Yotam Shibolet

Panel 2C: Inferno in Videogames
Session 2 – July 1, 15:30 – 17:00

 Re-enacting Sisyphus: Narrative Gameplay in Hades

Hades (Supergiant games, 2020) rapidly became one of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed indie video games of all time. Set in the underworld of Greek mythology, Hades puts the player in the shoes of Zagreus, son of the god Hades, as he repeatedly and
futilely attempts to escape his father’s realm into the world above.
A uniquely powerful resonance between the story and game mechanics is the quality that most sets this game apart. Hades takes the fundamental structure of the roguelike game genre – navigating an immensely challenging path, which becomes slightly different with
every try, failing (or ‘dying’) multiple times and having to start over – and seamlessly channels it into an integral part of its story. Rather than ‘reseting’ the world and starting the story over upon each failure, death for Zagreus means returning to his family home. Each return is acknowledged by the game and becomes part of Zagreus’ story of perseverance, rebellion, bonding and eventually integration.
My talk will analyze how, through this uniquely powerful resonance, Hades reinterprets many of the central themes and characters of Greek mythology into a meaningful interactive narrative experience. I will focus in particular on the myth of Sisyphus, whose structure mirrors the trajectory of Hades’ gameplay narrative. Sisyphus himself appears in the game as a side character, one of the friends that Zagreus encounters in the course of his escape attempts. Through analyzing the trajectory of both Zagreus’ in-game interaction with Sisyphus and the game’s broader narrative arc, I will argue that Hades offers a new and
refreshing take on the Sisyphian myth. The pleasure that Zagreus, Sisyphus and the player eventually find in the repeated, futile climb up the underworld will be compared and contrasted to the existential interpretation of the Sisyphian myth in the writing of Camus


Yotam Shibolet is a PhD candidate and teacher at Utrecht University’s
media department. Born and raised in Tel-Aviv, he is a cum laude graduate of the Marc Rich Honors program in the Humanities and Arts at Tel-Aviv University and of Utrecht University’s Media, Art and Performance Research program. His interdisciplinary research spans embodied cognition theory, media phenomenology, and the study of interactive digital narrative and narrative identity. It aims to analyze how embodied interaction and the perception of movement give rise to meaningful experience and to the interpretation of stories. The ‘embodied narrativity’ theory he is working on ponders the means by which the physical dynamics of an environment (whether virtual or
real) lead us to narrate it in particular ways. This theory hopes to provide insight into practices and design strategies that shape meaning-making through movement.