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Shakespeare in Video Games

Jaya Tria              III AB Economics            LIT 193.29-A                  Ateneo de Manila University

Astonishing as it may seem to those who haven’t taken Ma’am Ick’s fantastic Transmedial Shakespeare class, even the video game industry (probably as far from classic literature as you can get) finds ways to sprinkle some of The Bard here and there. First off, there are video game “adaptations”, as in:

the PC game Romeo: Wherefore Art Thou? where you play as the dashing titular Mario-wannabe who goes on a side-scrolling adventure complete with jumping across cliffs just to get to Princess Pea–I mean Juliet. This game was actually sponsored by the tourism authority of Shakespeare County in England. Shakespeare’s so awesome he has his own county.

There’s also Hamlet The Video Game in which you play not as Hamlet, sorry, but as a scientist who has a little too much fun with a time travelling machine and somehow ends up in the world of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Of course, since Hamlet’s the hero of that story, you have to help him save his damsel-in-distress aka girlfriend Ophelia from the clutches of the evil Claudius.

These two are what you would expect when you hear “Shakespeare video game adaptation”. There’s one, however, I’m absolutely sure hasn’t even crossed anyone’s mind that I’m willing to bet all the money I’ve saved for my Boracay escapade this summer on it. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me the honor of introducing you to…

Arden: The World of William Shakespeare. What’s that, you ask? Y’see, it’s an MMOG where players choose an avatar, explore the town of Illminster, interact with the characters from Shakespeare’s plays, play card games with other players, and answer trivia questions on Shakespeare to level-up. Yes, it’s Ragnarok Online, Shakespeare-style. What’s even more unusual is that it was developed not by Squeenix or Blizzard, but by social scientists at Indiana University who wanted to use it as a venue for experiments on economic behavior.

Unfortunately, in a depressing show of all that is wrong in this world, they pulled the plug on Arden because apparently, it was so boring no one would want to play it. 😦

Not to fret though because the video game industry hasn’t seen the last of William Shakespeare. While there’s yet to be another MMOG as of this writing, other video games shoehorn some good old Shakespeare references, both of his works and the man himself, as illustrated by:

Veronaville in The Sims 2, home to the Capulets, Montagues and the Summerdreams..

The Simpson’s Game for the PS3 where you have to fight William Shakespeare along with Benjamin Franklin, Buddha and God in the final level..

the original Medal of Honor for the PSX in which entering the cheat code PAYBACK allows you to play as Shakespeare in the multiplayer mode…

Dr. Pickman from Manhunt 2 who at one point utters “What Seest thou else in the dark backward abysm of time”, one of Prospero’s lines from The Tempest..

the charming and intelligent Mei Ling quoting Richard II in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, “The tongues of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony. Where words are spent, they are seldom spent in vain.”

the Council of Loathing from the MMRPG parody Kingdom of Loathing telling you that they “don’t suppose you’d bugger off this mortal coil” in reference to Hamlet’s “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.”…

the massively popular MMORPG World of Warcraft that is full of pop culture references. Some of the numerous throwbacks to Shakespeare in the game include the zombie family of bankers in the Undercity (Ophelia, William, Mortimer and Randolph Montague), monsters sometimes dropping “a pound of flesh”, and quirky food vendor Dirk Quikleave (pictured above) exclaiming to “Get thee to a cheesery!” when you do one of his food-gathering quests…

and the old-school SNES/NES game Mario’s Time Machine. In this, the villain Bowser (surprise, surprise) somehow gets his hands on a time machine and uses it to steal precious artifacts from the past. As you are Mario, koopa troopa-killing hero extraordinaire since 1983, you have to put an end to Bowser’s wave of theft by returning the stolen goods. To do this, you have to use the time machine to go back in the particular artifact’s time and talk to everything and everyone. After you’ve done all there is to do in the era, you have to answer a pop quiz which if you pass, magically returns the artifact to its rightful owners. One of the “eras” is Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1601 where you learn about the glory that is Shakespeare.

The long-running RPG franchise Final Fantasy, being the childhood-defining industry front-runner that it is, is in on the Shakespeare madness as well.

For instance, some of FF characters are named after characters from Shakespeare’s plays. There’s rat-prince Puck from FF9 (Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), pictured above; King Edgar (the blondie up there) and Duncan  from FF6 (King Lear and Macbeth, respectively); Shake, one of the bosses you fight in the Wutai sidequest in FF7 (Shakespeare); and honorable Beatrix, Tantalus boys Cinna & Marcus, King Leo & his daughter Cordelia from FF9 (Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar, King Lear).

