Hurt Me Plenty: The Vagina Dentata of Doom
Doom was and remains a spiritual game, a sensation which bypasses the rational mind to pierce the heart and loins. To play Doom is to become a nothing; to occupy a chair, not moving, not blinking, aware of motion and of killing and of void, a static progression of sound and fury.
Doom was a refinement of Gauntlet, Atari's 1985 arcade hit. Gauntlet was viewed from a slightly inclined top-down perspective, and was resolutely set in the timeless fantasy era of the Conan films. Both games took place in a series of maze-like environments, both games featured a wide range of opponents, each with different attributes and methods of attack, and furthermore both games came alive when played by four people simultaneously.
Doom possessed a quality Gauntlet definitely did not exhibit, a quality stemming from its realism and from its first-person perspective. Playing Gauntlet, one was constantly aware that one was directing a character, moreso when one was playing with other people; in contrast, the multi-player networks that ran four-player Doom could be spread across a building, the players never meeting, whilst Gauntlet required four people to crowd around a small cabinet. Doom instead created a state for which there is no word. I use the term unbecomingness. Most computer games involve and immerse the player in an imaginary world, where the player assumes the role of an imaginary character. This is not unbecomingness, however, it is merely the subsumation of one identity (the player's real-world persona) with that of another (the player character's other-word persona). In contrast, Doom shares a characteristic with many early computer games, in that the player character does not exist, or is so barely sketched as to be immaterial. Although the player assumes the role of a Space Marine, this space marine exists purely as a series of primal grunts, issued at moments of great stress. Although human, the space marine is no more expressive than the monsters he fights. The environment, meanwhile, is overpoweringly evocative, a literal bloodbath, an oxygenated medium.
Doom is a symphony of annihilation, for the game's primary characteristic is obliteration. Obliteration of the enemy, of the player, and of the player's self. The archetypal in-game situation finds the player opening a door on a large room filled with monsters, all of whom immediately attack. There is no requirement for the player to destroy all monsters, as the object of the game is to escape from the bowels of hell, yet a variety of subtle cues - the player is constantly armed, the monsters never retreat, violent heavy metal music plays throughout - ensure that there is no question in the player's mind of what must be done, and to whom. Throughout history countless soldiers have been ordered to take care of prisoners - "you know what to do" being the most common formulation - and Doom is no exception. The player knows what to do, even if the game does not explicitly say so. And the doing is good. Doom's sensory assault creates a state of unbecomingness in the player. From moment to moment all that exists are the monsters, the ongoing chatter of the chaingun, the periodic boom of the shotgun, the amplified sensation of movement, and that is the extent of the player's world. There is no thought or mind, there is no sex, no urge to visit the toilet or to ejaculate. The player's body becomes merely a shelf upon which the player's eyes and hands rest.
Of course, this unbecomingness is in itself a form of becomingness, for the removal of life's complexities produces a state akin to that of the surfer, the mountain climber, the drug user or the bricklayer; the goal of all men is the amplification of the moment until it obliterates memory and temporality, a state usually achieved through music, food or television. The audience wants to be transported into a similar state of nothingness, thus achieving a glimpse into the undiscovered country of death itself, the infinity of zero. Doom is a game in which the player, by creating death, experiences it from the inside.
Doom is also a powerfully erotic game, notwithstanding the numbing of the physical self. It is mentally erotic, capturing the release of control at the height of orgasm, the constant stimulation of eternal deathmaking. Doom bathes and is bathed in sex, from the sated groans and cries of dying soldiers and dying creatures, to the gentle, substantial thud of mortally-wounded demons falling to the floor, to the organic, ejaculatory sound of flesh rupturing into the oblivion of an explosion. Doom captures the eroticism of the slaughterhouse. Many people have fantasies of being killed, of killing oneself, whilst at the height of orgasm, or of killing a partner during sex. Many people achieve release by killing animals, in order to experience the release and relaxation of the death orgasm. Doom's killing acts act as constant stimulation, the unremitting intensity of nightmare mode creating a sensation similar to that of greatly extended masturbation; a mixture of hopeless anxiety, horror and release, the sexual organs requiring greater and greater stimulation to achieve a dread orgasm of painful intensity.
