For months now I’ve been plagued by a single thought: “am I entertained enough?” The anxiety of whether the media I’m currently watching, playing, consuming is maximizing my enjoyment… the dishes accumulating in the sink… the grimy surfaces of a once pristine apartment… the sagging jowls of a man tired and obsessed… coffee as steroids for high-performance enjoyment… night terrors and visions of dogs in cages being drained of their blood in some cyberpunk near-apocalypse… loss of identity, loss of hair, loss of human dignity. Like one of Alfie Bown’s case-studies, a figure that might one day be known as the Van Gogh of Video Games… (“I hear the dude lost his ear trying to ‘communicate’ with his Playstation 4…”) All of these circumstances like the fibers of a soiled mattress laid in some lost alleyway to serve as the conjugal bed for the wedding of man and machine.
Yes, I was losing it. Bouncing from game to game like a demented jackalope. Re-buying The Witcher 3 on Playstation 4 just so I could build an obsession and potentially enjoy the expansions (including the upcoming and supposedly amazing Blood and Wine, set in wine-drinkin’ country). No dice. What about Call of Duty: Black Ops 3? The employee’s face in Target, too close to mine, speaking the sweet words I wanted so badly to hear: “this game is fucking awesome.” My eyes looking not into hers, but instead caught on the small piercing protruding from her upper-cheek: a pearl, a promise. A lie. Nothing in that jewel case but the sort of war-on-terror jingoisms that could make Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher blush, disrobe, and reveal their engorged members. ‘Appropriate’ drone warfare, smirking white faces, and the violent-conflict equivalent of having sex with a RealDoll™.
Enter DOOM. After Bethesda and iD Software sneakily refused to send out advance copies to anybody but ‘influencers’ and the lukewarm reception to the multiplayer Beta, my hopes for an FPSILF (FPS I’d like to fuck) after Destiny felt all but dashed against the jaggies of a badly-rendered cliffside. No matter, I had to spend the money for myself. That weekend I played a good amount of DOOM: a pretty fun game and a pretty good time. Then I tried Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Then I put both of them on Craigslist and decided (once again) that FPS’s and I were not meant to be. This time it was really over. I wouldn’t come crawling back. I would Stay Strong.
Two days later I handed my game to a stranger on the corner of 4th and Grand. I folded his cash and put it in my pocket, thinking back to that morning, how I’d entered a fugue state and purchased a steam key to play DOOM on the PC. At this point you may ask: “Why in god’s name did you buy the same game you just sold? Will the experience really be so different on PC? Different enough to warrant purchasing the game a second time after selling it?” I could sit here and argue that the original DOOM was a PC game, that strafing comes from the WASD control-scheme, that aiming is easier with a mouse and as such will allow me to crank the difficulty and become a true demon-killing-machine. But that’s not the entire truth. The truth is that I got swept up in the craze. Much like a World Cup can make an entire European country look like a stadium of bloodthirsty sports fans, critical reactions to DOOM in my feeds have stoked the embers of desire in my restless heart, and now the fire of DOOM rages inside me, consuming Reason in its wake.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to explain old games to new audiences? Not just why they are ‘good’, but why the world lost its fucking mind at the time of their release? I think this speaks to why video games are so unique as medium: our enjoyment of them is perhaps even more contextual than it is for film or television. A new mechanic, a new way of designing games can flip some subconscious switch in the mind, turning a casual gaming session into a holy-shit-this-is-all-I-want-to-ever-play-why-is-this-so-good kind of moment. DOOM‘s mechanics have probably ‘changed the game’ for the big-baddie-big-boom FPS’s, and these findings will undoubtedly weave themselves effortlessly into future titles. Years from now the post-millennials will put down their Adderall vapes and VR Oakleys long enough to ask: “why did y’all love DOOM so much?” And we won’t have an answer. “You had to be there kid,” we’ll say to them. “You had to be there when they remade DOOM.”
“For the third time.”