Finding Grace in ‘Devil Daggers’

Devil Daggers, a hellish, brutal twitch shooter, gives grace to players through the simple promise of improvement.

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on March 1, 2016

A giant dagger spins and ebbs before me. I grab it and everything goes dark. When I come to, a disturbing gurgle hisses in the distance. Suddenly a swarm of demonic skulls launch from a purging vine of tentacles.  As they fly straight for me, I shoot daggers from my forefingers, taking out one or two, dodging to the right. A second later I’m gored by a skull with horns.

A button appears: “Retry?”

It’s two hours later, and I’ve not yet survived for much more than a minute in Devil Daggers, but I’m not discouraged. I know I can get better.

In an alternate universe, I imagine Devil Daggers without a retry button. You try once, get killed in a few seconds and then just sit there forever in the abyss, demons flowing overhead reveling over your defiled corpse. You, incapable of doing anything.

Nobody would play that.

"I can’t help but think that Devil Daggers’ endless “Retry” is more akin to Christ’s unmerited grace than the hopelessness of damnation . . ."
In fact, it makes me wonder if there’s something intrinsic to video games that’s tied to endless forgiveness. Like, we no longer have games that limit lives because we secretly know that unlimited forgiveness is more powerful; more encouraging; more life-giving.

For hours, ‘Marilyn Manson’ sat there taunting me (or perhaps it was some player using his moniker?). Either way, I could say Marilyn Manson survived hell for one ten-thousandth of a second longer than me, thanks to Devil Daggers’ ever-present leaderboards. Then one fateful hell-fight seventy tries later, I survived seventy seconds—a whole ten seconds longer than him. These leaderboards served as a light in the tunnel. They gave me a place to aim for, measuring how well I’ve done and how I can get better. Any other day I’d say that comparison leads to “evils” like jealousy or pride, but comparative scales were a kindness—a measure of progress that provided a sense of hope.

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Floating jawless skulls climb through chunky pixelated shadows. A sanguine thread of blades leaves my front two fingertips, dropping the skulls from the air. A pop of my charged hand shotgun-blasts a nest of hellspawn, dropping into a pool of blood. I let go of my trigger to allow a blood-stone fly to my hands, just as a crawling festering mess of hellspawn launches toxic-glowing skull spiders in my direction and take my life with a single blow.

I hit “Retry” before thinking.

Christians have long derided the demonic imagery in video game scene (especially in shooters like Devil Daggers), but I can’t help but wonder if we’ve been missing Christ’s likeness and grace in these “hells” all along. Infinite forgiveness sounds more like God than the devil to me, and Devil Daggers never lacks forgiveness. In fact, the moment that you get discouraged, you can just press “R” and you’re back on your feet again. The whole thing has me thinking about how grace is the most powerful teaching tool—if we take it. That idea of “here’s another try” is like a free pass to become better; more capable, more alive, and just more. For that reason, I can’t help but think that Devil Daggers’ endless “Retry” is more akin to Christ’s unmerited grace than the hopelessness of damnation.

Devil Daggers goes beyond a hellish exterior to the heavenly reality of resurrection power: Devil’s got you down? Grow through the limitless grace of “Retry.” When demons knock you down again, remember that a righteous man gets up seven times. Or is it seventy times seven?

About the Author:

M. Joshua Cauller makes unique player-centered indie game trailers when he's not exploring games' redemptive qualities. He can sometimes be found away from his computer (if you're patient). You can follow him on Twitter @mjoshua or check out his trailer production work at http://mjoshua.com