Diablo 3 is a Spiritual Game Missing One Key Component: God

Diablo 3 uses spiritual components to clarify the high stakes of its narrative, but where is the Creator?

I was possessed by an uncomfortable thought while playing Diablo 3: this game is a burlesque of Holy Scripture.

Diablo 3 asked me to examine its story as a fantasy that’s abutted a’la carte by the most fantastic elements of the Bible. I now acknowledge a layer of dissonance that stands between my faith and a playing game that amounts to fan-fiction of what I believe to be the Word of God.

Diablo 3 misses a critical opportunity to give its story any degree of weight or meaning by keeping God out of the world.

Diablo 3 continues the story of its predecessors; a fantasy tale about the land of “Sanctuary” and its status as the MacGuffin juggled between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Angels and demons scheme and strategize, meting out the will of Heaven’s “Spirits of Virtue” and the “Seven Evils” of Hell against one another.

Diablo doesn’t aim to accurately represent the Bible in any way. It is fantasy in its own right. Sanctuary is not Earth, and the rules of engagement between angels, demons, and men are cast in magic and battle-axes, not temptation and prayer. Likewise, the idea of angels, demons, and polar destinations in the afterlife are not ideas exclusive to Christianity.

Yet for all the creative wiggle room, Diablo’s aesthetics are inescapably bastardized from the Bible. In addition to art direction that clearly draws from traditional medieval depictions of Christian metaphysics, the names of the Seven Evils are either explicitly taken from the Bible, or from Christian fiction that has successfully proliferated since medieval times. It’s hard to say that Diablo’s ties to Christianity are coincidental when you’re fighting monsters named “Belial” and “Baal.”

But why are these connections important? Why should anyone be taken aback by them, much less acknowledge the relationship between game and Scripture? Because Diablo 3 portrays every element of the Christian spiritual conflict except for its most crucial: God.

Heaven and Hell serve no allegorical purpose for Diablo 3. Instead, they represent a suitably operatic conflict that anyone can understand without a buy-in. What history or character motivation needs to be explained when your conflict revolves around angels and demons? None, they are natural enemies. But Diablo 3 misses a critical opportunity to give its story any degree of weight or meaning by keeping God out of the world.

Diablo 3’s story left me vexed. Without God, where did Heaven and Hell come from? Exactly who are the demons rebelling against? Why do the angels care about defending humanity? These questions are all answered in some form or fashion, mostly to the unsatisfying tune of, “because.”

This is untenable from a Christian perspective. Diablo 3’s religious aspects may translate to mere fantasy and art assets for its employ, but they have roots in a tradition that isn’t simply a spiritual lark. I believe in angels and demons, but I wouldn’t if I didn’t also know the God who created them. Without context, without a Godhead, these creatures are ineffectual to the human experience. Ironically, Diablo 3’s high stakes are deflated by its own reluctance to portray them without a creator.

I need to understand why these elements matter to Blizzard’s story. I have to know what such an explicit employment of Heaven and Hell means for Diablo’s narrative. Similar narratives have met this requirement before. Hellboy, for example, uses its demonic protagonist to present a morality tale about humanity’s will to do good, as does (a little more candidly) Devil May Cry. Diablo 3 appears directionless. However, there may be an explanation for this.

Diablo 3’s willful ignorance of God allows it to portray a hyper-focused, brutal representation of spiritual warfare. It transplants the struggle to resist temptation and follow God’s commandments into a fantasy game where the skills of the different classes evince the act of prayer; a morning blessing said over breakfast becomes the Barbarian’s “cleave;” fasting before communion becomes the “shield mantra” of the Monk, and the little moments we take from our day to say a quick prayer or ask for God’s calm are the “teleport” of the Wizard. The classes represent our personalities, and the skills represent the effects of our supplications.

Every Christian has grown up knowing about the act of prayer as a tool of spiritual warfare against sin, and perhaps Diablo 3 is taking that idea to its most visceral, logical conclusion. Perhaps it’s just focusing on the mechanics of Heaven and Hell that are most easily translated to gameplay. Perhaps it trusts players to chart the abstract connection between violence visited upon demons, and the effect of praying to God in everyday life. Perhaps God isn’t shown in Blizzard’s opus because it is assumed that He is there all along.

Adam Condra

Adam Condra is an elementary schoolteacher and freelance games writer from Birmingham, Alabama.

  • Benjamin Harrison

    I agree with Jay, I would play Diablo. In fact, I even had fun playing Black & White, a game where you play the role of God, if people feel that the game isn’t real, then there shouldn’t be much of a problem.

  • Roland

    Did you even bother trying to Google the lore behind Diablo before writing this? Anu is dead, your on its corpse.

