DIY Faith Opinion

The spiritual legacy of Doom

The player interface on Doom, the original first-person shooter game. Screenshot

(RNS) — Twenty-five years ago this week, Doom, the original first-person shooter game, debuted.

And like millions of other Americans, my older brother played it often. My brother is seven years old than me, so since I was too young to really play the game, I’d sit beside him as he played. We’d insert the floppy disk into the computer tower and wait anxiously for it to load. I watched every move he made, filled with excitement.

I experienced a combination of terror and awe: gun in hand, destroying demonic monsters and those who guarded them anytime they came into our path.

It was one of the first times as a child I really considered the idea of monstrous demons or hellish places, because  they had come to life on a computer screen. Even though I wasn’t physically playing Doom because I was so young, sitting next to my brother, watching him play, ushered us into another world. It was a world of good and evil, and we were there on a mission. Perhaps the experience also played into my later zeal for Christian salvation, especially when it came to the people I loved.

Doom fit with much of Christianity’s concept of hell, pictured by the descriptions of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”: layers of hell in which people are punished according to their mortal sins.

As Christians, we must be the ones figuratively holding the guns, destroying evil, all the while using our Bibles to save the lost. We must be the ones changing the world by eliminating the threat of an eternity in hell.

A poster from the original 1993 Doom. Image courtesy of Doom

In the world of Doom, my brother imagined himself a killer, and I imagined myself a killer, both with a holy mission to destroy evil.

I don’t play video games anymore, but my brother and I played for a long time throughout our adolescent and teenage years. The memory of these games still sticks with me, so much so that when I Googled a video of Doom, the exact same feelings I’d experienced as a young girl came rushing back: adrenaline mixed with high anxiety.

Psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley argues that video games can have a profound effect on those who play them.

“Playing video games mimics the kinds of sensory assaults humans are programmed to associate with danger,” she wrote in a Psychology Today piece titled “This is Your Child’s Brain on Video Games.” “When the brain senses danger, primitive survival mechanisms swiftly kick in to provide protection from harm.”

Playing Doom with my brother produced those same kinds of fight or flight responses, ones that later followed me into the church sanctuary every time I heard a pastor preach on the importance of saving the world from imminent hell.

Perhaps without realizing it, I imagined myself there with a gun, shooting down demons and those who guarded them, just in time for the apocalypse.

Later, I attended a musical camp called Armor, based on a passage in the Book of Ephesians that counsels Christians to put on the full armor of God. As campers, we considered ourselves warriors, ready to take down the enemy. That same language is taught often in the church, preached from the pulpit as a call to stand against the flames of hell.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” the author of Ephesians warns us, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

So, we arm ourselves for battle.

If we truly believe in the threat of hell, we arm ourselves with God’s armor: truth, righteousness, peace and faith. But God’s armor — and God’s weapons — look very different from the kind of armor and weapons my character donned in Doom.

And perhaps that’s where we get confused in a physical world in which we are told to pay attention to the spiritual side of things.

Some of the myriad demons players attempted to destroy in order to advance levels in Doom, the original first-person shooter game. Screenshot

If we are not careful, we can begin to see other people as demons, especially those different from us — those who are other, like the immigrants on the other side of the wall, parents on Medicaid, our Jewish friends worshipping in a synagogue, young black men on the streets, people with disabilities, indigenous women fighting a pipeline, or those whose politics are not like ours.

That can lead to a kind of militarized Christianity — a spiritual version of Doom, where those outside the church are monsters. And we are the ones holding the gun, slaying demons and monsters for the sake of salvation.

We have seen where this kind of mindset within Christianity can lead. It inspired the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed colonizers to enter any land they deemed “unsaved” and take it for themselves, killing or conquering indigenous peoples in the process. We saw it in the building of a nation that demonized people of color. We see it today in a society that fears outsiders and those who don’t fit our version of the American dream.

Perhaps it’s time to put away childish things, like Doom.

