"O Queen of the Seven Gods, O radiant splendor
of light, fountain of life, darling of Heaven
and Earth, priest, daughter and servant of Heaven!"
-Enheduanna, Hymn to Inanna
The story of Inanna is the textbook example of the Descent into the Underworld – literally so in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Beyond having an active female protagonist, it could also potentially provide us with some truly innovative game mechanic hooks – not bad for a story written before the Old Testament!
The Story in a Nutshell
Inanna's story has come down to us in a somewhat confusing form. The fragments we have indicate she descended to the Underworld to partake in funeral rights for a deceased god, but the identity of the god conflicts with other accounts of the Mesopotamian pantheon.
The general pattern of the Descent into the Underworld is similar to the journeys of other heroines and heroes – Isis and Horus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Izanami and Izanagi. The main difference with the other variants is that the other pairs are all lovers. Inanna appears to be attending the funeral rites for the husband of the goddess of the underworld, Ereshkigal.
This means we have some opportunities to subvert the usual trope of descending to the Underworld to rescue the husband/wife. Does Inanna descend to comfort the goddess of Death? Did she have a fling with Ereshkigal's husband? Is that why he's dead?
As Inanna moves down the underworld, she passes through seven gates. At each gate, Ereshkigal's servants strip her of her magical items and clothing:
"A turban, a wig, a lapis lazuli necklace, beads upon her breast, the 'pala dress' (the ladyship garment), mascara, pectoral, a golden ring on her hand, and she held a lapis lazuli measuring rod."Inanna is successively stripped of her power until she arrives before Ereshkigal and the seven judges of the Underworld. They pass the sentence of death upon her, and the goddess' corpse is hung upon a hook.
As Inanna's corpse lies in the Underworld, the sky god Enki works to save her while her husband Dumuzi throws a party, usurps her throne, and molests her slave girls. Enki's servants are able to retrieve Inanna's corpse and revive it after three days. Inanna has escaped, but Ereshkigal demands a substitute to take her place. Inanna offers her unfaithful, usurping husband and he is dragged down into the Underworld for his crimes.
The story of Inanna offers great raw material for our Archetypal female-positive story. The Descent/Resurrection motif is common enough that players will be able to connect with it (instead of say, a potentially alienating Grrl Power plot).
This is a conflict between two goddesses, each powerful in their own domain. While Inanna is stripped of her magical items (agency), it is as an equal. She is not demeaned for being a woman, but for intruding into the realm of another goddess. This contrasts nicely with the disempowerment of Princess Peach/Princess Zelda/Princess Etc.
The idea of being progressively stripped of power also offers up intriguing game mechanic hooks. Our main character starts with all of the available powers/abilities/equipment, but must sacrifice them to defeat each level boss and move forward. Think of it as an inverse Mega Man or Metroid. Instead of gaining items and equipment to deal with increasingly powerful enemies, the player's loss of items naturally ramps up gameplay difficulty.
This could also work around player choice. Maybe you get to choose what armor/weapons to sacrifice to move to the next level, and the stages are designed with multiple paths based on the seven powers. Sacrificing the Double Jump closes off one path, but you can still take a path that requires the Bombs. Each stage requires more ingenuity and exploration to navigate (a naturally escalating skill curve).
After the death/resurrection scenes, you journey back out of the underworld, but this time with all of your powers restored - allowing the player to explore the missed paths. Naturally, each path would be littered with unique collectables and NPC conversations.
We can also avoid the issue that comes up in a fair amount of Grrl Power media – the demonization of men. While we have Dumuzi (the unfaithful husband) as a stand-in for the negative male, we also have Enki as a positive, helpful Light Father figure. The game revolves around a conflict between two powerful women, but it can also explore the negative and positive aspects of male Archetypes.
Of course, there's no reason why the story has to take place in a Sumerian context with gods and goddesses. The important thing is the Archetypal plot and the unique gameplay possibilities of Inanna's story.
Next time, we'll be looking at a conflict between a woman and a goddess: Anat and Paghat.
Next: [AVW009] Doing Better - Anat and Paghat