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 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