The Count of Monte Cristo is probably the greatest revenge story ever written.
I say that with complete and total sincerity – no hyperbole, no exaggeration. Penned by Alexander Dumas in 1844, it’s a legendary saga of betrayal, adventure and intrigue that follows its protagonist for two decades across half of Europe. There’s no other story like it, and probably never will be again.
A brief synopsis for those not in the know: our tale starts with Edmond Dantès, a young, good-hearted French sailor, being framed for treason by four men who all stand to gain something by his disappearance. Labelled unfairly as a traitor, poor Dantès is sent to the island prison of the Chateau d’If, left to rot in a cell barely bigger than himself. His only respite comes when he makes friends with the wise old Abbé Faria in the next cell along, and through him learns about science, history, culture, language, mathematics… and the location of a massive treasure trove that Faria had discovered shortly before his imprisonment, but never managed to get his hands on.
Dantès manages to escape after fourteen years in the wake of Faria’s death and claims the treasure for himself, using it to build a new identity as the mysterious nobleman known only to Europe as the Count of Monte Cristo, and creating an epic campaign of vengeance structured to ruin each of the men that framed him. Whatever they betrayed him for – reputation, money, love – Dantès sets hundreds of wheels in motion to deprive them of their prize, leaving them deranged, destitute or dead in the process (sometimes all three at once). The question is never whether the Count will come out victorious, but how much of his humanity he’s willing to sacrifice in the process.
Because make no mistake: gentle Edmond died in his cell at the Chateau d’If, and the cold engine of vengeance known as the Count of Monte Cristo was what dragged itself out. The Count’s pursuit of revenge takes him to some truly dark places, often making us question whether he truly deserves to win… but on the other hand, it’s just so fun to watch his elaborate plan come together, and to see all the villains who framed him finally get some comeuppance.
If a game were to capture this properly, it wouldn’t be easy. It’s tempting to just write it off as an Uncharted action-adventure game with more French accents and feathered hats, but I’m not sure that’d really evoke either the dark soul-searching or elaborate intrigue that’re what make the book so wonderful. Maybe some Telltale morality choices or spymaster strategy? There’s no obvious answers, but I still think it’s worth pursuing, purely because of the potential of game storytelling.
For as incredible as the book is, the passive nature of reading means that we’re always seeing Edmond from the outside. The fiery anger, the icy cunning, the victories, failures and rare moments of uncertainty – we witness these things as observers, not as participants. But the involved nature of video games puts us in the driving seat, and more importantly, in place of Edmond. We would be the ones betrayed, we would be the ones who suffer – and thus we finally get to see what we would do, were we the Count of Monte Cristo.