And this is how Doom became such a social phenomenon
Doom to conquer the world | Love the cursed
Entirely self-published game, distributed in shareware (the first act was distributed free of charge and if you paid you received the rest of the game), Doom did not benefit from any advertising. But a few weeks after its release, when the first rave reviews from the specialized press are barely appearing, the game is already bringing in $100,000 a day for its creators. College and corporate computer networks are saturated with IPX packets generated by deathmatch games. It’s as if the whole world, in one voice, had begun to hum the first chords of the legendary “At Doom’s Gate”, which greets the player at the start of the first level.
Sold directly by its developer without distribution in major chains, intended for a platform, the PC, on which most users do not play (yet), Doom, unlike Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter or Super Mario, is not , in early 1994, a name known to the general public. This is, paradoxically, what will be its strength.
Commercially, first. The absence of a publisher allows id Software to keep most of the income generated by the game. The money flows into the coffers of the studio which, once its car park is completely filled with Ferraris, no longer knows what to do with it. Newly rich but aware of their origins – at best modest, at worst really difficult – the brats of id, each in their own way, do a series of good deeds. John Carmack bails out $100,000 bail for a former high school friend, a problem kid like him, who ended up in jail, and donates thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment to his old elementary school to “encourage the kids to experiment and not be satisfied with what is in the books”. Romero pays his grandparents a vacation and gives his old car to the owner of his favorite restaurant. Adrian Carmack buys a house for his mother to get her out of the rotten neighborhood where she lived for years.
Don’t imagine that the id team was made up of disinterested and naive nerds. The monstrous success of Doom is also the result of a diabolically efficient business model: not only can the first episode, shareware, be freely distributed, but shopkeepers are even encouraged to sell it in the form they want and to retain all profits. In one of the most incredible win-win deals in history, all video game shops and mail-order companies are therefore encouraged to sell for their benefit, without a penny to pay and at no cost other than the reproduction of the floppy disks and the packaging, the most prominent game of the moment – at the same time providing free publicity for id Software, from which hordes of conquered players then order two thirds of the absent game of the shareware version.
Big corporations, like IBM and Microsoft, watch in amazement as a bunch of 25-year-old kids in Metallica T-shirts succeed – they have no choice anyway: IT company executives spend their days of staging deathmatches on corporate networks instead of working, so much so that software designed to seek out and erase all copies of Doom installed on a system is beginning to appear – and wondering about its future. In a fairly correct intuition, which foreshadows the arrival of the GAFAs, in particular Google and Facebook, they wonder: are they not in danger of being overwhelmed, with their army of salespeople and their old-fashioned inventory management, in the face of to hyper-agile boxes, put together by a small group of nerds who know their customers and can directly supply digital copies of their products? Admittedly, id is in the business of desoldering monsters with virtual machine guns, but what will happen the day a company of this type offers a competing product to those of Microsoft? The day when the “information highways”, as they said then, will be able to transmit ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million times more data? While the general press largely continues to ignore the phenomenon, the economic magazine Forbes devotes a very serious article to id Software, presented as the prototype of what will be the entrepreneurial successes of the 21st century.
The specialized press, for its part, is full of praise. Compute admires an “incredible action game” that will change the idea of the PC forever. Electronic Games remarks that next to Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, released not even two years earlier, “looks like an antique”. The very serious The Guardian which, like Liberation in France, took an early interest in “digital cultures”, splits a brief article which evokes a game “not intended for children or sensitive people. As for Matt Firme of PC Gamer, he complains about a game that “stole his life” with its “hypnotically beautiful” graphics and is afraid of ending up like those people you meet on the BBS, who see their obsession with Doom cost them their marriage or their job. Some evoke the word “cyber-opiate” when they talk about the game, haloing even more with a scent of the forbidden a title already sulphurous by its violence and its theme – especially in a country like the United States, always quick to moral panics as soon as Satan rears his horns.
This is the second particularity generated by the shareware distribution of Doom, outside the traditional commercial circuits, carried only by word of mouth, almost “under the hood”: it contributes to giving the game a counter-cultural status. Like the name of metal or industrial groups, such as Nine Inch Nails (whose singer/composer/man band, Trent Reznor, is an absolute fan of Doom, to which he devotes his days between two concerts – he will also compose the Quake soundtrack), that of Doom is immediately recognized by insiders (PC gamers, hackers, nerd students who hang out on BBSs), but remains totally unknown to the rest of the population. Familiarity with the latter therefore becomes a mark of belonging to the beginnings of the Internet counter-culture, whose codes Doom takes up while helping to define them: violence, bad taste, obsession with action films and electric guitars – Doom is the synthesis, if not of the imagination of an entire generation, in any case of an emerging cultural group. The soundtrack by composer Bobby Prince, who has been widely derided for his borrowings (rumor has it that Prince, who was a lawyer before becoming staff composer for Apogee and then id Software, knew exactly how many bars of Pantera or Alice in Chains he could afford to reproduce without falling under the law), was no accident: Romero entrusted him with a stack of albums containing just about every rock hit from the 1980s and 90 for him to use as inspiration.
