Why We Love the Heavy Metal Messiah in ‘Doom’

Playing as Doom’s heavy metal messiah is super fun but does it cultivate an insatiable desire in us to consume?

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on June 2, 2016

DOOM gives you messianic rights; it tells you you’re the chosen one—and gives you all the guns you need to rid the world of sin—one Glory Kill at a time. DOOM overwhelms the senses with satanic imagery and the most Ultra-Violent challenge anybody could ask for, yet ultimately DOOM is still too easy—too doable to express the unnerving tensions of the true messianic self-sacrifice that we’re invited to. And that’s why we love DOOM so much: it makes messiahship easy.

Real-world demonic powers like poverty, political corruption, and clinical depression aren’t easily solved with a BFG, so it’s a comfort when we can wreak havoc on the visage of oppressive entities with a cacophony of homing missiles (and the rapid-fire thump of a heavy industrial metal soundscape). DOOM’s invitation to stomp all the forces of Hell is neither metaphoric or veiled in science fiction classification. Hell is Hell. Demons are demons. Only you can save us from the powers of Hell, Doom Marine.

It all starts with a power grab: Earth needs a solution to its energy crisis, so a smart guy shows up and says, “I know, we’ll harness the power of Hell!” Big surprise: it all goes horribly stupidly bad, but that’s okay—it means we get to step into our messianic adventures as a heavy metal demon-magnet.

"… once we conquer every power of Hell, what is there? A thirst for more."
Demonic magnetism grants you the coolest perk of messiahship: demons come after you, and even after you push them away, they just start asking for it—glowing gold and tender after just enough hits; beckoning for a melee-initiated Glory Kill (a context-driven kill animation that spills health out of the gushing geyser where a demon’s head used to be). Materially speaking, this brings a tactile quality to the messiah/demon showdowns found in the Gospels, where Christ’s confrontations with immaterial demons were only felt by the spiritually-afflicted. DOOM cuts the spiritual out of the equation altogether and forces flesh and bone on the powers of darkness, which is convenient for an arsenal of lead and explosives.

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There’s’ something deeply incarnational about putting flesh and bones on the demonic and offering tools to dismantle them; it’s textbook empowerment. I’ve written at length on the trappings of power-fantasy videogames, but this time it’s worth giving praise. There’s a grace here that often gets neglected by the surface-level confrontations of Christian media of yesteryear. While id Software’s initial choice of goat-skull satanic iconography may have been intended to contest the whitewashed Conservatism in the early 90s, now we can look back and recognize the discipline-oriented design always intended. DOOM’s core language is that of training for improved skill: retrying once killed, to once again overcome all the powers of hell. At the end of the day, when you’ve slain the the Barons of Hell, the Cyberdemon, and the Spider Mastermind, dealing with the problems of everyday life doesn’t seem as big of a deal.

Demons stay dead in DOOM, which means the game suddenly feels cold and empty the second that you finish off your final Glory Kill. Your attention shifts from the smoke of your gun barrel to the cold hard walls where secrets lie; checking suspicious panels, investigating every dark corner—and doing the most atypical thing in first-person shooters: looking up. Messianic figures teach you without you knowing that you’re being taught; and Doom Marine’s secret-finding lessons are both transparent and generously subtle.

DOOM might borrow a lot of messianic connections to the scriptures, and while The Doom Marine doesn’t atone for sin or offer himself as self-sacrifice for the salvation of all Creation, he will die again and again for his cause of saving the world from hell. This perseverance loop is key to playing the game the “right way” (on Ultra-Violence difficulty). Die and resurrect countless times, as you conquer the grave to take back the keys of Hell. The required gracious perseverance at this difficulty level leads to DOOM’s primary lesson: growing in discipline, growing in empowerment, and overcoming darkness. It’s not a stretch—it’s just that the metaphor in this case is so in your face, you can’t really call it a metaphor. After all, darkness in this case is literal Hell.

The key difference between DOOM’s Metal Messiah and the one found in the Bible is power-grabbiness (despite what some power-hungry Christian figures might lead you to believe). Every piece of DOOM’s lore harps on this power-grab: Hell’s greatest (lowliest?) demons talk about your character’s core superpower: drawing power from his foes.
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While calling out a video game for being a power fantasy might be like calling McDonalds out for offering unhealthy food, DOOM’s narrative emphasis here glows red like a weak spot. Every piece of lore that speaks of your character in the game only addresses your insatiable pursuit of violence; as if there’s nothing terribly useful about The Doom Marine except that he gets bigger and bigger guns, executes fiercer and speedier destruction and is always moving onto his next fight. It’s precisely here that the Heavy Metal Messiah runs out of gas and ceases to offer us value: once we conquer every power of Hell, what is there? A thirst for more.

DOOM satisfies every world-saving desire we could ask for in games: fine-tuned mechanics that strip away extravagances like reload and cover systems, an empowerment that leaves us feeling like we can conquer even the mightiest forces of darkness, and the joy of a well-searched secret that yields a new power. Yet at the end of the day, DOOM doesn’t satisfy our craving for more. When I finished the game, I jacked up the difficulty and wanted to go do it all again.

There are two ways that DOOM and its messianic overtones could end: self-sacrificial death or living long enough to become the villain—constantly thirsting for more power, more brutality, more Glory. Here’s where Christians could direct their criticisms within the DOOMverse: the endless accumulation of more; not the satanic imagery that made Doom appear dangerous all the way back in the whitewash-Conservative-dominated early 90s, but the incessant pursuit of materialistic “more.” The true messianic call to resist power-consumption and endless acquisition requires self-criticism—and that’s far from easy. It’s so much more fun to slap on another coat of armor, grab a chainsaw and get back to “rip and tear.”

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  • Joey

    Its not very Christian like or biblical to compare Jesus with a game series related to demonic imagery. God commands His people to separate themselves from the world. Some games are good some not. Doom? Any Christian would know to avoid such title. I get the analogy you made however you just turned the analogy into an excuse to play the game… Self Control is hard but there is no logical reason to pick up this game other then to feed the flesh. You shouldn’t promote this game at all or even use it in a analogy. Take Jesus as an example. His parables where clean & simple. He never made a parable which compared something Holy (salvation, Heavenly Kingdom) with something worldly (bloody roman warfare) to make His point.

  • http://mjoshua.com M. Joshua Cauller

    Hey Joey, I’m just seeing your response now. Sorry.

    I hope you don’t mind if I provide a counterpoint? You say Jesus never used any worldly parables, but have you never heard the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16)? Jesus most definitely understood the ways of the world and how they worked — and on occasion how they pointed to Kingdom reality better than the faithful. Or how about Paul? Who took the most flagrant idolatry of his day and used that to point the most intellectual elite of Athens to the truth of God? (Acts 17).

    Not everybody should play DOOM. Definitely not if that violates your conscience. So if you’re convinced that this will do that, don’t play it. However, I think this falls in line with what Plugged In would suggest bears caution: something perhaps for *some* to grapple with in a deeper sense. I personally feel like the game serves as some challenging contrast against what we sometimes assume Victory looks like; power, conquest, the ability to curb stomp demons. And I believe that contrast of the reality of messianic work (sacrifice) is that much more potent.

    I can understand if it just looks like a bunch of demonic imagery and reveling in all that’s wrong with the world. I’m just trying to take Jesus seriously when he said, ” Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”