In 1993, Id Software released the video game “Doom” for PCs. The popularity of the game spread like wildfire, at one point being installed on more computers than Windows. 27 years later, the franchise continues to be popular with a new installment, “Doom Eternal,” releasing earlier this year. With the popularity came the controversy. “Doom” was one of the first and most influential First-Person Shooter games. Although primitive-looking by today’s standards, the graphics and violence were shocking in the 90s. “Doom” added more to the controversy by incorporating demons and Hell. Now parents had to worry about guns, violence, and occult imagery. Does that make the game unacceptable for Christians? The game presents a very black and white morality. Hell’s demons are all pure evil, and it’s your job as the hero to destroy them. This simplicity has led some to the opposite question. Is “Doom” a Christian game?
This post may be a little bit goofier than usual, but there is some substance to it. What makes a piece of media Christian or Satanic? Most conversations end with either “It’s of the devil and should be avoided and burned,” or “It’s just a fun video game that nobody needs to worry about.” Is “Doom” a Christian video game, and what would make it one? We need to examine a few components, such as the story, the context, and the worldview.
As always, this is not an endorsement, especially given the games’ controversial nature. This is simply a worldview analysis of a popular franchise.
The story of “Doom” is minimal. Developer John Carmack infamously downplayed the need for story in video games by comparing it with the need for story in pornography. With that mentality behind it, you know you’re going to be in for a less thoughtful and more experiential game. You play as a space marine going to Mars to investigate a science lab. Upon arrival, you see that the lab has been overrun by demonic beasts. It seems that these scientists opened up a portal to Hell, letting the monsters in, and it’s now your job to go down to Hell and kill every last demon. Later games have made only slight modifications to this basic structure. The only installment to significantly expand the format is the newest one, “Doom Eternal,” which I’ll write more specifically on next time.
It is worth noting that the game does not reference Satan directly. Later games in the series make it clear that this is Hell in more of a science fiction alternate dimension filled with monsters. You won’t find any messages about theology or spiritual warfare anywhere in here.
The world of game development was very different in the early 90s. Id Software was not a big corporate operation. Id was only about a half-dozen guys in their 20s trying to make something new and exciting. There was no clear political or religious message intentionally baked in to make kids shoot up their schools or worship Satan. Ironically, the choice to fight demons was made partially to avoid controversy. What could be more black and white good vs. evil than killing literal demons from Hell? One of the game developers Sandy Peterson, is a devout Mormon who famously said, “I have no problems with the demons in the game. They’re just cartoons. And, anyway, they’re the bad guys.”
Is the Controversy Too Much?
When it comes to the violence or imagery in video games, it’s a judgment call that parents have to make about their own kids. Not every child will be affected in the same way. Some children may be disturbed, others may enjoy the games and even be able to open a dialogue about real demonic dangers. There is perhaps an argument about the game trivializing the demonic. The threat is real. Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV). Alternatively, one could see “Doom” as a mockery of the devil, not unlike Martin Luther spoke of. “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” Just some food for thought.
Worldview: Morality and the Human Power Fantasy
The central focus of “Doom” is not on Hell, demons, or anything of that sort. “Doom” is 100% about you, the player. This is your personal fantasy and power trip. You get to singlehandedly end Hell’s invasion by ripping them apart, one by one. This is a standard video game trope, but rarely played as straight as “Doom.” You are the good guy, tearing through the bad guys. Christians tend to appreciate stories that are consistent with that simple morality. There are forces of evil and darkness in this world that we need to stand up and oppose. Is that simplicity enough to make “Doom” a Christian video game?
Is That Christian?
At worst, “Doom” might be trivializing the occult, but it certainly does not encourage it. “Doom” would only be Satanic if it promoted or encouraged the occult practices or worship. The worldview presented is definitively Humanist, rather than Christian. As Christians, our hope is in the Lord of Heaven and Earth, not ourselves or our really big guns. There is a time to rise and resist evil in the world, even perhaps with force. Obviously, that would not apply to spiritual enemies. In that fight, our support comes from God alone. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).
In the end, “Doom” being a Christian video game is little more than a joke. Though the game presents fundamental right and wrong, it makes no attempt to point to God and relies solely on Human strength. Granted, I don’t think anyone is looking to “Doom” for spiritual insight in the first place, but, as always, it might make for some interesting conversations. These kinds of questions about context, story, and worldview can be applied to almost any media piece. I encourage you to do this kind of thinking when consuming media and see how it matches up against scripture.
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