But Doom, above all, helps to give the kings of this new counter-culture, the video game programmers, a status close to that of rock stars. There were already famous programmers (one thinks of Richard Garriott from Origin, or Ken and Roberta Williams from Sierra), but none had played their status to such an extent. The personality of John Romero, who connects the LANs to the four corners of the country where, wearing an “I wrote it” T-shirt (“I wrote it”), he calls his opponents sons of bitches during frenzied deathmatches, has a lot to do with it – like every star since James Dean, he even has the right to a rumor claiming him dead in a car accident. The proximity of this new game to the works that monopolized the best places at the box office – action films and SF have been on the rise since the reorganization of Hollywood – contribute even more. Ivan Reitman, hyper-bankable director of the Ghostbusters, is optioning a film adaptation of Doom. The trash and metal counterculture is certainly violent, but the mainstream culture, too, is becoming more rock’n’roll, more ironic, more trashy, than it was in the past – and those who, by taste or out of prudishness, refuse to play according to the rules of the new generation, risk quickly passing for old-fashioned.
Thus, learning that the shareware version of Doom is installed on more computers than its new operating system that Microsoft wishes to make credible as a gaming platform, Bill Gates’ box has the idea of organizing a big Doom party on Halloween Day 1995. Under the impetus of Alex St. John, director of the fledgling DirectX project, and Mike Wilson, the creator of the online game platform DWANGO hired by id Software (he later co-founded Devolver Digital ), is organized an evening in total rupture with the atmosphere “light blue shirt” that we associate with Microsoft. Dozens of high-level deathmatchers are invited to face off, while the horrified club executives walk through a set created by the heavy metal band Gwar (accustomed to crazy stage performances, and commissioned by id Software for the deco) whose centerpiece is a giant plastic vulva adorned with dildos that act as teeth. Some guests wear a disguise imitating the antiheroes of Born Killers, the film at the heart of all the controversy in the mid-1990s. In the background, a trashy industrial rock band (friends of Mike Wilson), whose music was not to everyone’s taste, so much so that security ended up going on stage to disconnect the sound system, at the request of Microsoft employees. Highlight of the evening, the still famous video where Bill Gates, embedded in the decor of WinDoom (the Windows 95 port of Doom), kills an imp with a shotgun blast – a video produced at the initiative of St. John, who had all the trouble in the world to convince his boss’s public relations officers. At the end of the show, suddenly realizing what had just happened, Alex St. John is convinced that he will find a dismissal letter on his desk the next day. This will not be the case. Due to its economic weight, id Software’s teenage subculture had become tolerable.
If the video of Bill Gates in a trenchcoat has something comical about it, other trenchcoats, very present in the news of the 1990s, quickly gave a darker connotation to the virtual shootings. Since day one, Doom has been subject to criticism. Its violence got it banned for sale in Brazil, and the presence of Nazi symbols in Doom 2’s secret levels (tributes to Wolfenstein 3D) results in it being banned in Germany, which doesn’t mess with these things- there. Even in his country of origin, Doom is not in the odor of holiness. Joseph Liberman, a Democratic senator from Connecticut who had been on a crusade for the regulation of video games since the release of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap in 1992, organized a series of hearings with the industry in 1993 which resulted in the creation of the ‘ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), responsible for assigning an age rating to games. The first PC title to be rated “mature” (not recommended for those under 17) was Doom 2. The first console title, the Super NES port of Doom. Paradoxically, finding oneself thus in the crosshairs and subject to the moral judgment of the authorities contributes to push certain publishers and developers – the most blatant example being Sony, which sees in it a means of distinguishing itself from the very politically correct Nintendo – to play thoroughly the card of provocation and violence.
This also contributes to the definition, this time negative, of the contours of the counter-culture of the 1990s, a mixture of depressive grunge played by the children of divorced people and relayed by MTV, with Satanist references and pixelated ultraviolence. Faced with this wave of black T-shirts, the concern of parents and American moral authorities, quick to see the trace of the devil in each disappearance of a child since the West Memphis Three (the nickname given to three young people wrongly accused, at the end of a botched investigation, of the ritual murder of kids in a lost corner of Arkansas in 1993), is growing throughout the decade. It reached its tragic climax on April 20, 1999, in a Colorado town called Littleton, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen high school students before turning their guns on themselves. “It’s gonna be like a fucking game of Doom!” shouts Eric Harris, author of a few WADs for Doom 2, in a video recorded shortly before the killing, where he brandishes a shotgun. When columnists and politicians search for the cause of this senseless act of violence, they find two culprits: a rockstar, Marilyn Manson, and a game, Doom. Never mind that Manson, unlike his mentor Trent Reznor, never had the slightest regard for video games, or that Harris and Klebold weren’t more “obsessive Doom players”, to use the words of the President Clinton (yes…), than the average boy of their age. It’s the same aesthetic, the same counter-culture, the same generation, necessarily dangerous. For better or for worse, the video game is no longer just a toy. He is, like jazz, rock and comics before him, one of the avatars of a new culture that will take the world by storm.
3 thoughts on “Dad’s game: Doom to conquer the world | Love the cursed”
I’ve discovered the series with Doom 2016 and the new Doom 2 so by curiosity I’ve test the first one on Good Old Games and it was really great!
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Yes it was and there is a tons of mod to play it like brutal doom! The last release is from 2019 I think! It is brain dead you will like it 😛
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I dont know what do you mean!
They steal release mods for Doom? I must test it!
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