Critic - Mediterranea Inferno : depression and cool summer

Mediterranea Inferno : depression and cool summer

2020 seems so far away and yet so close. A strange year for the whole world, almost in brackets as we seem to have gone from 2019 to 2023 with the snap of a finger at times. COVID has wreaked havoc, but we’re only now becoming aware of the effects of repeated confinements. Against this backdrop of anxiety, stress and loneliness, the World Health Organization, in conjunction with major video game companies, launched a new initiative – bearing the hashtag #PlayApartTogether – with a view to encouraging individuals to adhere to recommendations on social distancing, aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. The aim was simple: to encourage people to follow the social distancing guidelines to limit the spread of the virus, by staying at home and playing online video games, alone or with friends. The WHO gave advice on how to preserve the psychophysical health of teenagers, highlighting the use of video games as a beneficial recreational activity, stimulating bodily movements and promoting socialization.

The impact of the restrictions crucial to social interaction during adolescence was profoundly affected by the viral pandemic we experienced. These constraints have drastically reshaped our behavior, our family dynamics, our social ties and our way of working. The fear of contagion and the resulting isolation have generated new forms of stress and trauma, the after-effects of which we are still trying to define.

I Ragazzi del sole, our three heroes
I Ragazzi del sole, our three heroes

Mediterranea Inferno, the latest game from Lorenzo Redaelli, the creator behind Milky Way Prince, plunges players into this tormented afterlife. In an exaggerated, darkly humorous way, the game offers a gripping vision of the generational malaise that paralyzes in the face of an uncertain present, a declining future and the fragility of protections for vulnerable minorities. Anxiety is superimposed on trauma, as seen through the eyes of Mediterranea Inferno‘s three protagonists: a trio of handsome, fashionable and popular young Milanese, nicknamed the Sun Guys, or I ragazzi del sole. Together, they embody a kind of sacred triad of identity, sociability and power, and will have to confront their own demons when they meet again.

Dolce Vita 

Mediterranea Inferno is something of a character study for its three central characters. First there’s Mida, who has found fame and iconic status among the masses, but longs for the love of a single person who refuses to give it to her. Claudio, on the other hand, is an assertive, confident character who has failed to define his own identity. Finally, Andrea, a popular socialite who thrives on the friendship and happiness of others, is condemned to suffer an eternal sense of loneliness after confinement.

After introducing our trio, the story comes to a standstill in August 2022 when, following two years of separation imposed by Italy’s persistent COVID restrictions, these once inseparable friends reunite in the sweltering heat of a southern Italian summer. Claudio, once the charismatic and confident leader of the group, struggles to redefine his identity in a cultural and generational vacuum; Andrea, once the heart of the party, feels a void without authentic human connections, while only Mida, once distant and uncertain, seems to have progressed, having landed an influential modeling job during the period of confinement. As the boys quickly return to old habits, an undercurrent of tension, dysfunction and perhaps even resentment emerges, revealing old and new insecurities that threaten to implode their three-day vacation in Puglia.

The game conceals its true intentions for the first third, and you get the impression that you’re on a road trip with friends who finally want to get together after more than 2 years of silence. It’s a little hard to get attached to them at first, as they’re so unsympathetic and almost clichéd. Although we get a glimpse of the three boys’ backgrounds and their darker sides, we’re more interested in hints and jabs between friends than real narrative arcs.

The beginning of the adventure is more like it, set in a Mediterranean setting
The beginning of the adventure is more like it, set in a Mediterranean setting

From the very first night, the veil is lifted on the seemingly flamboyant lives of Claudio, Mida and Andrea, revealing a much darker picture. They are a shadow of their former selves, young men broken by confinement, twisted by their inner demons. Their desperate quest for approval leads them down tragic paths, each vainly seeking validation. Their strength lies in their union, yet they remain disunited, disenchanted souls, despite their seemingly solid trio at first glance. As we delve into their past histories via the chapters leading up to their meeting, an engaging and deeply human storyline emerges. Claudio, Mida and Andrea are revealed to have quite ordinary imperfections, but these grow as the game progresses, adding a captivating dimension to this immersive and addictive narrative, holding attention even in its most singular aspects.

