Fortuitous Ephiphaneia #17: Diablo II: Good or Evil?Posted 7 April 2004 by Flux
Diablo II: Good or Evil?
Like many things in life, whether fantasy games like Diablo are evil or not all comes down to the perspective of the individual. Many of us can see the exact same thing or experience the exact same situation, yet draw totally different conclusions from it. Take for example an experience from my college days. A female friend of mine was extremely upset the last week of her first semester as a freshman. She had been an all “A” student in high school, but she fell victim to the party life of college living and spent more time downing beers and socializing than she did studying. She had just found out what her marks were going to be and that those same marks would be sent home to her parents soon. She knew that her father would be extremely disappointed in her and she really had no excuse for the happy-go-lucky lifestyle that she had taken up. Plus, her father was paying for her to be in school and this really wasn’t the type of return he was expecting on his investment.
My friend was nearly in tears as she told me about why she was so upset and what her marks were. After a few moments she finished speaking and I said “I can see how this news would upset your father, but I can also think how things could be much worse”. I told her that her marks would only get her put on academic probation and that she would have the next semester to turn things around. Never having been an “A” student, I couldn’t completely relate. I usually received “B’s” without ever cracking open a textbook and that was good enough for me (I know, wasted potential of youth). My comments didn’t really console her even though she knew it was the straightforward truth. So, I told her to call up her dad and tell him that she was impregnated by the drummer of a band that was passing through campus and that she was going to drop out of school and get a job to support the baby until your drummer boyfriend gets back into town. She stopped crying and said “I CAN’T tell him that”. I said “sure you can and after you tell him that, slip in the part about your grades being bad and it won’t seem so bad by comparison!” She laughed. I don’t’ know if she actually did it, but at least she saw her marks in perspective. She understood my point, that good and bad are often determined by ones point of view at a particular point in time.
Idolatry – A Case For Good
I believe that idolatry is the most influential aspect of Diablo as it relates to people concluding whether or not it is good or evil. Just as so many people pass judgment on each other through the superficial, many of us do the same thing to games like Diablo. We get a quick peek, or see a particular symbol during game play and automatically jump to some conclusion without necessarily learning anymore. Granted, you would think that only people who have never played the game would make such superficial judgments. Of course, you would also think that regular gamers who are familiar with the content and storyline would be less likely to make such judgments. But, the truth is that people on both sides of the issue have drawn such conclusions.
Maybe it is just because Blizzard is in the United States and the predominate religion in the US is Christianity, but Christian symbols seem to be the primary focus for anyone arguing that the game is good. Whether you are playing Diablo or Diablo 2, the symbol of the Cross can be found just about anywhere that you see a church or a monastery. When playing the Paladin character the cross can be found on several pieces of equipment especially when using the Holy Shield skill. Additionally, several icons in the Paladin tree have the symbol of a cross on them and use the term “Holy” in the wording. Thus, the Paladin character himself becomes a symbol of good because the natural association is that a Paladin must be a holy knight, reminiscent of Charlemagne or the Crusades. Therefore, in the never end battle of good and evil the Paladin represents the side of good, taking up arms against evil.
Idolatry – A Case For Evil
I’m not sure if it is only atheists and the agnostics that believe this way, but there is a common misunderstanding that many people believe that “idolatry” is the actual worship of a false god, like a statue or something. A primitive people worshipping a stone monument, or the Hebrew slaves creating a golden calf to worship while Moses was up on the mountain would fit this definition of idolatry. It is true, that this is a type of idolatry, but it isn’t the only definition of idolatry especially as it relates to religious text. There are actually two types of idolatry that can be found in Diablo and/or Diablo 2 that contribute to the idea that the game is evil.
First, there is the idea that people of faith should avoid all appearances of evil. Simply put, this is the old concept that “if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, then it is probably a duck”. Traditional demonic symbols can be found all through the game. From the name of the game itself, to the upside down spinning pentagrams on the game menu, to the various alters, to the pagan references, there can be no doubt that these symbols do exist. The question then becomes “what power do these symbols have?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer and even the various religions and denominations of religions do not clearly agree. Personally, I believe that such symbols only have as much power (or as little power) as I allow them to have. Thus, I can play the game and not think much about it once I consciously make the decision that Satan will have no power over me. However, someone who is a firm believer and participant in spiritual warfare may think that I am a fool because the symbols have great power to influence and control. Regardless, the default decision for most people with religious convictions is to avoid all appearances of evil and to error on the side of caution, therefore if you are not sure if something is evil or not, just avoid it and you won’t have to worry about it later.
