Content Warning & Disclaimer: This article will contain mention and discussion of very prejudiced ideas and monstrous worldviews, but this isn’t done to sympathize with them but rather explain why they congregate in what I’m addressing. I don’t sympathize with any of the reactionary views I describe here.
Episode I: Knee-Deep in the Culture
Doom is a definitive and historical franchise, and with that comes all of the belts it carries under its belt, all of them celebratory in their own ways: The revolutionizing of the first-person-shooter genre, transcending individual identity to become a style of game-presentation in itself, storming a media frenzy about whether or not it inspired the Columbine shooting, and conjuring the entire culture of modification in computer gaming. The series has proven to be a veteran, with its newest entry, Doom Eternal, coming out several months from now. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s a perfect cultural artifact of the ’90s when it came to the edgiest center of popular culture: Pizza, soda, machismo, and concepts that can only be described as ‘wicked sweet’ in a charmingly cheesy sense. With all of that linked to its name, there’s one thing that always fell out of its limelight: Its plot.
Let’s get it out of the way: Doom is a game that seems to be inspired by defying a conception that game narratives need to be constructed through an intrusive, third-party story composed of unwanted dialogue and intrusive hooks. It’s what the franchise’s latest release prided itself on and was subsequently praised by many critics for doing so: It positioned the presentation of the game to be purely about you playing as the Doom Slayer and the action expected by that anticipation. It’s why events in the plot are often to the side, and whenever they demand the player’s attention, they do so in an indirect way that feels as natural as playing the game. The Doom Slayer’s dynamic movements in response to dialogue from other characters is meant to sell a silent protagonist that speaks through his visible actions more than whatever words he can muster besides ogreish grunting. All of these actions are meant to convey one point: Story probably isn’t the reason why you’re engaged with this experience.
Despite this, Doom is not entirely dismissive to the point where it foregoes any appreciable story. In fact, it does quite the opposite, at least in its 2016 debut: There’s a cohesive narrative that’s easy to follow and stays in the boundary of its matrix, and it’s about as neatly packaged as a film school’s examples. Any juicier details are spared as a reward for players who like to take their time exploring, thereby making them simultaneously rewarding and unobtrusive. This places the game in a unique and seemingly rare position in story-telling methods where it’s simultaneously praised for not having any obtrusive story or subtext while also being praised for having one so digestible and self-contained that it’s endearing. Despite all of this, this isn’t what the game is known for. To iterate again: The game is known for its cultural impact, legacy, and definition. In experience, it’s often conceived of a model to represent the feelings of disgust many have towards the imposition of narrative necessity in the video-game media.
This was why the franchise’s celebrated return to the contemporary was praised as a much needed “return to form” for FPS games in the wake of a decade’s worth of time when it transformed and commodified itself through the pattern of military shooters published annually through big-name corporations. Retro appeal was a huge part of its advertising, and one could make the case that the writers of Doom knew the cultural attitude surrounding FPS games during this time coming into it. They knew there was a general distaste of forced narratives that took focus away from raw gameplay, a fallout from the once glory days of unadulterated machismo in the DNA of market saturation, a general lack of innovation when it came to anything that wasn’t how triple-A companies could nickel-and-dime consumers, and a gradual shift to centralizing resources on multiplayer experience.
All of this is meant to make irrelevant a lingering question: Why does the story of Doom matter, and is there really anything more to it than just slaughtering savage hordes of demons? I mean, it seems that the game up until its reboot was purely about the gamey aspects of itself in a rebellious statement of championing the elegance in raw brutality. Doesn’t Doom go out of its way to reject subtext and make the best of its charm through literal text and the grand lack of it? But, to any longtime fan of the series, there is a lot of plot there that just never showed itself in the final release. The Doom Bible is a document written by Tom Hall, one of the original creative directors of Doom (1993), and it was essentially the background behind the newly created universe of Doom. Its contents involved four, er five, developed characters, detailed map diagrams, and a load of unfinished pages. It’s clear that this project was far too ambitious for a single person like Hall to finish, but his creativity is dutifully admired and integrated through fan-theory and modification.
