04/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

High Art for the Low Brow

Console games aimed at guys in their twenties usually involve some combination of football, hookers, zombies and/or guns. So it's more than a little surprising to see a new crop of games trading in the old standards for a far older standard: renaissance art and literary classics. That's right folks, something almost unthinkable has happened -- the Canon has come to the console.

Let's check out a few examples:

Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 2 was released a few months back and has been selling like gang busters. The game takes place in 15th century Italy and has players interacting with the likes of Da Vinci and Machiavelli and purchasing great works of art by Botticelli, Durer and Perugino amongst others. Of course, it also has lots of killing - the main character, a young Italian noble, is trying to learn the way of the assassins. And if that wasn't enough, tomorrow a downloadable expansion pack for the game, Bonfire of the Vanities (Savonarola not Tom Wolfe) will go on sale as well.

The next game forcing culture down the throats of its players is EA's Dante's Inferno. Those who read Dante's Divine Comedy and saw the game's Super Bowl commercial could probably tell that it's a rather loose interpretation of the original. After all, Dante was a poet, not some roided-out pro-wrestler look alike. Nevertheless, this game introduces a large audience to a great work of literature which they may not have known otherwise. EA's marketing geniuses even managed to get a new edition of Inferno published replete with video game art. An animated film is in the works as well (seriously).

If both games become runaway hits then perhaps the video game industry will look to more literary classics for inspiration. There's certainly no shortage of great stories, and the licensing fees are way less expensive than the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

As excited as I am that high culture is coming to video games, it looks like some things will never change... In the video game version of Dante's Inferno, his eternal love, Beatrice, is topless. Baby steps boys and girls, baby steps.