Raised By Screens, Chapter 13: Doom

Raised By Screens is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a memoir – glancing back at the games I played as a child in the order in which I remember playing them, and focusing on how I remember them rather than what they truly were. There will be errors and there will be interpretations that are simply wrong, because that’s how memory works.

Note – due to a silly error on my part, this chapter is out of chronological order. If I ever compile the series, this would become chapter 12 and the UFO Enemy Unknown essays 13 and 14.

As much as PC gaming was my escape, just about my only psychic refuge during the unhappiest years of my life, it didn’t do me any social favours. Despite the great longevity and multiple resurgences of the PC as a gaming platform, there’s a fundamental aesthetic difference which persists even to this day – the solitary, bespectacled man sat at an ugly desk, leaning into a small screen versus a pack of sociable fellows lounging on a sofa, gamepads in hand, hooting at a large television set. I’ll defend the superiority of choice and inventiveness on PC with my dying breath, but it’s just not cool, is it? I’ve long since ceased to care about such things, but as a schoolboy in the early 1990s, having a PC rather than a console was at least as much a curse as a blessing. The spod with his beige box. The fascination with specs and speeds, the absence of big, characterful mascots, the keyboard. It’s as though I actively wanted to be an outcast.

And then Doom.

DOOM: KNEE-DEEP IN THE DEAD
1993, DOS
DEVELOPED BY ID SOFTWARE, PUBLISHED BY ID SOFTWARE/ GT INTERACTIVE

Prototypical first person shooter, in which a human soldier battles assorted monsters on Mars. Initially sold as shareware – the first episode free, the subsequent two bought by mail order.

While there’d been some buzz around the earlier Wolfenstein 3D, Doom was the first game to really rise beyond PC gaming. It was rapidly famous in its own right, the media making it a parental bete noir and in turn as much a must-have for teenagers as any omnipresently-advertised Mario or Sonic sequel. So much killing, so much blood, sadism unbridled: in terms of cultural profile, Doom was the Grand Theft Auto of its time. And unlike most recent GTAs, there wasn’t any sense, in practice, that it was trying to be controversial. It was a game about shooting monsters, and clearly loved being so. (It would be remiss of me here to not mention a notorious Edge review at the time, which chastised a game which was very obviously concerned with shooting monsters to not offer the option to talk to said monsters instead).

In the VGA flesh, Doom wasn’t anything like as shocking or gruesome as either the newspapers or schoolyard legend had it. Even to my over-excited, gore-hungry 13-year-old-eyes, it was too bright and gaudy, too low-detail, too obviously a computer game to meet any claim that it was traumatic levels of violence with an unprecedented degree of photorealism. I was happy with that, because the pursuit of ever-bigger guns and encounters with ever-bigger monsters was what most enraptured me, but I was terribly disappointed that it wasn’t the abjectly terrifying experience some peers had billed it as. Once in a while I’d start in surprise because an Imp popped out of a closet unexpectedly or there was a Cacodemon lurking at the close of a dead-end corridor, but fear never once came into it.

Nevertheless, Doom’s pop-cultural light was luminous enough that, for a precious few weeks, I ceased to be a strange nerd who was ignored by most and bullied by a few, and instead a gateway to notoriety. Alas, my family lived in the sticks so I couldn’t entertain a parade of blood-crazed visitors from the city – not least because no-one’s parent was willingly going to spend an hour driving their son to play a game that the news said would warp his mind – but a couple of kids who I’d become passingly friendly with did find a way.

We cackled at the chainsaw, cheered for the rocket launcher, pointed in awe at the bloodied or murderous face of Doomguy at bottom-centre of the screen, and immediately embraced the Cacodemon as our next exercise book doodle. By this point, I’d also mended fences with my long-time best friend, after around a year in which we became enemies due to an argument over a Twix and his increasing preference for the company of an extremely snooty posh boy who was, if anything, even more unpopular than I was. All this was seismic at the time, and a source of great amusement for those peers who’d long seen our close friendship as pitiful, but of course today I can barely remember the details. He always had a better memory than me, but I can’t ask him because he died of heart failure around ten years ago. Most of my best memories – including of Doom – involve him, and I live in fear of losing ever-more of them.

Like getting the school’s colour printer – a very big deal then – to run off a few copies of Doom’s title screen, which we’d painstakingly screenshotted, then pinning them to various notice boards around school, like some opaque act of guerilla art.

Like misunderstanding magazines’ talk of online bulletin boards and becoming convinced that we could use the school’s network to dial into some remote server to download the other episodes of Doom (of course, we only had the shareware version). We plugged random IP addresses into Windows 3.11’s telephony application with no idea what we were doing, and never any outcome, but always breathless with excitement at the possibility that suddenly a copy of The Shores Of Hell would magically appear.

Like the one time we managed to get Doom installed on two PCs and play a networked game. We weren’t the only ones to do so, prompting the school to fiercely limit the amount of disk space each pupil was allocated on its computers.

Like begging the young assistant teacher in the Technology room, whose PCs were more advanced and on their own private network to let us play Doom at lunchtimes. Like him agreeing, and joining in. Along with a great many other in-the-know pupils. We had a refuge from the sterness of teachers and the dullness of lessons. It was a silent protest group of sorts.

Exciting, uniting, not at all corrupting. But this sudden ease of access meant I and my PC were no longer special – Doom was everywhere, Doom was everyone’s. It didn’t take long before everyone mentally associating it with something they did at school made Doom in its entirety seem dull. It was a landmark, though. It’s not that it made the PC cool – because that sure as hell didn’t last long – but that, like Scorched Earth before it, it brought everyone at school together. United in gore, united in this tiny, harmless act of rebellion.

