Type of Media: Video Game
Doom seems like it was designed from the ground-up to attract pearl-clutching hysteria. It’s a violent video game, makes heavy use of Satanic imagery, and is customizable so users can create all kinds of tasteless unlicensed content that then inevitably gets blamed on the game developers. However, it was actually designed for an entirely different purpose: to give players a flesh-ripping, brain-jamming, high-octane good time. Under the gore, the monsters, and the controversy is a game made of simple elements that clicked together so well it popularized an entire genre. Its blood pumps through nearly every first-person shooter that came after it, to the point that you can’t fully understand shooters until you’ve played Doom.
In Doom, you play as a nameless space marine (affectionately called “Doomguy” by fans) working corporate security for the Union Aerospace Corporation. Posted to Martian moon Phobos, your base gets overrun with demons when it turns out the UAC was experimenting with teleportation by opening portals to Hell. With your squadmates dead, you’re forced to shoot your way out through waves of demons on Phobos, fellow Martian moon Deimos, and eventually in Hell itself.
Engrossing, I know. And at first Doom’s gameplay seems about as thin as the story. You can sum up pretty much the entire game in seven words: run through areas, shoot demons, don’t die. However, the brilliance of Doom isn’t in how clever it is, but in how good it feels. Doom feels good to play even today, avoiding most of the clunkiness that plagues so many early 3D games. The guns shoot powerful, meaty shots. You move alarmingly fast, able to easily dart left and right to avoid the slow-moving fireballs that Imps often throw your way. Then you discover that holding down Shift makes you sprint, and you fly across the level at ludicrous speed.
Once it gets going, Doom is a high-adrenaline assault on the senses. You sail through corridors laden with pentagrams, blasting Cacodemons with your shotgun while synth music approximating heavy metal blares through your headphones. Doom doesn’t let you worry about reloading, shoving all your ammo for each weapon into one massive hoard. Christ, Doom doesn’t even let you worry about looking up, restricting your head movement to left and right so you can’t distract yourself from the main objective of demon-slaughter.
Finishing a level gives you a look at some stats, like the percentage of enemies you killed and items you picked up, but the biggest thing it tells you is how much time you took to get through the level. It shows you the par clear time, which seems so quick it had to have been set by cheetahs hopped up on black market amphetamines, and then it shows you your clear time, which ticks up slowly to mock how you play games like an old grannie and you need to go faster, Faster, FASTER!
Doom is influential to the first-person shooter genre in so many fundamental ways, to the point that for years all first-person shooters were called “Doom Clones”. The weapon selection of pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher, and plasma rifle; the level structure of finding color-coded keys to open different doors; the competitive multiplayer deathmatch. All of these features were pioneered by Doom and you still see them in modern first-person shooters. And yet, after all those years of inspiring other games, somehow Doom doesn’t feel generic. Nothing has been able to top it as the go-to fast, demonic, arcadey shooter.
A cult of fans has grown around Doom that still persists. It grew as a game of the people, originally releasing as free shareware and allowing intense levels of modding and customization. People can create their own levels, add new features, and tweak settings according to their whim. Its first online multiplayer mode was made by a fan and distributed for free. Doom’s availability and modability made it spread everywhere, and it dominated the PC gaming scene in the mid-90s as the first big online shooter. No LAN party was complete without Doom.
Of course, as a popular shooting game, Doom would attract controversy. The public, spurred on by sensational news reports, was afraid that the game was a Satanic murder simulator that let you practice killing in realistic environments (I don’t know how you can look at Doom’s pixelated, low-res graphics and think ‘realistic’, but I guess the 90s were a more innocent time). However, the real scrutiny came in 1999, after the Columbine High School massacre. The kids who committed the attack were professed fans of Doom, with one of them even creating his own custom levels. There was a media frenzy blaming Doom for warping the shooters’ personalities. Urban legends sprang up that they created a Doom level modeled after their high school, populated with characters resembling their classmates and teachers so they could train for the massacre.
For the record, there is no scientific consensus on whether violent video games increase rates of violent crimes. Some studies have shown that violent games cause children who play them to be more aggressive and less kind, while others have found that the increase in popularity of violent games over the years coincides with a decrease in juvenile crime rates.
Regardless, the accusations leveled at Doom didn’t stop it from growing. It spawned a couple sequels, and in 2016 got a series reboot. If you like first-person shooters that reboot is a fantastic game all on its own and brings the spirit of Doom into the modern day, but I still highly suggest you try the original. It’s a look at the roots of one of the most popular gaming genres, and still a Hell of a lot of fun.