The Triple Goddess Effect
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #159. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
Analyzing the digital and analog feedback loop.
I know. I know. It’s so early to be discussing Hades II but Supergiant Games’ use of mythic fragments has me entranced. And so do other aspects of Melinoë, the protagonist of this surprise sequel as well. When she was introduced in the teaser trailer shown during that Geoff Keighley show, I initially assumed (wrongly) that she was a descendant of Zagreus. But I soon found out from Supergiant’s press release that she’s actually Zag’s sister!
Like Zag, she is also connected to an Orphic hymn, this time one that sings of her as a “saffron veil’d” nymph that inspires both night terrors and madness in people. She is also described as the child of Zeus (under the guise of Hades) and Persephone, whose limbs are “partly black and partly white” from her mixed heritage. Unless they’re planning for a serious plot twist in Hades II the press release seems to be doing away with the infidelity as they did for the previous title and focusing on Hades and Persephone as parents. In my previous column, I was interested in how Zag’s biracial identity was a metaphor for liminality and bridging the distance between his divine and chthonic relatives. But with Mel I’m particularly interested in how her identity and journey are tied more to the void between these two states and its boundless potential.
In the trailer the princess of hell is introduced during a sparring match with Hecate, the goddess of magic and witchcraft and assorted eldritch things. She’s also known as the triple goddess – the maiden, the mother and the crone – the lunar symbology of which is very familiar to those practicing various spiritual paths today. According to Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre, one of the earliest sources regarding Hecate’s symbology, the goddess’ powers would wax and wane with the different phases of the moon. As Hecate’s protege, Melinoë will be practicing sorcery and I do hope there will be an emphasis on lunar magic.
Supergiant has confirmed there will be a focus on Greek myth’s connections to “the dawn of witchcraft” in the game’s lore and Melinoë’s character build. This confirmation makes me very curious about how they will play with time in the narrative design of the game. The princess is also seeking to kill Chronos, the titan who is “time itself,” so I can imagine time challenges and time-based abilities will likely be core to the gameplay. There’s another reason I bring up Hecate’s background however: it’s because Melinoë is deeply connected to Hecate in myth. She is in fact an aspect of Hecate, her name speculated to be an Orphic title or euphemism for the mother of witches. Both of them are known as figures who preside over spirits, magic, night and the crossroads.
While Zag shares his mythic origins with the “twice-born” god Dionysus, Melinoë is associated with a triple goddess (sometimes comprised of Persephone as maiden, Demeter as mother and Hecate as crone). Melinoë’s name is only mentioned once more outside of the Orphic hymns, inscribed on a magical device for divination alongside other names (including Persphone’s) in an invocation to Hecate. While I’m not sure whether these references will once more be mere trivia delivered by Orpheus in the game or not, looking up all this made me think again about fragmented identity and what fragments mean for a protagonist like Melinoë who is constructed from them.
Melinoë is physically similar to Zag in appearance, literally half-Chthonic and half-divine, there’s emphasis on her spectral fragmentation. One of her eyes is red and black the other green, although the heterochromia is reversed to her brother’s, and she is flame-footed too. But that’s where the similarities end. She also possesses a left arm that is phantom-like from the forearm on down and a right leg that is curiously armored as if hiding another ethereal feature. Her fragmented appearance, together with her mythic associations with witchcraft, time and liminal space also point towards her identity most likely being queer.
There’s a lot to be said about fragmentation, time and liminal space with regards to queer identity and culture. Derek Tywoniuk, the composer of Dorothy Fragments (2019) which is a collection of sonic and visual ephemera from drag culture, community lingo, social dating apps, Craigslist forums and more, describes queer culture as “highly decentralized, reliant upon coded language and dress, inside jokes, and a relentless parsing of itself into subcultures, sub-subcultures, sub-sub-subcultures, and so on.” His collection captures the spectrum of queer culture and how the digital age enables queer individuals at different intersections to explore, discover, negotiate and express their identities as well as address more problematic aspects of their extended community online, a liminal space. Queer culture also intersects with witchcraft often, with the recent winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars Jinkx Monsoon claiming her victory in Hecate’s name.