Perhaps it’s time to put down our guns. Perhaps it’s time to give up the joy we find in fighting demons and to see those around us as neighbors — not threats.

Perhaps it’s time to see the world around us and all of creation as sacred.

Perhaps it’s time to learn from our mistakes and to proclaim that nonviolence is the best way forward for a future of lasting peace — before we really meet our doom.

(Kaitlin Curtice is a Potawatomi author and speaker. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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Kaitlin Curtice

7 Comments

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  • No perhaps about it. You have discovered what many figured out centuries before you. I started to say “perhaps you should” and I caught myself. i will simply suggest you read the Tao teh Ching or the Upanishads or the Buddhist Sutras or the Analects of Confucius and learn what they learned long before Christianity was invented.

  • The “Tao Te Ching” is written in Classical Chinese, which can be difficult to understand completely. Classical Chinese relies heavily on allusion to a corpus of standard literary works to convey semantic meaning, nuance, and subtext. This corpus was memorized by highly educated people in Laozi’s time, and the allusions were reinforced through common use in writing, but few people today have this type of deep acquaintance with ancient Chinese literature. Thus, many levels of subtext are lost on modern translators. Furthermore, many of the words that the Tao Te Ching uses are deliberately vague and ambiguous, unlike the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.

    The “Upanishads” emphasize Brahman-Atman as something that can be experienced, but not defined, insisting on oneness of soul, excluding all plurality, and therefore, all proximity in space, all succession in time, all interdependence as cause and effect, and all opposition as subject and object. Taken as a whole, then, unlike Christianity its content is incompatible with science and with modern progress and can be summarized as “know thyself”.

    “Sutra” is a Sanskrit word that means “string” or “thread”. In Indian literary traditions, it also refers to an aphorism or a collection of aphorisms in the form of a manual or, more broadly, a condensed manual or text. They are a genre of ancient and medieval Indian texts found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

    In Buddhism, sutras, also known as suttas, are canonical scriptures, many of which are regarded as records of the oral teachings of Gautama Buddha. They are not aphoristic, but are quite detailed, sometimes with repetition. This may reflect a philological root of sukta (well spoken), rather than sutra (thread). They do not provide a coherent view of man’s purpose and the means to attain it like the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.

    The Analects, also known as the Analects of Confucius, is a collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius and his contemporaries, traditionally believed to have been compiled and written by Confucius’s followers. Its Chinese title means “Edited Conversations”. The content is a social and political philosophy which does not provide a coherent view of man’s purpose and the means to attain it like the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity.

    For those who subscribe to atheism all of these texts provide some difficulties since they reflect beliefs in a non-physical spiritual realm, ghosts, spirits, and life after death.

  • Smart, smart article. Thanks. I have sometimes wondered if the “armor of God” people ever noticed that Jesus, himself, does not seem to have used armor much or talked about armor much. The “Muscular Christianity” stuff is always off in the weeds, IMHO. Look where it’s taking our minds and hearts right now in current affairs, for instance. Look what passes for leadership with those “armor of God” people. Mercy.

  • Good article on your reflections on Doom. Looking at the armor of God, Paul relates different aspects of the Holy Spirit living within us to an armor of a Roman soldier. It’s very interesting actually, but for a Christian to take that as an excuse to be hurtful to others is not being led by God. His love for others is our motivation. Fighting the enemy, satan, is one thing, but we have to remember the spirits behind the wickedness that people perform.

    There is a real battle, unlike Doom, where people are going to hell without knowing Christ. His forgiveness is what sets people free, a real relationship with Christ and not a religious one. It’s so sad and terrible how colonizers used the gospel as an excuse to conquer and kill. That’s a demonic way of thinking, twisting the bible to whatever we personally think is right. If they actually obeyed God’s word, they would see the main two commandments are to love God and love others. Loving others is the hardest part I think, because God loves us, but sometimes people don’t.

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