It’s not a stretch to say that the theological concepts of “guilt” and “sin” are all but lost in the modern era. Libertinism is the prevailing philosophy of the West—whether our fixation on technology or our grim view of the body as simply a composite of pleasure centers. Without a concept of sin and evil, good melts into “whatever feels good to me” and good deeds simply serve to tap into a dopamine hit.
This is why so many analyses of Blasphemous, the new Metroidvania-style platformer by Team 17, fundamentally misunderstand what they are looking at. Some critics assume that the developers, hailing from Catholic Spain, are offering up a critique of their own religious history, and that the themes and images within are meant to showcase the awfulness of Christianity’s history. However, in an interview with IGN during E3 2019, designer Miguel Ortego, when asked if this game was a critique of religion, replied “Not at all. We grew up with this culture…. it’s not a commentary.”At its center, Blasphemous provides a crystal clear image of what Christianity has meant for millions of believers for almost two millennia—the reality of sin and Satan, the weight of guilt, and the blessing of forgiveness.
It’s no wonder critics have misunderstood the art style and imagery, considering that many of them no longer live and breathe in the air that our ancestors have since time immemorial. Religious symbols and iconography, graphically detailed and showcasing traumatic events such as the crucifixion, have been replaced by brand design and advertising. From the ornate helmet that the protagonist The Penitent One carries to the contorted body of The Twisted One, the game’s central religious figure, all of Blasphemous’ imagery is grounded in the tradition of Catholic Christian symbolism that stretches back several centuries and has only recently been abandoned by modern Westerners.
The game itself mirrors the historic Christian experience of movement from guilt to absolution. Awakening in a monastery among the bodies of the brothers of your order, you travel through a world that has been maligned by The Miracle, a mysterious event or being that has transformed the world and its residents into gross monstrosities. For example, one of the major enemies is the skeleton of an archbishop that is moved by several disembodied hands. Blasphemous is part Metroidvania (gaining new power ups to access new lands) and part Dark Souls (high difficulty marked by “bonfire” like checkpoints).
The most striking aspect of this game is the imagery. The enemies, the lore, and the world are pulled straight out of medieval and counter-Reformation era Spain—think the artwork of El Greco combined with the fervor of St. John of the Cross. Or if Lovecraft were born in Madrid instead of Rhode Island. The image of crucified enemies, tortured gods, and corrupt heads of religious orders combined with the story’s focus on your main character and his mission: to confront the sin that has corrupted the land so that he might be rid of his guilt for passively allowing this to happen.
Blasphemous isn’t a game for the weak-hearted. The violence is graphic. The images are intense. But at its center, Blasphemous provides a crystal clear image of what Christianity has meant for millions of believers for almost two millennia—the reality of sin and Satan, the weight of guilt, and the blessing of forgiveness. While its critics have unfortunately misunderstood its message and purpose, a short walk through church history shows that this game is simply offering us a glimpse of a re-enchanted world, where the concepts that are the bedrock of the Christian faith (sin, guilt, love, hope) are more than abstract terms—they are grounded in a reality that is all too real and with stakes far too high to be ignored. To go back into our world and live again like these things are simply word games to play while we go about our daily life? Now that is truly blasphemous.