That’s neat and all, but the Doom Bible is something that only dedicated fans of the series likely know about, and even then, how many have actually read it to reach any conclusions about what Doom as a series is supposed to mean? The other members of the creative time also had a similar mindset to many of those who’d come to appreciate their product: There was no need for any text, so why include it? And they were right: The game managed to do phenomenally well without the need of any explanatory plot outside of “you’re here, you have a gun, so do your mission.” And it’s clear that’s how many of those who hold it dearly view it: It’s elegance in its concreteness is all it needs, and it should serve as a bastion against intrusive design-decisions that hinder a specially enjoyable experience, such as washy narrative among… other things.
But, Doom’s 2016 reboot had to be different though, especially after the murky disappointment that was Doom 3 in terms of upholding the legendary name and being too overlooked to make any important impact, especially in the shadow of more revolutionary games like Half Life 2. I already went over how the approach was different, but what I haven’t elaborated on yet is how the artistic value of video-games has changed since the franchise’s 1993 debut. Games have, in general, become more ‘artsy’, meaning that they play around more with the nature of interactive media in ways that push boundaries further. Tools have expanded to allow an accessible and populated field to be made where games no longer have to define themselves based off the limitations they produced themselves in. A sizeable amount of doors have been opened, and there seems to be a leeway now for artistic work to become more widespread and appreciative than it was before where markets were fiercer than ever and the Internet was nascent.
The 2016 reboot of Doom had to immerse itself in this changed environment like it was a time-traveler accelerating into a future that has forgotten them and only survives through trails of inspiration. Let me put it into perspective for you: There’s no possible way that the creative team of this game could’ve rebooted Doom in such a way where it could maintain the sheer lack of story and narrative it had in its 1993 release. That time relied entirely on Doom being more a revolutionary leap than a categorical experience, and that couldn’t be replicated in today’s environment through innovation. It had to be replicated through retroactive design and sharp refurbishing on the mechanics and spirit that made the original so enjoyable in the first place. This game therefore had a purpose: It had to base its return and resettlement as an act of counterculture not to the zeitgeist of the ’90s, but to the current state of the video-game industry. This is where the language of a “return to form” fits in because solely relying on nostalgia couldn’t do the trick; it had to be a sprinkle on top of an experience that watched the gaming industry grow up around its veteran bones.
The framework operated is simple: There had to be an entirely reconstructed and modernized universe in which all of the staples of the Doom series made sense in a way that Doom 3 couldn’t put forth or advertise. The universe of Doom 3 wasn’t embraced, but rather it was consumed and subsequently made occult. It’s fair to say that the creative designers succeeded with this. The reconstructed universe of Doom became something of great admiration among longtime fans both appreciative and unreceptive. It was finally on this scale, in these circumstances, did fans finally become attached to characters like Samuel Hayden and Olivia Pierce due to the creative team’s decision to make it very secluded in its own matrix enough to be digestible while omnipotent. No longer were the only characters you got to know well the colorful variations of flesh-ripping demons, and no longer was the plot limited exclusively to some forgettable text you can skip past to get to the buffet. It was everything Doom 3 attempted to do but succeeded tenfold.
With a new universe came new meaning to all of the existing elements of the Doom universe. While the Revenant enemy was still the mildly humorous skeleton that shoots heat-seeking rockets, it also became a result of unethical human-experimentation on UAC employees, but the structure of the game allowed both interpretations to be perfectly valid while not demanding either be held as the most important. While the game is justified as being the result of a centuries-old curse being spurred again through a private corporation’s meddling in affairs that it should’ve never stuck its nose in, that can be entirely ignored through the entirely optional, unobtrusive, and malleable subtext. It knows it’s a game with the primary appeal of a decades-old, digital power-fantasy under its belt, so it purposefully avoided trying to present itself as a deeper commentary for its inception, er rebirth. It’s the equivalent to shrugging, saying “yeah, there’s a plot like you expect all triple-A games to have nowadays, but that’s not really what you’re here for, right?”, and then cue a slew of rebranding campaigns to make a twenty-year-old franchise look hip again by playing off its nostalgia and refurbishment.
