My good friend Blake Ervin (writer of the Chronicles of Marla comic) is turning some age today. Since he lives in Sweden, where fun has been outlawed since 1982 and every meat isn’t actually meat, I decided that I would write some jokes about any subject that he wanted. He told me that he wanted me to write about the original Doom game, and I’m more than happy to.
You see, even though I’m terrible at video games as a whole, I have beaten Doom, a game that I was completely unprepared to play. For a seven-year-old, Doom was a stunning revelation. Suddenly games weren’t my friend anymore. They were enemies to be conquered. Here are four things that beautiful, terrible Doom taught me about video games.
Exploding Barrels Are A Constant Accident
Barrels have been a staple of video games since Donkey Kong. They are the perfect antagonist: innocuous at first, and then suddenly impossible to evade. Before starting up any Steal-Your-Girlfriend-or-Your-Bananas campaign, a video game bad guy orders barrels in bulk. And that’s not even counting the exploding ones, the ones that Doom introduced to me as the foremost enemy in the game.
Doom starts by placing you in a room with an exploding barrel and a pistol. Like sticking Steven Seagal in a closet made solely out of wrists, it’s an extremely destructive decision, and one bound to end in furious, painful screams. My first instinct as a child was to shoot anything in the room that wasn’t naturally part of the room, and if you imagined a kid guiding his space marine right beside a barrel of acid and soon losing most of his health, you are way ahead of me, seventeen years ago.
Doom also taught me that exploding barrels could be used to kill enemies, though this barely worked. While it was 3D, the field of depth made it so that the monsters you faced had two distances from you: a blip on the other side of the room and devouring your skull. That would mean that you either missed the barrel entirely, or ended up catching yourself in the blast too. And while you win the moral victory for being a martyr, it’s not exactly logical to sacrifice yourself when all you’re saving is the Hellspawn that you didn’t feel like aiming at.
Enemies Can Attack From Behind
Doom has an interesting way to tell you that you’re hurt. In the bottom of the screen, between your health and armor, is a small image of your face, which slowly gets more and more beaten up as you take damage, the most medically realistic part of a game dedicated to walking through a portal and taking a shotgun to floating demon heads. The game also uses the effective method of flashing red every time you take a hit, and when you’re playing it for the first time, most of the game ends up being devoted to trying in futility to fight off monsters while your screen decides to throw a rave.
But what happens when all of a sudden it starts flashing red and there’s nothing in front of you? Really, I’m asking for younger me, at an age where it seemed improbable that game developers would create enemies that you had to turn around to see. All the adventure games I’d played before were platformers, where enemies are programmed to pace around until you show up a few feet away to kick them into evaporation. Doom didn’t have this same feature. Villains in Doom could tell that I was mostly helpless to attacks which required the defensive tactic of spinning around frantically until I found the source of whatever was throwing fireballs at my back.
Rooms Will Kill You Without Warning
In Sonic The Hedgehog 2, there is a zone called Chemical Plant, where you drown. I refuse to say “try not to drown” because whenever I have gotten to that part of the game, suddenly everything becomes the most suspenseful part of The Poseidon Adventure and I’m thrust into trying to find a way to not repeatedly bump my head until I asphyxiate underwater. But at least you know why you’re dying.
I had never played a game before that meant suddenly losing health as soon as I walked into a seemingly normal room. Mars demons have developed lungs that can handle areas filled with poisonous gases, but unluckily enough for all human, we haven’t. Our lungs are constructed to handle regular air and not much else. Even a few streets in Queens are pushing it.
To make it through those rooms, you have to find a hazmat suit. But why, video games? Why do you hate me so much that you’d make me have to walk into a room, force me to realize “Oh, this room is fucked,” and direct me to walk around until I found a special item that allowed me to move through it, unaffected? Mega Man X never tried this hard to kill me.
There Are Few Things More Satisfying Than Finding A Better Weapon
In most of the other games that I played during that time, the weapon you started with would serve you pretty well through most of the game. In the Super Star Wars trilogy, if you had a blaster, as long as you were willing to press a button really fast, a lot, no boss stood a chance. In Doom, since every character died in the same chest-exploding fashion, having a bad gun meant firing pellets into the body of a Minotaur-cyborg while it repeatedly spread you all over the walls.
But finding a shotgun and then later a chain gun? The game drastically changes into an I Am Legend scenario where now you are the thing that everyone on the planet fears. When you’ve taken so many shots from your zombified former comrades, finding something that mows down an entire room by holding Y and pressing “right” on the D-pad, turns the game into an insane, cackling experience. The monsters now must whisper whenever they say your name, for the Doom is YOU.