Monday, June 21, 2010

The Gates of Hell

The Gates of Hell--or at least a video game reproduction of Rodin's work of art complete with The Thinker up top--appear before you, and you finally meet Virgil. He explains--as Virgil in the poem does, too--that Beatrice has sent him. to guide Dante through Hell. There's no intercession by an angel in this version, though.

I'm intrigued by the use of Rodin's art in the game, in part because of The Thinker--also known as The Poet. So, here we have an artist's reinterpretation of Dante in bronze looking down over another reinterpretation of Dante in pixels. Meta-art, perhaps? So what is Dante's identity? Dante the poet, Dante the character in his own poem, Dante the bronze, or Dante the pixellated? It seems to promote anachronistic thinking: Are we in the crusades, in Dante's (the poet's) times, after Rodin's, or after Electronic Arts' time? Yes to all--Hell is eternal.

I want to think of these characters as on a spectrum ranging from poet (man of words) to video game hero (man of action). And put the Thinker somewhere in between, because his thoughts are so intense that every muscle in his body tightens, his toes grip at something, even, and the shock of hair comes out the side, an idea like a plume of water starting from a fountain. Muscular, yet his pose crunches his body in on himself, he is still the poet, the man of words and thought, yet he has a dense, taut body. He's not the wispy blue (yet very buff) poet Virgil in the video game.

But there's not much time to contemplate the art, because you have monsters to fight, including one beast with a demon riding its back. You have to get the demon off the monster then get on the beast and use its beastly strength to open the doors to Hell. What bothers me about this is that, as a game player, I don't really feel like an action hero, even imaginatively or vicariously through the video game figure's deeds. So far I've done battle mostly by banging the hell (yes, hell) out of buttons and my weapon swings around a lot or I shoot glowing crosses, and eventually the stuff dies. But after inflicting some damage on this beast, I get told to hit the "RT" button. Then the blue one. Yes, there are icons on the screen appearing when I need to time these button presses. Then another, then another, and I use my scythe to hook the beast, climb up its shoulder, leap into the air, and split its rider in half.

After learning to do these steps, I felt like Pavlov's dog--bell rings, it salivates; image of button flashes on screen, I press. Not especially action hero-y, eh? But I then get to control the beast, stomp on some little demons or zombies or whatever they are, and then push my way--finally into Hell.

Like Rodin's Gates, there's no "Abandon hope" phrase here. Maybe that's because when you're an action hero, you always have hope. Or maybe when there's a screen image telling you what button to press when to overcome even a demon on a beast the size of a garbage truck. Abandon hope? Screw hope--you've got a death-scythe that looks like a blade attached to a brontosaurus's spine--you don't need hope.

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