As a man of no particular religious affiliation, I’ve always found Hell to be an interesting concept. Even as a child, I found something inescapably alluring about a place that contains all the horrors and ironic punishments that man is capable of imagining. I suppose Clive Barker is somewhat to blame as Hellrasier and Hellraiser II are among my most memorable childhood movies, much to my parents chagrin. Still, as a gamer, I’ve retained a quiet interest in titles that try to capture a certain vision of the pit. Though interest in the underworld seems to have ebbed since the late 90s and early 2000s, I thought it would be fun to take a quick walk through gaming Hell.
Hellish inspiration: Old School Christianity
The Diablo series appropriates all the fun parts of the Old Testament as well as borrowing from some Babylonian and Sumerian nomenclature. In short, it’s about a war between Heaven, as represented by the Council of Archangels, and Hell, whose front men are the three Prime Evils, Diablo, Lord of Terror, Mephisto, Lord of Hatred, and Baal, Lord of Destruction. Of course, the fate of humanity hangs in the balance of this conflict.
Hellish inspiration: Dante’s Divine Comedy
Dante’s Inferno sees Dante re-imagined as a crusader knight of questionable moral standing who enters Hell to save the soul of his wife from Lucifer. Level design within the game closely mirrors the nine circle structure of Hell as found within the first book of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem. Even the level bosses within the game are creative takes on the denizens of Hell that literary Dante encountered on his trip through the pit.
Hellish inspiration: Mars / Cyberpunk Christianity
No list of games about Hell would be complete without mentioning the masterpiece of carnage that is DOOM. Notwithstanding DOOM 3, the story behind DOOM has always been an afterthought. Yet amid the ultra violence, this much is clear: Hell has risen on Mars. Pig demons, fire breathing imps, floating eye monsters, zombie marines, and cybernetic man-goats are among the many horrors that populate the Union Aerospace Corporation’s labyrinthine Martian holdings. Even when employing the aptly named God mode, DOOM remained a near impossible puzzle where salvation, in the form of moving to the next level, required countless hours of seeming blind faith that a solution was to be found.
Hellish inspiration: Catholicism with a dash of Chthonic “Old One” mythos
Clive Barker’s Jericho might not be one of the best games out there, but it does boast of an interesting vision of hell. Before God created humanity, he created a being in his own image. The “Firstborn” was god-like in its power, enigmatic, and amoral. So god quickly cast the Firstborn into an abyss and sealed it inside a box. The Firstborn broke out of his prison on seven different occasions. Each time he was beaten back, but dragged a piece of the Earthly plane with him. So Hell is box that contains a twisted mishmash of our world throughout human history.
Hellish inspiration: Shinto’s Yomi
Okay, I’m not even going to try and broach the complex canon versus retcon history that is Ninja Gaiden’s back story. In short, it’s about a ninja named Ryu Hayabusa who fights demons. Most of the games, both Nintendo/Famicom classics and contemporary reboots, feature a story that begins in the mortal realm and ends with Ryu descending into an underworld that abounds with demonic forces and abject misery. Similar to the Shinto vision of Yomi, the underworlds of Ninja Gaiden appear as a place of death and decay where all souls go when they die. Of course jiggle boob physics in the new games kind of take away from the illusion.
Hellish inspiration: Greek mythology
I was content to end today’s list with five titles, but it felt wrong to ignore God of War. Taking its inspiration from Greek myth, the franchise sees a Spartan named Kratos making war against the gods of Olympus whereby he eventually assumes Ares’ war god mantle. During the third game, Kratos descends into the underworld to do battle with Hades. The aforementioned death god looks like a cross between a Cenobite from Hellraiser and one of those helmet monsters from Infinity Blade. Despite using a generic looking Tatarus and River Styx as passing locales, the freaked out looking Hades bludgeoned God of War into my list.