ring of hell. Each shivering “corpse” twitching as a spear thrusts out of its abdomen is not a corpse, it’s a soul writhing in eternal pain. Each glutton endlessly trying to eat other gluttons (and Dante) to satisfy their insatiable hunger is someone who was greedy in life and is now being punished for it. Once gamers stop looking at these digital representations of souls as “some monster fodder” and start looking at them from the perspective demanded by the narrative of the game he or she should begin to see that this game indeed has grotesque torture scenes. There is, however, another possibility. It may be possible that the author of the article in question actually DOES see the digital representations of souls as souls, is looking at the game from the perspective the narrative demands, and is very much taken by the imagery of the game, but has actually been desensitized to images of blood and gore. Being used to said images might be the reason why this author (and many gamers) say that Dante’s Inferno lacks several “real” torture scenes.

However, can anything be more torturous than having to swim forever in a sea of mud, being boiled alive in melting gold, or being trapped away for eternity in a dark room constantly reliving the moment when your family was murdered in front of your eyes, except you were not present when they were murdered?

Oh well, at least it’s not waterboarding.

Link to the NYT Article:


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on February 14, 2010, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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