When we discuss or review video games we’ll often talk about the controls, graphics and/or the story. Yet, for all the technical discussions we hardly discuss a game’s content, unless it’s in the context of violence – where we question whether a game is too violent. What we rarely discuss, however, is when you stop playing a game because the content is at odds with your beliefs. Because that’s what happened when I played the DOOM demo.
Things you “Don’t Play With”
Culturally speaking, Black people are often spiritual and slightly superstitious. Ask any Black person about ghosts–they either have a personal experience or a know of a cousin who had an experience…or a friend of a friend. We are taught at an early age that there are just some things “you don’t play with”. And one of those things is bad spirits or ‘demons’. We will burn some sage and read scripture in an instant if we feel there is a bad energy around us. And even when we grow up, if we decide not to believe in what we were taught, the lessons stick with us.
When I was young, DOOM had a simple premise; you shot ‘monsters’ with a gun in first-person. There wasn’t much thought to it, and at the time the graphical fidelity couldn’t bring the developer’s true vision of the game to life. DOOM didn’t register as something bad. It was just a fun computer game. It wasn’t until the release of Xbox and DOOM 3 that the game registered an alert within my spiritual watchtower. The truth was out, and graphical power could finally deliver the original vision – This game was about hell, and demons! Which is an instant “hell naw” because it again is one of those things “you don’t play with”. You bring that energy into the house and you open the door for bad spirits to enter. It might sound crazy to you, but to my circle of childhood friends it sounds about right. So I left DOOM where kids and teenagers leave most things that don’t appeal to them – in the land of forgotten toys, or in this case, forgotten games.
Fast forward to this year’s E3 and here I was, downloading the DOOM demo. I read so many great reviews from games media about this version of DOOM. It was a game that shouldn’t be missed. And as someone who considers themselves an aspiring game critic I figured that it was time to give DOOM a try. Plus, I could play the first level for free, so what did I have to lose? As the game downloaded, I painted a picture of the DOOM I played in my childhood: a simple game that asked you to shoot ‘monsters’ with big guns.
DOOM – Great Action, Bad Spirits
I load up the demo and quickly realize this isn’t going to be the monster game that I was hoping for. My big brother, who played the game before me, told me he had to stop playing the game because there was “too much hell” in it. When he told me his reason for not finishing the game I shrugged it off as a critique from someone who didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Yes, DOOM was about hell, but it couldn’t be THAT bad. He was right – it was that bad. From the minute your seemingly demon possessed corpse rises off a slab of concrete I knew, more than ever that this wasn’t going to be a game I was going to finish, let alone play after this demo.
Playing the first level of DOOM was a balancing act of two ideals. My spiritual alarm was at defcon 5. “Turn this hellish thing off before you let bad spirits in the house! We don’t let this kind of energy in the house!” I played the entire demo with a sense of unease. But the critic in me was intrigued. DOOM is probably the smoothest game I’ve played in years. The DOOM marine(the corpse from the slab), moved with a sense of grace that I could only describe as a skater on ice. Although I prefer the shooting mechanics of Destiny, this game was good. Combat moved at a swift pace. Killing enemies happened so fast that health and ammo seemed to swing between various states of scarcity. There were moments where I was frantically looking for health and others when I had health but desperately needed more shotgun ammo. There were hardly moments of down time during combat, I just wish the game had better transitions between combat areas. Something that was probably taken care of in later levels. DOOM was able to take a saturated genre and make it feel new. It was fun, but I knew would never be able to experience the rest of the game.
Knowing When to Say ‘No’
What do you do when a game is at odds with your beliefs? As someone whose dream is to critique games on the highest level, how could I not play this game? Shouldn’t I play a game, even if I disagree with the content? But I can’t, I can’t go against years of instilled cultural beliefs. We(Black people) don’t usually mess with anything dealing with demons. It’s just something considered taboo. Yet here is a game that on a technical aspect is worth playing. So I ended my demo with a respect for the game, at the same time acknowledging that I would not finish it. DOOM isn’t a game that I will play, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. Technically speaking it’s a game that should be experienced. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that ran so smoothly on this generation or the previous generations. But playing the game isn’t worth the cost of sage that I would need to burn to cleanse the house.