Raising Hell? EA's Dante's Inferno Stokes Fire

Photo: New video game takes player through the nine levels of hell

Video game powerhouse Electronic Arts will make its Super Bowl debut this Sunday with an ad teasing the release of its upcoming game, "Dante's Inferno," but though the title hasn't even hit the shelves, it's already stoked a few flames.

Inspired by the epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in the 14th century, the action-adventure game takes players on a blood-soaked journey through Hell to recover a murdered lover.

"Dante Alighieri in his original text basically created a road map for Hell," said Phil Marineau, the game's senior product manager. "That's what the game delivers, the nine circles of Hell re-imagined for this medium."

Though CBS initially axed the original 30-second ad, which ended with the tag line "Go to Hell," a spokesperson for the network confirmed that it will air a version that ends with "Hell Awaits."

The switch prompted a spate of headlines, some of which erroneously reported that the ad had been rejected altogether, but it wasn't the first time that the game found itself feeling the spotlight's heat.

To mirror the game's nine levels of Hell, which represent the various sins of damned souls, Electronic Arts launched what Marineau called a "nine months of hell" marketing campaign, which kicked off last May.

Each month, the company featured a sin, from lust and gluttony to fraud and treachery, with a specific activity.

To represent heresy, the company created a spoof video game "Mass: We Pray," which allowed the faithful to participate in church rituals without ever leaving their living rooms.

'Sin to Win' Campaign Sparks Backlash, Prompts Apology

During "anger month," EA sent video game bloggers a box that, once opened, belted out one-hit-wonder Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," in a twist on the viral Internet phenomenon "Rick-rolling."

Inside the box, bloggers found a pair of goggles and a hammer, encouraging them to release their pent up anger by beating up the box (which was also the only way to turn off the music).

But even Marineau acknowledged that some stunts "didn't go over so well."

To recognize lust, the company created a contest in which attendees of the comic book and arts convention Comic-Con were asked to photograph themselves with so-called "booth babes."

Many attendees did not respond favorably to the challenge to "commit an act of lust" with the "booth babes." The contest triggered a backlash in the blogosphere, a flurry of #EAFail hashags on Twitter, and ultimately an apology from the company.

After the contest in July, EA issued a statement about its "Sin to Win" campaign, explaining its "nine months of hell" campaign and its intentions.

"We apologize for any confusion and offense that resulted from our choice of wording, and want to assure you that we take your concerns and sentiments seriously," the company said.

Fake Protests Draw Criticism

To promote the game, the company also staged a fake protest in June, hiring groups of people to stand outside a video game conference with picket signs.

With messages like "Hell is not a Video Game" and "Trade in Your PlayStation for PrayStation," the "protestors" claimed to object to the game's glorification of Hell.

After some news outlets and blogs, including The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, reported the events as though they were real, EA acknowledged the trick.

But though the protest was conceived in jest, it ultimately led to some real jibes from faith-based bloggers.

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