Hell and salvation in the deep south: why Pinstripe rejects religion as fear
“So the cat takes you into Hell…”
I'm speaking with Thomas Brush, the creator of Indiecade adventure game Pinstripe, when he drops that bomb on me. I played a demo of Pinstripe before talking with him, and it's the sort of game that obviously has something to say, but it was hard to know what that something was in just a demo.
Pinstripe is a 2D adventure game in the classic mould. Gameplay generally revolves around environmental puzzles and figuring out the needs of NPCs, but this is about more than that. Pinstripe is a game about a young man, James, and his struggles in choosing the right path in life. And I found that it's also a game about its own creator, and the struggle to talk about modern day life and religion.
I met the cat that Brush is referring to a couple of times in my limited time with the game. The first was right before the train I was on crashed, and each subsequent time was in the wake of sadness or despair or tragedy.
“I like to think of the cat as…pursuits and pleasures that people in life pursue that they really shouldn't and they screw up everything,” he said. “There are thousands of them that destroy families and destroy people's lives. So I like to think of the cat as something that leads people astray.”
Heaven or Hell
Pinstripe is a game about Hell and Heaven, and the forces in life that lead to either extreme.
“I guess you could say it's religious…or something,” there's a pain in Brush's voice when he feels forced to admit that. “I don't really want to say upfront, blatantly, 'this is Hell and this is Heaven.' I kind of want it to be a metaphor for life and how we progress through life and how we pursue certain passions and sometimes we go in the wrong direction.”
“I like to think of James' Wife and the cat as a direction or a chase that James should not be going down,” Brush continued. “James, on Earth, committed suicide because his wife died of cancer. And that's played out in the game as James follows his wife into Hell. A lot of people, I think they don't let go of relationships, and I think that's the same with James. He couldn't deal with the pain of letting go.”
Hell seems to have played a big role in Brush's life, and when I asked him about this it became immediately clear why that's the case.
“My dad was raised…it's called 'Holiness.' It was ridiculous. If you've ever seen a Southern Baptist preacher…he was raised like, insane, Southern Baptist. Crazy, deep South, everyone's hot, sitting outside, and the preacher is screaming about Hell.”
Holiness is a strict branch of Christianity that prohibits things like alcohol consumption, gambling, and in some particularly strict cases: dancing and movie-going. This was the brute force way of spreading religion: terror.
Brush is part of a newer generation of Southern youth that don't hold to the old ways of convincing people to buy-in to your beliefs. Appropriately, he was sipping a beer during our conversation, displaying a small disregard for the old ways.
“Most of my friends in college, they completely lost their faith, just gone,” he said. “But for me and a lot of my friends who are religious, we try a different approach to our beliefs than our parents did.”
“I want people to know what I believe, just like anybody with any beliefs wants people to know what they believe, but I don't want to shove it down their throats,” he said. “And it's a cultural thing, I've seen it with a lot of [young people in the South.] And that's how I want Pinstripe to be. I want the message to be clear, but I want people to figure it out for themselves.”
The subject of Heaven, Hell, and the afterlife isn't just for devout Christians though. Brush believes that this is a subject that can engage anybody from any background, and that's why the game is focused on that subject.
“Whether or not you believe anything...if you bring up a conversation about Heaven and Hell, even if they don't believe in it you're still going to have a really interesting conversation.”
“I'm not trying to be cool,” Brush prefaced his comment, “but everytime I'm making a game I want people to feel the way they feel when there's a massive thunderstorm outside, but they're inside underneath a blanket.”
“It's that sublime feeling of 'there's terror and craziness outside, but I'm cozy inside and I'm safe.”
That comment sums up my time playing Pinstripe and talking with Brush. He's part of a new generation that wants to be more gentle and welcoming with Christian messages and themes, but the message is still there, like that thunderstorm raging just beyond the walls of safety.