To speak of Mediterranea Inferno is to explore its sensitive themes and bold treatment. The three protagonists, proud of their homosexuality and eccentricity, are brought to light by Lorenzo Redaelli through images often imbued with sexuality. The play tackles topics such as climate change, LGBT issues, the quest for identity and family acceptance head-on, avoiding any skirting around them. However, at times, the characters almost seem to transform themselves into vehicles for these themes, especially towards the end, leaving it up to the player to grasp the nuances.

Lucid Dreams

Here, the Italian summer is, right from the start of the story, depicted as a hell of its own. An immersion in a suffocating wave of vicious red that gushes and oozes through every frame; wild prickly pears throb suggestively, menacingly, as if something were about to burst from within, while monotonous evenings in the boys’ villa are depicted as a return to calm after each bright day. At the heart of it all appears a stranger, bearer of the fruit of mirages, every mouthful of which promises a temporary escape from the pain of years gone by, perhaps even a veritable “endless summer” of pleasures for those ready to surrender to it completely.

I know you’re looking for mirages,” the enigmatic Madama tells the boys. “I sell desires, hopes. I have the key to solve all your problems. I can heal your pain. I can give you what the world cannot.

For a modest payment of 350 summer coins, collected at specific times of the day, one of the boys – chosen by the player – can experience his own Mirage. Following this, the already exacerbated reality of Mediterranea Inferno begins to detach itself completely, the perfect Italian summer distorting itself in the image of the fragile psyche of each of the protagonists. During these hallucinatory sequences, the game loosens its narrative reins a little, allowing its striking environments to be explored more freely and the boys’ fantasies to be probed more deeply.

Mirages are the real heart of the game
Mirages are the real heart of the game

Andrea’s first mirage is an exciting mix of hilarity and overflow, a sensual dream halfway between light eroticism and unconcealed innuendo, with beaches, seductive men, and thinly veiled innuendo. Lollipops are passionately licked, balloons are frantically inflated to the point of explosion, and fruit is consumed in a surprisingly suggestive manner. It’s a sequence as gorgeous as Andrea himself is frivolous, a whirlwind of sun, skin and sweat, but dark flashes also flare up, and it soon becomes clear that these paradisiacal visions are self-deceptions, stubborn attempts to bury each boy’s deepest anxieties and lingering traumas, rather than confront them. This surreal first moment isn’t too demanding, and shows us the boys’ primal fantasies.

Claudio’s mirages are of baroque grandeur, evoking captivating worlds and nostalgic lies of past glory, far from the present he carefully avoids; Mida, for all her fame, embodies voluntary isolation, her first mirage a cold, clinical and distant abstraction, taking place entirely at the bottom of a huge pool, relegating the real world to a few fathoms above the surface.

Grandeur and decadence in Claudio's mirages
Grandeur and decadence in Claudio’s mirages

Mediterranea Inferno’s stylistic bravura, particularly in its mirage sequences, is captivating time and again. But its real prowess lies in its ability to accurately capture authentic, raw moments of emotion. These boys, while starting out as cartoonish representations of futility, initially exposed through the impressed murmurs of club-goers, seem to slowly evolve into pain and trauma that ring deeply authentic and real. These are complex, rich (if not necessarily sympathetic) characters, estranged from the world around them after years of hardship, and trapped in an endless cycle of deception, toward themselves, their admirers, and their friends. Their immobility will eventually lose them, and the increasingly implacable Mediterranea Inferno spares them no punishment for their lamentable inaction (Madama mocks them as “martyrs” throughout), but their emotional turmoil is played with seriousness, and treated with tenderness and empathy.

The end of innocence

The young characters in Mediterranea Inferno don’t just experience personal sadness; they reflect a generation that feels robbed of a future that has never shone with promise. Will they have the opportunity to chart their own course, or have their elders already tried everything? How is it that previous generations, so committed to social justice, are now passing the buck to the young? Can they hope to live experiences devoid of the nostalgia imposed by others?

