“Go to Hell!”

That’s the shocking tagline for a new video game scheduled to hit the shelves in February 2010. Patterned after the 700 year old Italian poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Dante’s Inferno is a horrifying video game experience that takes players into the fiery pits of the afterlife.

By assuming the role of the lead character, Dante, players of the Inferno will plunge themselves into the darkness of hell battling demons, grotesque monsters, and even Lucifer along the way. As a tribute to the original poem, players even explore the nine rings (or levels) of hell each of which is dedicated to a specific sin (e.g. lust, heresy, gluttony, anger, etc.)

By battling the forces of darkness, players are on a quest to rescue Dante’s sweetheart, Beatrice, from the eternal clutches of Satan. Rated “M” for Mature, Dante’s Inferno will surely provide interested XBOX and Playstation players with plenty of graphic gore and video violence.

This long anticipated video game has already…

…made headlines in its offline promotion this year.

“Mock” Christian Protesters Outside EA Headquarters

In April, the makers of the game (EA) staged a “mock protest” outside their own office building that captured national media attention.

Supposed “Christian” protestors picketed EA’s office handing out pamphlets, carrying signs, and even promoting a faux website in opposition to the game. Later reports confirmed the initial suspicions that EA had hired the protestors themselves as a means of generating a media “buzz” about the game’s release.

For the sake of online promotion, the creators have since developed a Facebook application by which users can send their friends “to Hell; torment and punish them” as a creative way to spread word about the game.

It’s shocking enough that gruesome and violent video games are in such high demand today. But what is even more disconcerting about the release of Dante’s Inferno is the pervasive attitude behind such a game that hell is simply fantasy. Dante’s original work, written in the early 1300’s, contributed to this idea then and this modern, digital remake of his poem will, no doubt, add to it today.

It’s true that video games, like fiction books, are intended to provide an alternate universe for escape and creative fantasy.

Even Pac-Man, one of the most popular video games of all time, was an imaginative two-dimensional world. Reading about a fantasy world or even playing an imaginative video game is not inherently sinful. The specific tension here is when something which is both real and eternally important (i.e. hell) is re-imagined and re-interpreted in such way that it is portrayed as being pure fantasy. Video games are no longer just about eating “power pellets” and “ghost meat” (Pac-Man). Today, gamers can step into a world that is increasingly more and more authentic. The end result, in Dante’s case, is the unfortunate blurring of the virtual and theological. This, as the game’s lead designer, Steve Desilets, confesses, is by design. He said, “It’s very important to theā€¦team, that we make hell feel like a very real place.” News flash, Mr. Desilets, hell IS a very real place! Hell is not a game.

Dante’s Inferno, the game, doesn’t stop there.

Not only is hell presented as fantasy, but being a video game, hell is portrayed as somewhat fun. While decapitating demons is not everyone’s idea of fun, there is a huge market for violent, virtual entertainment. Rather than viewing hell, the way the Bible does, as a place we should dread and fear, EA’s product views hell as an adventurous place that we should explore and discover. Or, as the game itself says, we should willingly and gladly “go to hell”.

Al Mohler has pointed out elsewhere that such video games are “dangerous stuff for the soul.”

Hell is not a fantasy. Hell is a very real place.

Hell is not a place for a quest of entertainment. Hell is a place of conscious torment.

Hell is not the place for the ultimate video game. Hell is the place of ultimate, punishment for the devil, his angels, and all those who die apart from Christ.

In days past we have seen how games, like Grand Theft Auto, have begun to shape people’s morality. Now, we enter a new, more frightening era, where games like Dante’s Inferno will begin to shape people’s theology. As Al Mohler has said, “This new release reminds us all that a game is often never just a game.”