The second type of idolatry that can be found relating to Diablo is “having excessive admiration or devotion.” In a religious context, this applies to anything that would cause you to misplace your loyalties or cause you to get your priorities out of order. Obviously this form of idolatry can apply to anything in the material world but it seems to be especially related to “us” (us being video game players) because we can easily devote excessive time to playing games for the “escapism” or getting too caught up in a world that isn’t real. Ever blow off social commitments so you can stay home and play D2? Ever start planning your day so that you will have as much free time as possible to play D2? Consciously, you would never put your game playing above your social obligations, especially for special events planned with your family or friends, nor would you put game play ahead of your work obligations. However, video game addiction is very real and all addictions are a form of idolatry. Thus, many religious people will point out that the real evil isn’t the game itself, but the fact that the game begins to control your life and influence your decision making in the real world.
Vengeance and Power – A Case For Good
A great evil has swept over the land and has threatened to destroy all of the people and their way of life. Noble, or otherwise, a hero comes forward to vanquish the evil and seek vengeance in the name of light. Thus, the concept of both Diablo and D2 is that you are supposed to slay demons and kill the prime evils. Therefore, the game MUST be good because the characters are eliminating evil. Simply, this is the biggest argument that most people bring to the table when claiming that games like Diablo are based on doing good. It is timeless and classic. It is grass roots good versus evil. There are no characters that you need to “figure out” whether or not their motives are true. There isn’t much room for deception or subjective criteria that has to be shifted through to determine who is a “good guy” and who is a “bad guy”. You just pick up your weapon and sally forth into the fight. Plus, Diablo and D2 don’t really allow you to make “evil” choices. It’s not like Baldur’s Gate where you can run through the streets of town knocking off NPCs at random.
Vengeance and Power – A Case For Evil
Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord. Basically, the argument from this view point is that mortal beings are not suppose to take up arms against Satan or any of his demons, nor against your fellow man. From a Christian viewpoint, mankind has been given dominion over Satan anyway and his judgment has already been passed. Combine this with the notion that most religious people have a hard time separating fantasy from reality and you have a belief that you shouldn’t run around trying to slay anything. Now, I can separate fantasy from reality and I’d guess that most believers that play video games also have the ability to do so. But, generally speaking, most religious folks can’t do it. Who knows, maybe they didn’t have a very active imagination at childhood. Regardless of the reasons, the argument is made that it is not feasible to hunt down demons, much less Satan, with conventional weapons or any kind. I seem to recall my father saying something to me as we walked out of the movie theatre after viewing “End of Days” (where Arnold battles Satan throughout New York city). He said “I don’t understand why half the movie was action/adventure when a man can’t fight Satan with conventional weapons anyway”. I just smiled and said “but that’s the point, it isn’t real, it’s just entertainment”.
Since Satan/Diablo can’t be fought with conventional weapons, that brings us to the spells and various magical means with which to take up the fight. The Christian/Judean position here is that all “magic” belongs to witchcraft. There is no such thing as “white magic” or “good witches”. All type of this power comes from the occult and therefore is evil. Even the Paladin, the supposed hold warrior, is never seen praying for divine power, but rather has skills/spells that he just whips up like any other magic user of the game. The original Diablo game was even more skewed in this regard because the “best” weapons and armor were all related to astrological bodies and religious texts firmly associate astrology with demonic power.
Chill out, it’s just a game
In closing I’d just like to call everyone back to the idea of perspective. We are, after all, just talking about a game. It isn’t reality and therefore should only be a small aspect of our lives that we turn to for entertainment. Whether you let it be more than that is up to you and the choices that you make. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe that you can, or you can’t, you are right”. I’d like to take that concept a step further and say “whether you believe that fantasy RPGs are evil or good, you are right”.
I’d also like to apologize for a lack of references outside of Christian/Judean beliefs. I have lived in the Middle East and have a basic understanding of Islam. Likewise, my employer is a practicing Hindu and he has answered many of my questions concerning his faith. However, I am not comfortable with referencing other religions at this time and pretending to be educated in them. I’d rather plead ignorance rather than pretend to know something that I truly do not.
My next column will include your thoughts and ideas on this topic once I finish sorting through your insightful feedback! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts and opinions!
Disclaimer: Fortuitous Ephiphaneia is written by Drandimere (Paul J. Darling) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.