Redaelli offers few simple answers. He raises questions in himself and in his audience, and perhaps this is Mediterranea Inferno‘s greatest challenge. The writing seems to strive to make its metaphors explicit, to ensure that nothing is lost in the “translation”, so to speak. Given the specific subject matter and its potential distance for those who didn’t grow up in Italy, this may seem understandable. The English version makes things clearer for a non-Italian audience, but leaves little room for personal interpretation of the story and the characters’ motivations.

Mediterranea Inferno’s remarkable mastery lies in its ability to juggle tonal nuances. Despite heart-rending moments exploring painful emotions such as depression, loneliness and trauma, the play also reserves moments of levity, even if seen through a dark prism. Madama’s moralistic speeches, for example, are delivered with subtle irony: an optional ending reveals the allegorical aspect of the story, before cheerfully deconstructing its pomposity and hypocrisy to offer a hopeful conclusion for our protagonists.

Prismatic identity

But beyond these elements, Mediterranea Inferno is above all an excellent story. It’s a morality play, constructed like a mystery, skilfully revealing its multiple layers. It tackles ambitious themes – the importance of community, the fragility of places of refuge, the existential torments of a generation trapped by a selfish past and an uncertain future. At times, he seems to lose his way in the midst of his overwhelming reflections, but his emotional sincerity remains constant. The result is a dense, provocative, playful, horrifying, poetic and sometimes even profound reflection on the paralyzing quest for a place in the disenchanted shadow of modern life.

The burden of past lives

Mediterranea Inferno acts as a mirror reflecting the emotional charge of the family past on the present and future. Through its interactions and narrative subtleties, the game is a remarkable exploration of how family legacies shape our lives. Each character is a canvas on which the traces of his or her family history appear, profoundly influencing choices and perspectives.

Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis transports viewers into a world where the complex interweavings of the past, whether emotional or conflictual, sculpt human relationships. The film explores how historical ties and family relationships define individual destinies. The main characters navigate a world where family histories shape their perceptions of love and loyalty, while influencing their decisions in 19th-century Paris. The work reveals the tension between family legacies and personal aspirations, highlighting how the past acts as a specter that haunts the choices and emotions of the present. On the other hand, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amours Chiennes explores the deep ramifications of secrets and family tragedies on the very fabric of everyday life. This intense Mexican film offers a glimpse into the consequences of family trauma on individual journeys. Through a polyphonic narrative, it highlights how the characters’ fates are intertwined by complex family ties, confronting each with the harsh reality of their shared past. The characters’ stories reveal how events and secrets passed on generate emotional and practical repercussions, often eroding the possibilities of individual choice.

Let's hear it for the Sun Guys

Mediterranea Inferno follows in this artistic footsteps, revealing how the burdens of the family past permeate the protagonists’ personalities and decisions. The characters’ mirages, their fleeting dreams of happiness and their moments of darkness are a direct reflection of the scars left by their family history. Inner torments, deep-rooted fears and nostalgia-tinged aspirations emanate from this inherited legacy. Through artistic expression, the game invites us to meditate on our own family heritage. It offers emotional introspection, leading us to consider how the experiences and choices of our ancestors continue to resonate within us, influencing our perspectives and decisions. Not unlike the studio’s Giant Sparrow game.

What Remains of Edith Finch immerses players in a story intimately linked to family heritage, strikingly exploring the impact of previous generations on present life. Each story embedded in this game tells a Finch family history, revealing the intertwined links between past and present. Each experience transports us into the inner world of a member of this family, offering emotional snapshots of their lives and the events that shaped them. The game explores how family stories, passed down from generation to generation, permeate the daily lives of descendants. Each segment highlights a particular aspect of the family, revealing the wealth of memories, regrets, hopes and tragedies that have left their mark. As players navigate through these stories, they come face-to-face with the power of family ties, illuminating how this heritage can shape individual and collective identity.

The weight of the past permeates many mirages
The weight of the past permeates many mirages

What Remains of Edith Finch‘s approach to this subject resonates with the deep reflection and exploration of family connections found in Mediterranea Inferno. The two works come together in their ability to illustrate the complexity of family legacies, and to highlight how the past manifests itself in the present, shaping self-perception and the evolution of human relationships.

