I’m surrounded by complete bedlam when I enter the lab. Spiny, humanoid demons saunter aimlessly, some more jittery than others. The second they’re alerted to my presence, they all jump to their personal attack strategies working together to kill me, the human in the enormous green suit.
Nimbly, I move right, taking aim and firing at the nearest threat. When I fire, the demon erupts into a cloud of gore, its body collapsing on the ground amidst bits of rotting tissue. Another demon approaches, this one larger than the others. It absorbs my shotgun blast, staggering backward and recoiling in pain. I dash forward, tearing the demon’s arm from its shoulder and viciously bludgeoning the creature to the floor.
More demons begin to rush toward me, and I holster the shotgun, bringing out a large chainsaw in its place. It purrs, the jagged blade chugging in anticipation. I take it to one demon, sawing through its pallid flesh in a shower of blood. Another approaches, attempting to block the blade by crossing its arms overhead. Naturally the saw slices cleanly through the arms, cleaving the rest of the demon in two.
This string of events is not uncommon in Doom. In fact, this reads as one of the more mundane encounters bridging the gap between impressive boss fights.
I’ve always been fairly gore-shy, and Doom should theoretically be a game I happily walk past in the electronics section of my local Target. But I’m oddly in love with it, taking a bizarre satisfaction from hacking and blowing apart demons in a gloriously bloody frenzy.
Remember Hatred, the video game that seemed like the child of Hot Topic and angsty pop punk albums? It caused a stir when its trailer went up on Steam Greenlight, advertising a game whose sole purpose was to put you in control of a mass shooting madman wearing a black trench coat and an Ozzie Osborn-style coif.
Hatred was not well-received on any front, and its questionable subject matter was the cause for debates about sensitivity, portrayals, and censorship.
The resentment people had was understandable. In a climate of real-world violence, would it be appropriate to give players the dark power fantasy of mowing down innocent people using a self-provided arsenal? Of course not, and the depiction was decried for its flagrantly dangerous use of gore and violence.
BioShock Infinite’s skyhook kills were also met with objection, as they displayed brutally violent executions involving decapitations or dismemberment from a close range. BioShock games are historically violent, the first relying heavily on using a large adjustable wrench as a melee weapon and steadily rolling out more devastating weapons and abilities as the game progresses.
But there was something especially gratuitous and uncharacteristic of these kills, enough to make them stand out in an uncomfortable way.
Why then, does it feel so damn good to fire an explosive round into a lumbering demon’s chest cavity?
Doom is a playable metal song, embracing the trappings and characteristics of the genre and projecting them into a 3D virtual space. What makes its violence excusable- even enjoyable-is its ability to laugh maniacally along with you. The simple hero named Doomguy is there to kill demons. And, as it turns out, he’s very good at it.
Thus, it adopts a brilliant sense of self-awareness, pouring loving nods and ideas into every aspect of its design. And the centerpiece of Doom has long been the extreme violence and sheer gumption to embrace the uncomfortable and turn it into something as common as air.
Doom doesn’t just love violence, it exists for it. Everything from the legendary BFG to Doomguy’s basic movement speed has been specially-crafted to make the player into a wildly powerful murder machine. The challenge doesn’t come merely from the skill of the enemies, but from the sheer volume of them and Doomguy’s ability to systematically send them packing back to hell.
It knows what it’s doing, constantly peppering the environment with pools of blood and viscera, taking the player’s head and rubbing their nose in it to revel in the insanity just a little bit more.
Doom’s gore is so serious that it loops back around, transcending our conventional understanding of acceptable violence and pushing the envelope to a point so absurd, so outlandishly violent, that the player is left to merely laugh and sweep any insecurities or hang-ups under the rug as they press forward, in search of more wonderfully satisfying glory kills.