Sandy Peterson’s Wild Ride

If you’re at all familiar with me and my life you might be unsurprised to know that I don’t have a lot of respect for religion, just period. I think it runs straight through atheism (no belief in god) into an antitheism (that the idea of believing in a god is beneath human dignity) and maybe even veering hard into misotheism (the idea that god as ever expressed in the faith systems known to me is our moral inferior and if it were real, it would be our moral duty to find a way to kill it). I feel this most strongly about the faiths I know, mostly notably American Evangelical Christianity, but it folds outwards into all the Jesus-based faiths and cults, where I believe them to be quite wholly grown from poison root, gnarled in tree and branch. Courtesy of my Christian upbringing, I learned a lot about how all those other varieties of Christianity are evil, and even spent some time dedicated to the relative newcomers to the space of Big Name Christian Sects – Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and of course, the Most American Of Christians, the Mormons.

I don’t generally air these complaints in public. How people keep their beliefs lining up in their own head is generally a private matter, and while I may make fun of institutions with literal golden thrones that preach piety and charity, I know there are also people who follow me who are of these faiths who like what I produce, and have reconciled my preferences with my content. Basically, I think that Christian folk can handle me disliking their club, what with all the immense social safety and privilege and whatnot that their organisations with international power afford them.

I bring this up because there were definitely times in my upbringing, where managing these competing ideological thoughts and contradictory ideas (like if the Mormons were new and our church was freshly founded, what were we?) where, the strange thing is, one of the best pieces of advice I got from navigating out of orthodoxy was a quote from a Mormon.

And he wasn’t even talking to me.

I mean kinda.

Sandy Peterson is probably one of the most important people in (White, English Speaking, 90s-to-Now, Existing-Power-Structure Centric) gaming. A tail-end boomer, Peterson has been working in gaming since 1974, when he was 19 years old and he’s pretty much never stopped, just moving laterally into new, interesting spaces to work. He’s worked for Chaosium, producing Call of Cthulhu material and Runequest material, and if you don’t know what that is, ask the older bearded guy at your gaming circle who periodically mentions ‘fumble tables.’ He moved into videogames, where he worked on Sid Meier’s Pirates! and the absolutely terribly underappreciated Hyperspeed and Darklands, games that are of the vintage where Civilisation 1 advertises them in its closing screen. Then he moved into working for id Software, where he worked on Doom and Quake then he helped out Raven Software with level design on Hexen and hey that’s enough vital influence of an entire media form, let’s move across to work on Age of Empires stuff with Ensemble Studios, and while we’re in the neighbourhood, why not make stuff for Halo Wars with all that experience you had stored up? Then he moved laterally into board games, where he kickstarted, successfully, the absolute titan in a box of a game that is Cthulhu Wars, the rare kind of game that wants to step up to the challenge Twilight Imperium leaves and actually fights it.

In summary, Sandy Peterson has been responsible for three of the biggest success stories in three different fields; the longstanding Call of Cthulhu tabletop game, the world-shaking Doom, and the record-setting Cthulhu Wars. That’s just three big impacts in three fields, and the thing is, if you took all three of those away his second tier success stories are still titanic impacts. His work shows up in media where he needs to do a lot of direct work rather than just tell people what to do (Kojima).

This isn’t the whole of his work (he made a movie? Kinda?) but it’s certainly the bulk of it. And I haven’t combed the man’s twitter or nothing, but, amazingly, as far as I can find, he hasn’t said anything to fucking embarrass me for thinking well of him.

Yet.

Like I said, I haven’t combed his twitter.

And far be it from me to say that a Mormon man born in the 1950s might be Wholesome Content Bean Uwuguu, but he did say something, a long time ago, that helped me handle a complicated problem that had been put in my head. The issue was that I was at the time in my childhood, grappling with the ways that media that depicted terrible things might be affecting me; that the nightmares I had and obssessions I got over videogames with dark elements in them were a sign of some dreadful sin inside me. One day, while reading a proto-website known as a ‘magazine,’ I found a quote from Sandy, in an article describing the DOOM team, and how he reconciled his faith (which was much less conservative than mine at the time) and his involvement in the creation of DOOM:

“They’re the bad guys.”

Yes, this is obvious. Yes, this is ridiculous. Yes, this should only really be enlightening to a ten year old.

But in my defense, I was ten.

DOOM creates a universe where demons and hell and lovecraftian unknowable, undecipherable, deliberately inexplicable evil are real. And it is a universe where you can meaningfully destroy it with a shotgun to the face.

Doom is great and part of why it’s great is a Mormon Lovecraft fan.

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