The impact of confinement on mental health

The impact of the confinements associated with the COVID-19 pandemic was felt particularly keenly by young adults, an aspect poignantly illustrated in Mediterranea Inferno. Through these three central characters, the game movingly explores the devastating effects of confinement on young people’s mental health, reflecting the psychological challenges facing this generation. The game’s protagonists represent archetypes of the emotional struggles that characterized this complicated period.

The troubles experienced by Claudio, Andrea and Mida, such as loss of identity, loneliness, loss of human connection and uncertainty about the future, mirror the real-life struggles of young adults during periods of confinement. Claudio, once a confident leader, struggles to define himself in a changing cultural world. Andrea, known for his active social life, finds himself drained of real human connection. Mida, despite her popularity, is a symbol of voluntary isolation, representing the alienation felt by many young people during this period.

Nights not so lonely
Nights not so lonely

These characters, though exaggerated and fictitious, embody authentic experiences of young people facing emotional and identity upheavals. Mediterranea Inferno viscerally illustrates the challenges faced by these individuals, revealing the internal turbulence that emerged during the periods of confinement.

The study The impact of the initial COVID-19 outbreak on young adults’ mental health: a longitudinal study of risk and resilience factors, led by Anna Wiedemann, analyzes longitudinal data from a representative cohort followed from 2012-2013 until the initial outbreak of the pandemic. The results highlight a considerable increase in psychological distress and a decline in mental well-being over a period of around seven years. This deterioration was evident in the first wave, where almost three out of ten young adults reported levels of depression or anxiety that made them eligible for psychological therapy. In addition, around two in ten young adults exceeded clinical thresholds for both disorders. The prevalence of severe mental illness rose from 7.4% before the pandemic to 9.0% at its onset, affecting almost one in ten young adults, with serious consequences for their daily lives.

This phenomenon of psychological anguish extended to the entire cohort, affecting not only those with conventional risk factors but also those with health histories. Although some pre-pandemic resilience factors were moderately protective, they had little effect in the face of the psychological misery induced by pandemic containment. These results broke with previous trends in mental health, showing widespread anxiety and declining well-being. Adverse events linked to the pandemic, such as loss of employment or income, exacerbated distress, but this was often associated with pre-existing vulnerabilities.

The pandemic thus amplified existing inequalities in mental health. In summary, this study highlights a significant deterioration in the mental health of young adults compared to previous trends, irrespective of pre-existing resilience factors, and reveals the detrimental impact of the pandemic on this population. This is exactly the subject that runs throughout Mediterranea Inferno, and one that we need to be increasingly aware of: these periods of confinement have had an impact on many people. Although the game implements this in a surreal way via its mirages, the facts are nonetheless there. After all, don’t we all know Andrea, Claudio or Mida? Despite its somewhat harsh tone, without ever being moralistic, I think Mediterranea Inferno should act as a wake-up call, to take care of ourselves, to say what’s deep inside us before we’re completely consumed by regret.

Mediterranea Inferno plunges into languorous decadence, drawing its creative essence from the legendary works of Federico Fellini and Paolo Sorrentino, deftly transforming respect for the past into a stifling obstacle to the future. In this courageous exploration, nostalgia becomes a double-edged sword, at once a comforting refuge and a straitjacket that limits the aspirations of an entire generation.

This play navigates with striking mastery between the poles of happiness and despair, from fiery eroticism to the latent regret of an uncertain tomorrow. It depicts with poignant acuity the exquisite beauty of young bodies and the dread aroused by the insecurity inherent in exposure to others, whether close friends or intrusive strangers.

At the heart of this picture, Lorenzo Redaelli deploys his artistic voice and singular vision with eloquence. Santa Ragione, through Mediterranea Inferno, establishes itself as one of the most daring independent studios, offering a captivating platform for Redaelli’s innovative creativity. Although this game could be labeled a niche title, both in terms of subject matter and genre, it emerges as a prodigious and unforgettable videogame experience, a boundary-pushing and thought-provoking work that stands unquestionably among the year’s outstanding gems.


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Pietro Righi Riva: studio director of Santa Ragionereply
February 19, 2024 at 10:00 am

[…] in quick succession that had a huge impact on me: Mediterranea Inferno (you can find my review here) and Saturnalia. Shortly afterwards, I discovered the trailer for HORSES, an experimental horror […]

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