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 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.