There’s also a part in the franchise’s last hurrah for the PSX, FF9, where you have to act in a play by a certain Lord Avon (nudgenudge) that loosely follows Romeo and Juliet’s plot. Oh, and if you guys can’t read the text properly in the screenshot above, the play’s called I Want to be Your Canary. Don’t ask.

A more recent game, FFX-2 for the PS2, makes players switch between different “dresspheres” (again, don’t ask) in order to learn and use the characters’ abilities. When changing into the black mage dressphere, perky Rikku and Yuna (who seems to have gone insane after FFX) sometimes quip “Double, double, toil and trouble” or “Fire burn and cauldron bubble”. Anyone who has gone through high school English should recognize these as coming from the Weird Sisters in Macbeth.

Also, the yet-to-be-released Final Fantasy Versus XIII’s trailer ends with the quote “There is nothing either good or bad, but only thinking makes it so.” That one’s from Hamlet.  I’m extremely low-tech, so you guys have to go to YouTube if you want to see it. And while you’re there, might as well check out

one of the ads for the PS3 which features footage from the console’s most popular games while a dramatic voice narrates this version of a famous speech in Henry V:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon this day

😀 *first posted Jan 21, edited Jan 24

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  1. Francisco Falgui
    February 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Have you tried playing any of these games? You should also look into defense of the ancients. It’s not a Shakespeare based game, but some of the names and the lines of characters are also taken from Shakespeare’s work.

    • humunahumuna
      February 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      Oh yeah, you’re right! How could I have missed that. 😐 Thanks though. 🙂

      Now that you mention it, HoN has Ophelia too, who I assume comes from Hamlet’s Ophelia. Anyway, um, honestly, the only games I’ve really played from the list are the Final Fantasies, Metal Gear, and WoW. The rest I’ve managed to come across through the magic of research. 🙂

  2. sangmeelee
    February 24, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I really find this interesting especially because I love playing games. I did not even notice some of these references! Imagine, guys who don’t think of Shakespeare as fun or interesting are exposed to numerous references as they are playing these games. I found an excerpt of an interview with Inferno (based on Dante’s Inferno) game executive producer, Jonathan Knight, where he was asked how Shakespeare would have been if he was a game designer. Here is the link: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/02/08/dantes-inferno-do-classic-poems-make-great-videogames/ 🙂

    • sangmeelee
      February 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

      OMG. I’m so sorry for the numerous comments but I found an online flash game with Shakespeare in it: http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/game/

      • humunahumuna
        February 25, 2011 at 12:34 am

        Aha, I see I have a new thing to pass time by with. Thanks! And see, I knew we haven’t seen the last of Shakespeare video game adaptations. The world loves him too much. 😛

  3. sangmeelee
    February 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Here is the actual question and answer (just in case the link won’t work):

    You mentioned Shakespeare as one of your interests during your MFA. What do you think he would have been like as a game designer?

    Shakespeare would have been on the forefront. He was an innovator and not just a great story-teller. Arguably, he’s more of a medium innovator. He borrowed heavily. “Hamlet” is a complete rip-off of a story on the prince of Denmark. Some people think he lifted it from a work that actually came between the two stories.

    He was such a master at harnessing the new. For him, the new medium was open air theater on the south side of the Thames. He solidified a big portion of the English language with his plays much like Dante did with Italian vernacular.

    • humunahumuna
      February 25, 2011 at 12:38 am

      Don’t you love how he talks like he really knows how Shakespeare was like? It’s funny, considering how much of his personal life’s a mystery and even the most noted Shakespearean scholars aren’t totally sure of the facts we do know.

      We really have come to own and form our version (true or not) Shakespeare.

  4. geloty32
    March 1, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I found these references quite entertaining because I’m a huge fan of video games to the point that I even plan on doing a multimedia essay centered on World of Warcraft and Shakespeare :). The game ‘Onimusha’ also has a lot of Shakespearean references and I suggest that you look into it because numerous villains in the said saga are named after characters of Shakespearean origin. Nice gallery btw 🙂

  5. May 9, 2016 at 9:13 am

    A Merchant of Venice video game would be so cool. There’d be different levels depending on the character you chose, so if you chose Shylock for a character then you wouldn’t have a chance, just like in the play.

  6. February 20, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Don’t forget the planet in StarFox 64 called “Macbeth”!

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