United in believing that games about shooting guns were and are the best games, too. Now that is a shame.

This feature was originally published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.

22 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Skabooga says:

    For a game that has had as much virtual ink spilled about it as any other, this article still had something new to write about it. I love that this series takes such a personal angle on the games you’re writing about.

  2. Flit says:

    Excellent as always.

    FYI, I just re-read ’em all, and you have two chapter sevens. You might be aware.

  3. Not_Id says:

    Good article about a great game.

    Anyone know of any fps only websites?

  4. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    First year of Uni for me (us) and it was *very* social. One of the lads had a 486 and so we’d sit around in his room chatting while somebody played and we all watched.

    One memory stands out, how disappointed we were when somebody first finished it. Not because it was a bad ending or anything but because we’d made up this language around the game and it’s baddies.

    We called ’em Ref’s (shotgun) and demi-ref’s, brown demons, pink things and invisi-blobs, snot throwers and so on.

    When the credits rolled they showed you the bad guys real titles and we were all so deflated :P

    • DizzyCriminal says:

      Grunters, Floaters, Spiders and Giant Spiders, Skellytons and of course Trevor. Doom is a universal language.
      It’s still one of the best games even two decades on, few shooters come close to the magic of Doom.

    • PoulWrist says:

      That’d be Doom 2 though, original Doom did no such thing :p also the names in the game were at odds with the ones in the manual :D

  5. Pointy says:

    When I first got hold of shareware Doom it was from the front of a PC gaming mag.
    I only had a 386sx-20 at the time, I could only run it (barely) using its low-res mode.
    I would occasionally stop, switch up to high-res and pan around, in awe at its beauty.
    Was it possible to travel out to those photo realistic mountains?
    Nope.
    I didn’t have a sound card and my fishbowl-like 14″ monitor wasn’t the best
    but it was still awesome because back then, you could see where the tech was heading and
    you could dream about all the possibilities the future held.

  6. Kefren says:

    I remember a lad down the hall at uni playing Doom – so loud we heard every gunshot and scream. Then I looked at the game as he played and was underawed – I couldn’t even make out any detail (I think it was 320 x 240, the lowest res). I was used to playing Hired Guns on the Amiga, which looked loads better. Still, I eventually sold my Amiga and got my first PC, a 486, and a classics lecturer lent me his Doom CD, and when it ran at hi-res (640 x 480, presumably) I became obsessed.

  7. GallonOfAlan says:

    Fond memories of working in a computer shop in South Yorkshire and playing this instead of working. I’d had networked deathmatch shenanigans some years before with Maze War on the Mac network in college but this was a world apart in terms of in-your-face.

  8. colorlessness says:

    Memories of playing Doom on my Dad’s laptop since it was the only computer in the house with 4MB of RAM. Of course, laptops being what they were at that point, it had a 16-color grayscale screen with a terrible refresh rate leading to motion blur anytime a new enemy appeared on screen or you turned around too fast.

    By that point I had a pirated copy of episodes 2 and 3 and Jesus, it was hard as hell to find your way around in episode 3 since the forced grayscale made all the wall textures look near-identical.

    • FoSmash says:

      You had a pirated copy of Jesus?
      The mind boggles. Did Pirate Jesus travel through time to find himself in an alternate future riddled with scurvy but endowded with an endless supply of wine?

      Doom was aces. TOTF

      • colorlessness says:

        Pirated Jesus was okay, but he kept asking me to look up questions in the Bible as part of his copy-protection scheme.

        • FoSmash says:

          Damn Old Testament DRM!

        • Eclipse says:

          as long as he asks to look up questions it’s ok, it’s when he starts to make you search the Bible for answers that’s really tricky

  9. IntrebuloN says:

    I had the same experience with Scorched Earth, Doom and then Quake. The persons, circumstances and order of events were different, but it was the same thing with the same result: A life-long love of PC gaming.

  10. Fontan says:

    This series was great, but I can’t help feel that the supporter posts dropped in frequency lately. And while we get new features like the top something lists, some are left unfinished. We never saw the last part of the Cities: Skylines shared diary, or anything after part 2 of the CK2 diary with the game being played by AI. Are those planned to go on or have they been abandoned?

  11. rowan_u says:

    There was no way we were playing doom at school as all we had were Apple 2’s ; however, we did figure out a way to trade homemade WAD files with each other on floppy disk. My friend had a Mac and me a Tandy, but we figured it out somehow.

  12. vorador says:

    The gurgling and screaming in the distance of unseen monster yet to appear, but roused because they spotted you trough a gap on the geometry of the map. A feeling of nervousness on the bottom of the stomach when running in corridors with strobing lights, and then turning a corner only to faceplant into an imp.

    Good times indeed. I still have my retail copy of Doom II. With the demo of Doom included on the disk.

  13. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    I must have been about 10 when Doom came out, with parents who stubbornly refused to let me get it, so my memories are those snatched moments playing a bit at a friend’s house or watching over their shoulder in awe. I still remember how much I wanted that game and vowing I would buy it as soon as I was old enough (it was a 15 I think?). Of course by the time I was I had Half-Life, Unreal, Quake 2, GoldenEye, GTA (managed to con a less culturally aware mum into lending me her credit card to buy that one from Gameplay.com in exchange for pocket money, those were the days) so I never did get it until a good 10 years later in a Steam sale. The moment had definitely passed, but I can still recall that feeling of how much I needed that game. Not sure I’ve ever wanted a game as much.

    And I still remember one shotting a demon at close range with the shotgun and my friend exclaiming he didn’t even know you could do that. Best gun ever.

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