To bring it back to Mel and my early perception of her though, game narratives have been getting more aware of how time mechanics can portray queer experience. Editor and game critic Khee Hoon Chan, writing in a guest editorial for First Person Scholar’s special issue on “Decolonising Queer Games and Play”, discusses how Life is Strange has shown how queer folks experience and self-define time and normative markers of adulthood differently. Importantly, they note that while games have become more willing to explore queer narratives over time, most queer representation is still overwhelmingly white. And for all that I love how Zag and Mel showcase a nuanced biracial experience, they are both part of that representational issue.
Personally, I think focusing on a triple goddess theme is a beautiful way to lean more into what kept the first Hades game interesting for me: storytelling through music and exploring an unapologetic state of alterity. Other than the obvious in the first game: Zag’s bisexual identity, Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship and the inclusion of polyamorous romance options (which is canon to Greek myth, might I add), the game’s music also obliquely points towards queer culture.
The soul of Supergiant’s game narratives is its unique audio direction, second only to their concept art. If you remember anything even about their earliest title Bastion, it’s probably going to be what your favorite musical tracks or voice work was. Over the course of the studio’s ten plus years of game development, music has always been central to their storytelling style. Often characters will sing key songs that underscore a game’s themes or will be bards themselves that also act as overt narrators. In Hades’ it’s the first instance of audio director Darren Korb acting as both a protagonist inspired by a bard’s music and the singing voice of the bard in question.
Knowing what we know about the Orphic origins of the Hades’ protagonists, this elevates the importance of musical storytelling to a new level. Korb is always involved early on in the game design process and will discuss story beats and themes early on with Greg Kasavin, the in-house narrative director who is pulling from these Orphic fragments to intentionally create characters like Zag who are complex and resist stereotypical queer-coding. This is essential to how intertwined Korb’s soundtracks are with the lore of the various game worlds he’s helped bring to life.
Hades’ soundtrack is a hybrid of Korb’s previous approaches to music as storytelling, specifically Bastion and Transistor. Similar to Transistor, where the soundtrack was composed around the premise that all tracks were previous in-world recordings by the protagonist-singer Red, Hades soundtrack is composed as if they are all part of Orpheus’, the divine-touched court musician of hell, oeuvre. In fact, a major part of Orpheus’ arc is that he’s uninspired to play music for the Lord of the Underworld because he’s pining for his lost wife and muse, Eurydice. And as with Bastion’s soundtrack, the instrumentation matters as much as the lyrics. Korb likes to create unique genres for each game world and for Hades he used a mix of ancient Grecian and Turkish plucked-string instruments as well as an electronic sampler of theremin-like sounds. One could say the soundtrack carries fragments of each era of Supergiant Games.
Another famous queer figure associated with fragments and Greek myth is worth mentioning at this juncture: Sappho of Lesbos. The poet-musician’s lyrical work survives only in fragments and according to poet and scholar Anne Carson in her popular translation of the fragments, “she knew and loved women as deeply as she did music.” All of Sappho’s music is lost to time, but Carson relates that it was apparently so beautiful that Hellenistic poets dubbed her “‘the tenth Muse’” or “‘the mortal Muse’”. Similar to Melinoë, Sappho is a figure perceived through queer fragmentation, lyrical and hailed as half-divine. Kasavin and by extension Korb must be aware of these matters, to some extent. Even if Sappho does not make an explicit appearance in Hades II, she’s certainly present in spirit.
All in all, I’m looking forward to Mel hopefully continuing the Underworld family tradition of being fearless, fiercely beautiful and queer in her liminality.
Phoenix Simms is a writer and indie narrative designer from Atlantic Canada. You can lure her out of hibernation during the winter with rare McKillip novels, Japanese stationery goods, and ornate cupcakes.