That all changed with the announcement of Doom Eternal a year-and-a-half ago. Immediately, the culmination of the story in the previous game was set as the forefront of the game’s appeal because it now knew that its base has become familiar with its intended purpose. There’s no longer a reason to primarily rely on the appeal of refurbished slaughter because it has the foresight to know that’s what people are expecting. All of the new (and questionable) mechanics it introduced itself with were made to convince audiences that it wasn’t just a port of Doom (2016), and as soon as that was done, the continual appeal came in. Suddenly, there’s this entire elaboration of the conclusion of the previous game: The Doom Slayer’s in heaven? He’s fighting angels? What are all of these other mythological figures? Are we moving beyond Hell? It was a nice shift from an initial dispelling to a grander excitement, but it’s not one that came with an occasional bout of controversy that the Doom franchise has indirectly branded itself on since it was accredited to inspiring the Columbine school-shooting.
In a specific showcase released and advertised for the game, there was a single memorable scene where a hologram, in a now-destroyed cityscape, engages in what we call ‘PR speak’ to damage-control the insurmountable environmental destruction observable around itself. In a charmingly soulless voice, it reassures the player that UAC has this situation under control, and that the demonic presence shouldn’t be treated with such a negative and violent reception. “Remember, ‘demon’ can be an offensive term; refer to them as ‘mortally challenged.’” This was said alongside other equally topical lines such as “Earth is the melting pot of the universe” and “let’s make our friends feel welcomed in their new home.” The initial response to this was for some to label this joking dialogue as tasteless and potentially reaffirmative to bigoted views with regard to immigrants, and for another some to praise this as a continuation of the trademark edginess and counterculturalism that Doom is known for. This is nothing new for many veterans of the franchise: I mean, Doom has always been known for stirring the soup of controversy, so this was just a reincarnation of it in contemporary media-buzz.
But… maybe it’s different this time? It’s the norm for games to be constructed with intentional artistic message now, and they’ve become a respected art-form regardless if the participators in them appreciate that or not. So, it’ll be held to the same standards and accountability like all other art despite how discomforting that might be. Something like this can’t just be taken for the emotions it springs: The creative team had some reason for including this whether that’s as superficial as mocking the language of contemporary social-justice activists or as deceptive as mocking corporate appropriation of said language. It’s with this rude awakening we realize that Doom might’ve always said things beyond the reputation and presentation. Now, there were certainly people analyzing the subtext of the previous Doom games, but never to this current extent have I seen people attempting to outline solid and identifiable evidence that something represents another thing. There wasn’t any illusion shattered that it was inviolable, as all that changed was just who pointed out that the franchise has a weight and what topic it was poking at.
What can be said about a game that based its entire foundation out of the fuel of its time period? It was released back when Pokémon was being railed against by evangelicals as the devil’s game, back before the ESRB established a consistent method of age-rating a game’s content, and back before gun violence became the epidemic it is now in the United States. Truly, it was simultaneously a blatant representation of the culture it boiled from while also being cutting-edge: Cutting-edge purely on a technological and content basis, right? During it’s time, the biggest problem with video-games was whether or not they inspired patterns of real-world violence, to which after many decades of studies and debates, there is an affirmative yet general no. Sure, we can be fair and say that Doom was a counter-cultural entity in the decade it was brought into, but has that attitude transferred well three decades later? Has it’s rebellious value become outdated in some way?
Sure, Doom has always been a classic symbol of the idea that games can be challenging art in the midst of a reactionary culture, but is it still that? And more importantly, do the people who enjoy it still perceive themselves as that?