Doom is a male space. The player is invariably male, for obvious reasons. Of the monsters, only the comical Cacodemons seem obviously female, their ungainly, ill-formed gaseous nature and leering, slavering mouths characteristic of the female species. The other creatures are powerfully muscular or obviously male, and Doom's erotic power stems from the unrestrained physicality epitomised by violent homosexual intercourse. Men are not easily capable of multiple, satisfying orgasms, each one lesser than the last, and thus homosexual sex must be extraordinarily intense in order to make the most of the moment. Doom's amplification of unimaginable horror fits this pattern, with the addition that there is no real orgasm, even unto the final level of the episode. Death is the end, the ultimate, the one and only, but the death of the player in Doom is treated merely as a pause, a tap to the space bar restarting the level, although the player would be wiser reloading an earlier saved game.
One of Doom's innovations was the fact that the corpses of vanquished monsters do not vanish, either immediately or over a period of time. They remain in place, monuments to the player's conquests, lying peacefully on the floor, drenched in blood, in many cases opening their legs to the player (a side-effect of Doom's graphic engine ensures that static sprites always offer one face to the player, just as the Moon always faces Earth). Fluid plays a major part in Doom's gameplay, each monster producing large quantities of it during death, whilst other fluids harm the player. That none of these fluids are obviously seminal is telling; although very few fluids in real life have the texture and consistency of semen, Doom is a game that denies reality, set as it is in a fantasy world. The presence of blue water seems jarring in the midst of hellish insanity, and thus the absence of semen was quite obviously a conscious decision on the part of the programmes for censorship reasons, the same reason for the lack of visible genitalia on the obviously naked monsters (although, having said that, as the monsters seem optimised for combat it is entirely possible that their genitals are hidden, like the Dolphin or the Zebra).
The player is represented throughout the game by the aforementioned grunts, a pained facial expression in the status bar, and a centrally-placed weapon, most typically a pump-action shotgun with an infinitely large magazine. It would have been easy for the programmers to symbolise sexuality with these most obvious sexual symbols, and it is to their credit that they avoid sexualising the weapons, or at least the majority of them. When the player picks up the chainsaw for the first time, an instruction to find some meat appears on the screen, yet the chainsaw does not penetrate the enemy, it merely strokes the enemy, brushes their skin. It has a woman's touch.
The chainsaw is the purest of all Doom's weapons. Whilst the majority of the game's weapons are neutral, the player choosing to use them or not as the situation demands, the chainsaw is a persuasive force of itself, its very appearance and manner an inducement to violence. Even in situations where the chainsaw is tactically inadvisable, the player is tempted to apply it; even in situations where there are no obvious monsters, its constant low-level buzz promises violence to come, purring and roaring like a new-born child. It is not a cyclic weapon, and it does not run out, notwithstanding the in-game lack of petrol. As in real life, Doom's chainsaw is a constant neverending stream of wailing death, of blood and torture. An industrial tool repositioned as a combat weapon, taken from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Evil Dead 2. Indeed, as with underground horror and hard core pornography, the optimal medium for experiencing Doom would, if possible, be that of a video, of a fourth-generation video copy of an Dutch print dubbed into French, with a tacked-on production credit and no ending credits.
That so many subsequent upgrades and patches for Doom have concentrated on making the game look even better seems to miss the point. Doom is a dirty game, dirty dirty girl. Like so many pleasurable things - sex, prolonged defecation, eating, mummification, Mork and Mindy - Doom is tacky and shameful, but knowing with it. In this respect its most obvious follow-up was a competing product, Duke Nukem 3D, a game less focussed on the killing act, but enlivened with obvious references - and indeed dialogue samples - from the films which inspired Doom. In Duke the player was encouraged to identify with the title character, a macho, sexist boor, a mistake which Doom did not make. It was not the machismo or the boorishness that was the mistake, but the fact that this path was obviously chosen for the player in advance. In Doom, the player is carefully drawn to the path of violence in such a way that he believes himself to have chosen the path willingly, and that at any time he could have backed out, but he chose not to. One lesson of history is that people rebel against authority but can be made to do terrible, glorious things if they imagine that the choice was theirs; it is therefore the goal of authority to indirectly direct the people to make the right decision.
Yet the most enduring choices, the easiest to make, are those forced by biological necessity. No-one would chose to spit if there were a simpler way to remove the taste of metal, and fundamentally very few people choose to die, yet people do die. And people kill. Our minds are at the mercy of our bodies; Doom is a game of pure mind, a game that makes the body irrelevant. Doom is the ultimate choice, a potent mixture of erotic power and violent action, a path which draws the player on, a path which cannot be untaken.