Hades, Hades, Hades…what a treat of a game. My last column talked a little about Transistor, a game by the studio Supergiant Games, that had fantastic art and a great soundtrack. Their latest release, which was in early access for quite some time, is called Hades. And it is fantastic; the perfect game to drop, pick up, forget about, and come back to on a whim for five minutes and then abandon again for months.
Some overwrought critic with an Ivy League degree and Dad’s money called it a “bad and boring take on hell”. And it’s like, bro, not everything has to be grim dark, Zack-Snyder-cut, make-you-hate-yourself flagellation, okay? Sometimes, just for the Vine (RIP), video games are meant to be fun.
/insert scream of startled 70s guy here/
But this game is more than a simple hack and slash moving piece of art with a stellar soundtrack. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the collective trauma felt worldwide throughout all of 2020 and even through 2021. We are trapped in a boring dystopia where the illusion of escape comes aided by Lotto tickets and Tiktok influencers.
The game utilizes the narrative backdrop of Greek mythology, but doesn’t feel beholden to previous interpretations of the characters. You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades who is portrayed as this ornery bureaucrat which, yeah, that totally tracks, doesn’t it? Zeus is up in Olympus partying and committing incest while Hades has to keep track of dead people.
There’s plenty of people in the Underworld for Zagreus to befriend: Nyx, Hypnos, Achilles, Sisyphus, and even the disembodied head of Medusa. But he needs more than the sprawling halls of this cloistered paradigm. Plus, he just comes back if his health reaches 0, so why not risk death on the off chance that he’ll escape THIS time? (but probably, definitely not….Maegara is tres, tres difficile y’all).
Like passing comments in a Discord chat, Zagreus happens upon different characters here and there on his journeys. The encounters are short like a tweet, but sweet like a sip of Dr. Pepper when you’re trying to give up sodas. It’s never wise to linger too long in one place, but everywhere feels the same because it is. It’s the most boring dystopia, inescapable in its mediocrity and consistent with its absurdity. David Lynch did NOT direct 2020.
But as he appears from the pools of Tartarus, shaking blood from his hair and telling himself “Maybe next time”, Zagreus is all of us. He is empty; he is home. He is crestfallen and he is resolute. There is no end to the sameness and there is no void in the familiar.
You put down the controller. Meg’s beaten you for the third time tonight, so maybe it’s time for a break. Come back in a week and slowly bop your head to the guitar riffs as you mash buttons and swear under your breath.
Even if you never get out, at least it won’t be boring.
Juliet Childers graduated from University of Houston and writes for a number of outlets including TheGamer and Edgy.app. After a long hiatus from poetry, she is breaking back into the industry with renewed fervor and unflinching identity. She loves video games, South Korean dog Instagrams, and the occasional Dr. Pepper.