Literary video games?

I'm not a gamer, so when I first heard about the new trend of turning works of literature into video games, I said, "so what?" Books are turned into movies all the time, usually in a disappointing way, so the idea of a video game based on a literary classic didn't pique my interest.

But then, while visiting with my teenage cousin, I played "Dante's Inferno," which is named after the first canticle of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy."

Developed by Visceral Games, it was released by Electronic Arts for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in February. Before we started playing, my cousin warned me that the game wasn't meant for dorky poet types, and I should expect a lot of battle, beheading and big bosoms.

Sure enough, this is not the 14th-century, classic allegorical tale of courtly love and a soul's journey. Nor is Dante the nervous hero trembling with love and fainting from fear. He is a well-muscled knight chasing Lucifer into hell as he tries to save the soul of his beloved Beatrice. The game advances as Dante vanquishes demons and moves through each circle of hell.

EA's "Inferno" is only loosely inspired by its source material, but to satisfy bookworms the game does offer a chronology of Dante's life as well as short excerpts of the actual poem.

Initially, I frowned a lot and mumbled grumpy, English-major things such as, "This is not the 'Divine Comedy,'" and "that never happened," but eventually I forgot all about the real "Divine Comedy" and just had a grand time making hot-looking Dante decapitate demons with a scythe. My cousin had a grand time, too. Surprisingly, he said the game made him curious about reading the actual poem. I warned him that the poem was not as action-packed as the game, but he just shrugged and said, "Yeah, of course not."

After "Inferno," I wanted to try out a few more literary-type games. Bigfish Games and I-Play offer downloadable computer games, often free for a trial run. Bigfish has a game version of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "Murders in the Rue Morgue." It's mostly an object-search game with hints doled out by the clever Inspector Dupin of the story. I'm not a game expert, but I would have liked something a little less static. Poe's story is spooky and suspenseful, but the Bigfish game is relatively slow and dull.

At, players can download I-Play's "Classic Adventures: The Great Gatsby." This one was the most surprising to me. "The Divine Comedy" is full of hell and monsters, and "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a murder mystery, so I sort of understand making them into games, but "The Great Gatsby?" Played from the perspective of the book's protagonist, Nick Caraway, the game combines scenes from the novel with object searches (find the martini shaker hidden in the picture) and other challenges and word puzzles. By solving each puzzle, you advance the story to the next scene and earn points you can use to buy decorations for a virtual library. There is even a Facebook tie-in for those who want to share the experience with friends.

My 7-year-old, who would play video games for hours at a time if left to his own devices, played Gatsby with me for about 10 minutes, compared it to a Barbie game he'd seen before, and went outside to play. My husband lasted only five minutes before declaring it "deadly boring as a game and incoherent as a story." Unless you're already a fan of both Barbie and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it seems I-Play's "Gatsby" may work better as a video-game deterrent than as a literature enticement.

Of course, none of these publishers claim their games are educational, but games that incorporate literary themes and characters could help make classic literature more familiar and less intimidating to kids. In that sense, maybe the book-to-game trend is a good one.

Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at

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