The Demonology of DOOM Eternal

When you picture a demon, what do you see? Because despite their prevalence in media, there’s no real definitive description of a citizen of hell in most major religions. Some might look like regular people, like Michael from the Good Place. Others might have cartoonishly devilish features, like Hellboy’s red skin, large horns and tail. They might look completely inhuman like the creatures from Lovecraft, or they might look a lot like humans with facial prosthetics like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Religion, folklore, myth, and literature have all influenced our diverse modern conceptions of underworld denizens, so it’s no surprise that DOOM Eternal features a range of fiendish foes. Taking a look at the Doomslayer’s enemies reveals influences ranging from Alien to Dante’s Inferno.

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Bible Studies

One of the most iconic enemies in DOOM is the Baron of Hell. This guy has horns, red skin, and even cloven feet, making him almost stereotypically biblical. And it’s worth noting that many descriptions of demons actually come from people pondering what Satan might look like. Sometimes he’s a goat, sometimes a snake, and sometimes he’s a dragon. But biblical scholars are pretty sure that if the devil has feet, you can be bet they’re cloven. Some special demons have their own name, rank, and unpleasant portfolio in tomes like the Dictonnaire Infernal, but the typical demon is often seen as a sort of lesser devil as it toils away in its day job as eternal torturer of the damned. 

Perhaps no other extrabiblical story has shaped popular conceptions of the Christian underworld more than Dante’s Inferno. This jolly romp sees the author descend through the nine circles of hell and encounter the hilariously ironic punishments we can all expect for our various crimes. The third circle is the home of the gluttons, those who over-indulged too much all through the year instead of just at Christmas. Their punishment  is to writhe in a rancid swamp, whose malodorous, burning environment evokes the inside of a stomach.

Speaking of the insides of stomachs, you’ll see plenty of them as you tear your way through DOOM Eternal‘s Mancubus enemies, which have been a staple of DOOM since the very beginning. According to their data files in DOOM (2016), these gun-handed hulks have a hell of an appetite and smell just awful. You know who else was hungry? Cerberus, the great worm that mauls the tenants of Dante’s third circle of hell, who is never actually described as a dog in this work. The Mancubus even looked a little wormy in DOOM (2016), but it’s back to a more humanoid appearance in Eternal.

Mr. Worldwide

Moving away from the biblical versions of the infernal, let’s take a look at Ancient Egypt, in which deities and demons often appeared as hybrids of humans and various animals. As a mix of a hippo, crocodile and lion (the three largest animals capable of eating people that the Egyptians knew of), Ammit is one of the most fearsome of these entities. Her role is to punish those spirits deemed impure by Osiris after death, and she does so by gobbling up their hearts; dooming the unworthy to an eternity of restless wandering.

Going back to DOOM, we can see shades of Ammit in the Pinky demon. It doesn’t punish the unworthy any more than literally every DOOM demon does, but its horns, claws, and teeth suggest a more animalistic and less humanoid or mechanical appearance than many of hell’s denizens. And you just know that Pinkys love eating hearts.

On the other side of the DOOM seniority spectrum, we have the Whiplash, a snakelike demon making its first appearance in Eternal. This creature is a kind of snake centaur, with a mechanical lower body and a humanoid upper one. Snakes, of course, figure prominently in myth and religion around the world, perhaps most famously in the Christian world as the form taken by Satan to tempt Eve in the Garden of Eden. But there are snake-like monsters in traditions like Welsh mythology, too.

In the epic poem Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees), the denizens of our realm and the Otherworld go to war over three stolen animals. Otherworld brings it in a big way, unleashing all manner of hellish creatures which include among their number “a mottled ridged serpent, with a thousand souls, by their sins, tortured in the holds of its flesh.” Yikes. The forces of Gwynedd eventually drive back the demonic forces by enchanting the woods to fight for them. In the absence of tree buddies, Doomguy will just have to use good old-fashioned plasma rounds to take out the Whiplash.

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What Fresh Hell?

Aside from the occasional war between realms, the Otherworld of Welsh mythology isn’t such a bad place. It is a land of endless youth and beauty, so finding DOOM-like demons there is a little unlikely. Then again, you might not associate demons with Buddhism either. But if you’ve committed certain heinous acts, you’re going to find yourself in Avici, the lowest level of Naraka. Thankfully, it’s only a temporary stay until you’ve worked off your misdeed. That’s relative, though; the short stays are said to be a little over a thousand years, while the longest can take 3.4 quintillion years, give or take a couple hundred million. 

While in Avici, the reincarnated soul can expect to be tortured relentlessly. Artists have depicted fire and enormous demons wielding pitchforks and other weapons. Sounds a lot like the Marauder, a newcomer to DOOM Eternal. This towering, bull horned figure often comes charging into battle with an equally impressive weapon and has a look in its eye that tells you it could happily chop your butt off for the next million years or so. 

At this point, DOOM has a surprising amount of lore built up around it for a series about a stone-faced space marine killing demons. Its demons, their personalities, hierarchy, and designs not only reflect how their designers wanted the game to look, but also what they wanted to the demons to do. Their designs are shaped by cultural notions of demons and evil creatures, which are in turn shaped by our knowledge and fear of our own mortality. Each culture tackles these fears in its own way, and many do so by vesting them in embodiments of suffering, perhaps to make them more comprehensible. Sooner or later, all humans have to confront our intangible demons and darkest fears; but at least in DOOM we can do so with a chainsaw.

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