Battling Bahamut Is an Ancient Tradition


The format might be new, but battling and taming monsters is an age old tradition.

At first glance, Pokémon might not seem to have a lot in common with Dante’s Inferno, and subsequent glances don’t do much to make the similarities any clearer. But in issue 272 of The Escapist, Bryan Lufkin makes the case they both tap into an age-old desire to tame the monsters of myth,and that knowing more about our ancient stories enriches the experience.

Depictions of beasts and evil monsters pre-date the modern era, and certainly pre-date videogames … The Japanese use a giant wooden statue to depict Buddhist deity Bishamonten as a scowling, 28 foot-tall warrior-god in Nara’s Todaiji temple, and the Trevi Fountain in Rome includes a façade of mermen wrestling hippocampi (horse and sea serpent hybrids) into submission.

Diane Reilly is an Associate Professor at Indiana University’s Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, teaching in the Department of History of Art. She told me that, based on artistic trends, it’s understandable that gamers would want to subdue these creatures.

“Certainly, most of us feel an instinctive need to cow that huge, foaming-mouthed, snake-like beast attacking from the 42-inch screen,” Reilly says. “Viking artists who carved writhing beasts all around the doors of their stave churches both feared the animals they represented, and respected their powers.”

With videogames drawing on so much of our mythology, Lufkin says that they can be quite the learning experience if you know what to look out for, and that having a better knowledge of the beasts of legend can enrich a game immeasurably. Read his article, “Playing With Monsters,” to find out more.

About the author