Well, trying to point down a single, definitive group that defines the audience of the Doom series: It appeals to a lot of goddamned people. It appeals to Boomer-aged computer nerds who had a copy of it on their workstation, it appeals to metalheads who appreciate the raw brutality of it, it appeals to fans of cosmic horror with its art-direction inspired by the descriptions of Lovecraftian horror and H. R. Giger’s work, it appeals to sci-fi fans, it appeals to Satanists through the obvious, it appeals to committed fans of retro FPS games, and it appeals to historians in the medium of video-games. You get it: This is what comes with a game so influential and widespread. I can write a separate story for each and every group that Doom appeals to as a demonstration of how reproduceable it is, but what we’re answering here is a question of theme and culture; not one of gameplay and mechanics. It’s one thing for a game to have wide appeal, but it’s another thing to ask why it has such wide appeal.
It may seem that the answer to that question superficially is to point to all of the circumstances surrounding the game’s initial release and why it mattered to such a huge degree (essentially making FPS games a thing), but that only lasts so long before it becomes more of a historical point than a relevant one. We’ve reached point where Doom is no longer a catalyst for revolutionary game-design but a veteran name constantly living up to demands steeped in aging nostalgia. It has, unfortunately, succumbed to the forces of artistic merit and has to include room for takeaway on a deeper level than pure enjoyment, and it has to include, ugh, a message. What message is there to be found in a game that touts the original meathead other than “corporations are bad for allowing demons to invade?” Hell, it seems like even the game wants you to forget about that because of how focused the Doom Slayer is as a character. He’s the perfectly isolated man: He’s perceived as someone who doesn’t care about the world around him, what any orders bark at him, and wants to accomplish a sole purpose disconnected from the plot but essential to it. If it has the bare minimum of a theme to be tautological with itself, that is.
But I’m here to propose another factor in this equation: The sheer ambiguity and lack thereof in Doom’s theme and purpose are what make it so anarchically appealing to many people, but it also allows it to be distorted and suited to particular groups as time passes. Back in its inception, it was the Evangelicals skewing the view of the game to fit with their idea that it was a Satanic tool to train young minds to kill. Nowadays, I feel like it’s a tool of cultural regression to dismiss the notion that games are a worthy art or analysis that derives social commentary from their narratives. This is certainly a popular takeaway from all the circles I’ve been in, and I can understand it fully. A lot of bad things have happened to gaming as a medium over the decades as a result of increasing commodification and mainstreaming, and there needs to be art that sympathizes with the views of those who perceive this modernization in an unfavorable light.
But many people don’t appreciate this transformation into rejection, even those stereotypically lumped into the group that’d be expected to reject artful approach in gaming. Even they attempt to find meaning there in the wake of a game whose life involved being as antithetical to this new outlook: Sometimes that meaning is just a reevaluation of the previous idea, which is that Doom is an alpha game that doesn’t give a damn about stupid liberal arts students who think that games are art or something equivalent to that. That’s just as valid an interpretation as the plethora of interpretations I’ve seen, as people can stretch to some interesting territories trying to pinpoint what elements mean what in this game in the wake of popular narrative that it was the game and genre for people who dislike unwanted narrative. So, that only leads me into what this article’s really about: How people’s feelings on Doom’s artistic value paint a wide portrait of the encompassing groups of people who enjoy the game for their own spiritual purposes.
Episode II: The Shores of Bad Analysis
I have seen… a lot of interesting opinions on what the messaging of the latest Doom game (2016) meant in isolation and in retrospective to the rest of the franchise. Like stated prior, the creative team knew they couldn’t rely on repeating precedent to reinvigorate the franchise, so they had to kowtow to some modernized elements of productions in the contemporary industry. At least we can be thankful that they knew how to write a story that’d accompany the vibe of a game like Doom and the expectations its fans have for a new release. So, now what? Doom (2016) has been out for ~three years and people have created a plethora of content relating to it that can be pulled from to answer gripping questions about the game’s plot and what questions it left unanswered (heaven knows there’s people making pseudo-careers based off speculating the lore of Doom Eternal). My work has been cut out for me!
