The following contains spoilers about the Dead Space series, including material from Dead Space books, games, and movies.
It’s a massive world religion with millions upon millions of devout adherents, and every one of its members is headed for a violent, early grave. When a powerful Manipulator of men rises from the sea, accompanied by another rising from the earth, the church establishes and immediately explodes in population. Members are fanatic, and mark their bodies with the symbols of the Manipulators, which can create similarly powerful images of themselves that slaughter its opponents. The earth is held hostage by its reign of bloodshed.
Now, this description could describe one of two religions, neither of which has occurred in human history. The first is the following of the Anti-Christ during the end-times Tribulation described in Revelations 13. The second is a made up religion from a sci-fi/horror videogame series called Dead Space. And neither is truly the end of the world as we know it.
Video games have had a love affair with eschatology (end-time theology) since at least 1987, when Final Fantasy put the fate of a world into players’ hands, and the tryst has since blossomed into an almost paranoid obsession with interactive end-times simulation. Usually, these take the form of a zombie apocalypse (Dead Rising 3, Left 4 Dead 2), a nuclear holocaust (Call of Duty: Ghosts, Fallout 3), or something more blatant about its fantasy inspiration (Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Chrono Trigger).
A few games, however, have skirted the line between invented eschatological interpretations and something almost biblical. For example, the Darksiders series borrowed heavily from Christian teachings regarding the Tribulation, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and the subsequent description of a war between heaven and hell as described in the book of Revelation. But it imported some ideas from other mythologies and then threw a wrench into the middle of God’s judgment on the earth to preserve the game’s narrative tensions.
The Dead Space series took a more unexpected approach. In order to explain reanimated space zombies, Visceral Games (the Dead Space developers) lifted liberally from the teachings of the church of Scientology to manufacture a fictional, radical religious movement called Unitology. Without getting too far into the weeds on the particulars, Unitology centers on several “markers”, or DNA helix-shaped stone obelisks with possessive psychobiotic properties. The markers, through some telepathic mind-control, warp the minds of their victims into a religious frenzy that leads to a zeal for “convergence,” essentially turning practitioners into blood-lusting space zombies.
The details about how the markers operate follow closely the pattern of the coming of the Anti-Christ in Revelation 13. The Anti-Christ, described as a beast, rises from the sea (v.1) just as the first Unitologist marker is excavated from a deep-sea trench off the coast of Mexico in Dead Space: Martyr. A second beast rises from the earth (v.13) just as a second marker is excavated from Aegis VII in Dead Space. The following which results from the coming of these two Manipulators is massive, especially as the beasts create images of the Anti-Christ to worship (v.14). The Unitologists pursue marker replication as a means of furthering their influence, ultimately killing thousands. The Anti-Christ seals all of its followers with the mark of the beast on their hand or forehead (v.16-17). Unitologists in full-on marker frenzy carve alien symbols into their flesh, including hands and foreheads.
Ok, so there are a lot of loose, metaphorical associations between one of the central events of the Biblical Tribulation and the Dead Space fictional universe–so what?
Well first, much of the material that informed the imagining of Unitology came from actual Scientology, which would seem to imply that Christianity, Unitology, and Scientology have something in common, and they do. They all believe in a literal Armageddon. There’s some communal agreement that the earth is doomed to cataclysm either at the hands of man or some external force or some external force guiding the hands of man. Either way, all would say it’s coming, and it’s the end of earth as we know it.
But what the Unitologists miss about the beast and the symbols and the unprecedented death toll is the same thing that L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, misses, which is the same thing that Darksiders and Call of Duty: Ghosts misses, which is the same thing that Christians are ever on the brink of misinterpreting about the Anti-Christ and his reign on earth. They call it judgment, and it’s not.
As terrifying as it all sounds, these perspectives outside of the Bible claim that the Anti-Christ’s tyranny and genocide are part of God’s judgment for sin. Some radical fundamentalists will even run with this far enough to say that the Anti-Christ is now reigning on earth as a sign of God’s judgment. Listen long enough and you’ll hear just about every world leader accused of being the Anti-Christ. But even outside of the imminent theories about the end-times, the coming of a deceptive, destructive Anti-Christ shouldn’t get lumped in with God’s judgment; Revelations 13 tell us it’s actually the work of Satan, or “the dragon.”
Now, to be clear, two chapters after all this (in Revelations 15) God starts pouring out His righteous wrath by the bowl-full. But to attribute the machinations of Satan to the holy anger of a loving God is not only a misfire but a misunderstanding of who man is in relationship to God. The apocalypse isn’t about man. It’s not about Isaac Clarke or a militant dictator or a fanatical religious cult. The tribulation, like all things, is a display of the glory of God by way of His intersection with the imperfect.
Our attitude toward the Anti-Christ, and the bowls of judgment, and hey, even a zombie apocalypse, should be as Job’s. “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question You, and You make it known to me.’” (Job 42:3-4)