Archives in Video Games: Hades
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
[SPOILER WARNING FOR THE GAME AND GREEK MYTHOLOGY]
In what will no doubt shock you, dear reader, this is a video game I've played and continue to play. When you eventually read this I'll likely still be playing this game because that's how good Hades, Supergiant Games' latest rogue-like game, is where a casual to non-existent gamer like myself is concerned. What drove me into the loving embrace of this game, you ask? Well, Greek mythology, primarily. Then there was the gameplay I'd seen on a couple Twitch streams as well as clips from folks I follow on Twitter. And the art - oh the art - from not only the game but the fans as well.
Hades is a gorgeous game. Take a still image, any still image, and it's a work of art. The characters are beautiful (everybody's attractive because, ya know, gods) and it's just a feast for the eyes no matter what, or who, you're looking at.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story within Hades is an "adaptation" of the Kidnapping/Rape of Persephone as told in Greek myth to explain the changing of the seasons. In the game, however, you're playing as Prince Zagreus, Hades and Persephone's son, trying to escape the Underworld into the mortal realm to seek out his mother who'd left under mysterious circumstances. I'm not bothering to be precious about the "mystery" behind Zagreus' parentage because the game gets to that reveal early on after you've died a few times. And die you shall. That's the whole point of a rogue-like game. Die, improve, level up, die, improve, etc., etc. Helping Zagreus in his endeavors, however, is the Greek Pantheon of gods and goddesses who provide boons to strengthen you against minions, shades, and bosses both mini and final.
So it was yet another delightful surprise when the Administrative Chamber was first shown in the game as well as its enduring utility within the story. Hades leans into one of my favorite tropes of Celestial/Divine Bureaucracy wherein the afterlife and/or heavens are depicted like a corporate or government institution with filing systems and records of every person to have ever existed. Good Omens did it, Supernatural did it, Critical Role did it, and you can see a similar idea in another Hades and Persephone adaptation, Lore Olympus. As tropes go, it makes sense. If we as people have the audacity to create choirs of angels, dukes of Hell, and the like, then why not apply that imagination to representing the afterlife as a waiting line for the DMV? It's a way of creating order in death versus the chaos of life. At least, that's how I interpret it.
The first glimpse we get of the Administrative Chamber is in a flashback where Zagreus is forced by Hades to work as supervisor to the shades within the chamber. Zagreus is defiant and he loses his administrative access. Later in the game he earns it back, which opens the door to three side quests involving Orpheus & Eurydice, Achilles & Patroclus, and Sisyphus & Bouldy - all of whom are allies and friends in the game. It mainly involves finding their contracts and releasing them from the deals they made with Hades long before Zagreus was born.
Slight tangent: Look at that pair of hands in the bottom left corner! Everyone else is a human shaped shade, but not Handsos Handsadopolous over there! How do they even see the scrolls? It's called hand-eye coordination for a reason!
Sorry, moving on!
The matter of how you find those records is a little problematic from an archival perspective. Hades, your dad, makes it clear that those contracts are buried somewhere in Admin and difficult to locate, but when you talk to Nyx - Night Incarnate - she's perfectly happy to give you a filing number that makes locating the contracts and pacts a breeze. Maybe, just maybe, some kind of finding aid or database should be presented to the House Contractor in the next patch update, Supergiant Games. Just saying.
We also get a mention of archives in a separate instance when Zagreus approves the movement of the Fated List of Minor Prophesies (quests for more prizes) to his bedchamber. Zag and Achilles have a short conversation about the usefulness of the list in the prince's hands instead of it going to waste in the archives. It's another example of archives being described as a place where things go to be forgotten or unused. Not great, but at least it's not an ongoing part of the narrative.
At the very least, Nyx eventually comments that Zagreus' efforts to reevaluate the contracts and pacts keep their records up-to-date, so he's doing the Underworld a service in the long run. There's also the damage he's doing to the three levels of realms and the scrolls of paperwork produced documenting his escapes and the costs of repair, so it all balances out in the end, I assume. You can't overhaul your recordkeeping system without smashing a few pillars with your battle shield, right? I think that's how the saying goes.
The archival situation being what it is, I'm still enjoying dashing through Hades and romancing the embodiment of Death. In these trying times it's the little things that matter.