It is six-thirty am, two days after my eighth birthday. Even though that means we’re in the middle of antipodean summer, I still live on the side of a fucking mountain so it's cold this early. I'm sneaking into my dads office to play my birthday present. Mum and Dad fought over whether I was old enough to play it. My parents insisted I wasn’t allowed toy weapons as a child, until Dad started to make toy swords out of wood for me to play with, so I guess they have conflicting viewpoints about the mimicry of violence. Dad had folded on the toy weapons. He folded on this, too.
I tiptoe past their bed, and then I'm in the silence of Dad's office. I am sitting on a chair in front of the 486. The cold steel of the arm rests bites into my thighs. There is the gentle clang of the CRT monitor degaussing as the PC starts up. Soft clicks and whirrs as drives spool up. Hands shaking, I reach for the mouse. I am not sure if my hands are shaking due to the cold, or the anticipation. I do not care. I just hope they aren't shaking so much that the ball inside the mouse rattles and wakes up my parents, still asleep in the next room.
I am bathed in the soft aqua glow of Norton commander. It calms me, but only momentarily. I swallow, hard, and move the mouse towards a directory innocently labelled DOOM. I double click on DOOM.EXE. My finger trembles on the way to depress the TURBO button on the front of the beige case. I don’t even know what it does, but I figure if anything requires TURBO, this would be it. Daemons are loading. WAD files decompressed. Pineal glands squeezed. I gulp as that music fires up in my Dad's headphones, which I nicked from the stereo on the way in. Even turned almost all the way down, it's still enough to shoot cold fire down my spine.
If you've read this far, then I am in good company. We've stalked the same halls, you and I. We've both stared down the sheer horrors of Hell right in their blurry, pixelated eyes. We know the same rush of firing a maxed out BFG at full burst. We both laughed maniacally as we chased down demons with a revving chainsaw. The first time you split a Cacodemon only to watch it’s innards spill onto the floor in front of you. Knowing the true value of plasma ammo. This was a high the likes of which I had never even conceived: the simple joy of virtual combat. I was hooked, an instant addict. At night, I dreamt of dark hall ways, exploding barrels, and the screams of the damned.
In real life I was a uncoordinated kid. I had inner ear problems when I was born, so I couldn’t ride a bike. I wasn’t good at sports. My hands and my legs felt like distant relatives rather than an intrinsic part of me. Here, in this pixelated vision of the downfall of man, here I danced electric. I became a surgeon with the shotgun. A seeker of precision rocket shots. I hungered for the scream of a Plasma Rifle on full rip. I knew where to go first in each level, optimising weapon and item pick ups. When I had gotten to the height of my “abilities”, I bought one of those “Guidebooks” that were so popular at the time HOW TO BECOME UNTOUCHABLE AT EVERY GAME EVER sort of thing. It taught me the value of constant movement, SR50 strafe running, the art of circle strafing. But it couldn’t touch on what made DOOM special. It couldn’t define why I crept out of bed at ungodly hours to play this particular game above all others. Hell, I don’t even know if I can do it now. This entire piece has been about my recollections of playing Doom. It’s been warped and changed by time, and focused through the lens of my current context. Parts have fallen through the cracks of memory and alcohol. I have, unwittingly, changed the narrative. Let’s be honest, real life isn’t that dramatic.
Look, I’m trying to tell you why this video game is such a big fucking deal. I could talk about the immediate impact DOOM had on the culture of electronic gaming. After all, it is responsible for the concept of both “Deathmatch” and game modding. I could take a broader look at how its DNA lingers in the FPS games of today. I could have, as I was originally intending, talked about it’s impact on my life right up to this moment. I had some really interesting stuff about the dynamic range of it, how it can throw you from a pulsating clubbeat massacre to the dead silence of exploration, before turning the lights off and scaring the pants off you. However, when it came right down to it, the best I can manage is to describe a series of moments, trying to touch something ephemeral.
I keep staring at that last sentence. It’s easy to write about DOOM. By that I mean there is so much information about the game out there on the internet that finding information about the game isn’t hard. Finding references and quotes isn’t hard. Anybody worth a damn has played DOOM, or there just wouldn’t be this much content, right? So why add more tinder to the blazing forest fire? Now that I have tried to write about it myself, I understand. Nobody is trying to inform you about what Doom is, why it’s important or worth remembering. We all understand why. What we had was one of those unique moments, where the right people are in the right place at the right time. Romero, Carmack, Hall: They created a masterpiece. We were lucky enough to be in those first waves who experienced it. What we’re doing is prodding each other and saying “You were there too, right?”. Pinching each other, desperate to reaffirm that the experience we had was real, and not just some bizarre fever dream.
Karl is an amateur games developer and can be found on Twitter @DumbparameciuM