  • Ozimos

    So here is just a tid bit. While there is no Words in game for where everything comes from, that is primarily due to the fact that it doesn’t make sense to discuss a worlds beginning, when you are standing at the brink of its end. It just didn’t make sense lore wise to discuss it, but there are subtle hints as to why Tyreal (and it is ONLY Tyreal who really fights for humanity, not all angles.) fights for humanity. That being said, if you look to the Lore of the Diablo Universe, you learn that there were 2 great beings that fought for an eternity before both died. The Evil one, who had seven heads, fell and his body created all that is in hell, while his head spawned the 7 Prime Evils, 4 Lesser and 3 Greater. For the Good, his essence spawned the High Heavens. Thus the Eternal Conflict started. Some demons and angels tired of the fight and eventually banded together and hid away. Their spawn were the Nephalem. They were hated by both angels and demons, and were sought to be the turning point in the war by demons and were merely tools to keep away from demons for the angels. They were going to be slaughtered to the man by the angels until Tyreal, impressed by a certain Nephalem, had a change of heart and sided with the two other angels who voted to spare humanity. It has a creator and has reasons, just no way of describing it accurately in the game.

  • Ryan

    The lore from Diablo is inspired by the old testiment, which is Jewish, not Christian.

  • Darvit Anati

    Throughout gameplay of Diablo III and Reaper of Souls faith is mentioned often if you listen to the conversations of the people and the characters.

  • Matthew Nelson

    God is dead, and it is us who has killed him

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Think of higher beings. This could very well be the period prior to heaven’s absolution and god’s existence. This game is set in “sanctuary”, not, “the universe”. God, physiologically speaking, is a paradox. meaning that god could have created itself via the efforts of others, like perhaps angels – known as higher beings with the form of humans. But for there to exist a perfect being of a sort, there must first be a reason and a need for a perfect being of a sort. God banishes demons and the devil (diablo). (malthael is an angel – possibly telling the story of lucifer; the new “devil” or “opposition of God” – Note there is no talk of “devils” only “demons”).

    This all being said, i am a transtheist. I believe only in the logical affirmation of knowledge not yet universally known. This is why I play games. Games generate scenarios upon which information can be generated. I am a philosopher of sorts so this isn’t to say my theory is correct. But if I were god, this is how i would logically conclude this.

  • Christopher Luther

    If there were an omnipotent God figure, why should there be demons threatening to kill everyone? Why should there be a council of angels debating the best way to defeat them?

    The game doesn’t work with the fairy tale (excuse me, Biblical) version of God. Of course, real life doesn’t either. Blizzard avoids the issue by simply pitting angels on one side, demons on the other and humanity right smack in the middle.

    Maybe you should be more uncomfortable with real-life religion and its own flaws rather than whining about a game because it doesn’t conform to your expectations of religious ideas.

  • Adria Dinadan

    Good article, it brought up several good points and I liked the idea of how day to day spiritual acts translate to spells in Diablo. However, I have my own theory.

    I like to believe that the absence of God in the world is so that they ( Blizzard ) could show us what they believe the world may be like with out him. The angles would have no one to guide them and therefore they themselves would fall to evil ( Act 5 ) ( when what’s his face threatens to kill you ) and at the same time demons would devistate heaven.

    It is a scary thought to think about, a world with out God. But then again, Diablo is a scary game. Mabye not for the nephlem ( I know I may have not spelled that right ) but for all the people. If I was a person in that world I would be terrified, I look around and see death and destruction everywhere and know that I am next.

    So, the lesson that I take away from a game like this is that God is great. He helps us every day, and with out him chaos and evil would triumph.

    That is not to say that enyone is wrong, but that was just my thoughts on the spiritual aspect of the game.

  • Cruallassar

    Its a simple question to answer. If they put God into the mix, where would the fight be? You can’t have cliff-hangers like Diablo breaking into Heaven and laying waste to it if God is going to smack him back into Hell with a divine laser beam the second his clawed toes touch holy ground. Beyond that, they aren’t trying to make a political statement. Or if they are, not that much of one. If they put God into it, it would instantly become a controversial topic, and be either hated or loved appropriately. But without Him, they maintain an aspect of denial, that it isn’t a Christian game…it only pits the two oldest and greatest foes the universe have ever seen against each other on a simple good-neutral-evil field of battle. One move takes it from a spiritual statement to just an epic game…or back again, and yet it still accomplishes half the goal of a spiritual statement without it. Not to mention, the depictions of both sides are simply amazing. Far better…and more accurate…than the girlish figure in Roman/Greek armor that St. Michael is depicted as. It is also amazing how far they went for their references. Nephalim especially…that is an obscure biblical reference if ever I saw one. I doubt the majority of Christians even know they existed, much less their biblical nature.

    And to answer one of the other comments I’ve seen:
    Ryan: The Old Testament is Jewish, but it is also Christian. The Christians inherited the whole thing, then added the New Testament as time went on and the events in the New Testament were recorded. The Jews don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, and so they don’t have the New Testament, which is all about Him and the formation of the Christian church.

  • Deliverence123

    Adria I think that you nailed the answer. Same with Game of Thrones. I find it is okay to watch it because I see it as portraying what a world without God could be like; constant political tyranny and corruption. No end to evil and pain. From playing and watching these types of games and series, if we are not refreshed and energized as Christians to know how blessed we are with God’s love, then there is no point playing/watching them. It should simply increase our gratitude for Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, so that we may never be alone in a world such as portrayed in Diablo / Game of Thrones etc.