Let’s preface this by stating a very summarized version of the game’s plot: You awake as the Doom Slayer to a UAC base on Mars that’s overrun by demonic presence. You’re accompanied by an AI system called VEGA who serves as your voice of guidance throughout the game. Eventually after prowling Mars for a bit, you get a transmission from a man named Samuel Hayden, who is/was the CEO of the UAC corporation for many years until he was transferred into a cybernetic body after his death. After defying his orders casually, you meet up with him in which he explains to you his beef with another member of UAC known as Olivia Pierce, who took the interests of the corporation outside of the profit motive to appeasing the occult. It’s made immediately obvious that this demonic invasion occurred because of the UAC’s interests in searching for a new energy source led them to meddle int he affairs of an alternative dimension where the demons spawn from. Fast-forward through a bunch of time spent playing the game, and you end up teleporting to the Hell dimension itself. Blah, blah, blah: Olivia Pierce summons a big baddie to mess you up, you kill it, and then you’re in a cocoon again where Hayden reveals that he needs to keep you there so you don’t interfere with his goals.
There’s a lot there to draw from, and it’s even more thorough due to how self-contained the story is. It’s the bare minimum of a story: It has only three main characters outside of the Doom Slayer, it keeps the objective simple, and there’s no cheap narrative tricks pulled to make it a postmodern story. As a result of there being so little to analyze, it’s easier to draw conclusions about what could possibly be said through theme, and it’s only aided by the fact that the developers have no endorsed vision of what the game’s plot serves as an allegory for. Besides, I’ve already made it clear that what matters to those producing the image of Doom Eternal isn’t honing its themes hard, but rather being as tongue-and-cheek with varying topics to cynically generate some outraged buzz. All it needs to do is gameplay-wise live up to the immense hype it’s built up over the year since its announcement. As a result of this, I’m seeing some interesting faces side with the message and identity of Doom in ways that feel very strange predictable.
Let’s get this out of the way: All art is political because we’re political creatures, and Doom is not exempt from this quality, and it knows this fully well. That’s why the game is so symbolically ambiguous and self-contained so as to preserve its wide appeal as much as possible and prevent it from succumbing to the negative PR of other series that engage in decisions that upset the cloud of reactionary anger that storms over us constantly now. What has happened in regards to controversy surrounding Doom Eternal isn’t new at all; it’s been around since the game had fans, but now the circumstances are different. All parties who seemed to have casually reveled in Doom’s lack of political or artistic messaging have grown secretly tired of the idea that games should remain non-artistic or never speak truth to power. Now, I’ll be diving into the diversity of viewpoints regarding what Doom’s theme might symbolize in our society because people just love games that are political even if they say they hate them. Hell hath no fury.
A while back, I stumbled upon a video by a YouTuber known as American Krogan, and it was obviously related to what you’re reading about. But something struck me as odd in the beginning, which was a disclaimer saying that none of the content in the video is calling for violence against other groups of people, which is a disclaimer that really makes you question the content of the media you’re about to consume. Regardless, I had to be charitable with this for the sake of impartiality. With the crappy rantsona of a Krogan enemy from Halo, I was greeted to a video that tried to make an artistic case that Doom (2016) was unapologetically masculine, proudly displaying its culturally-representative machismo without even flinching to the will of an external force that constantly portrays masculinity in video-games as a prejudiced social force. Doom is depicted as a game that’s not ashamed to be masculine in its presentation, marketing, story, art, and themes: Any person observing externally could infer right away that the Doom Slayer himself is an icon of aggressive — some would say ‘toxic’ — masculinity.
Right off the bat, I can see a case for this interpretation as it’s blatantly obvious that, in the game’s original creative process, it drew upon the equally dude-drenched media around it that flourished in the decade. A game about a meathead with a gun kicking ass and surviving a demonic invasion is absolutely unashamed in how it’s a power-fantasy for boys. Clearly, Romero and Carmack didn’t have appealing to girls in mind whenever they worked on it; they cared about what appealed to nerdy boys at a time when they were shamed for their interests. The Doomguy is a ‘guy’, not a girl; meaning that the game followed format with its former kin knowing that video-games were perceived as a consumable of primarily boys, thus necessitating that a male protagonist be the default. And if Doom is still in this retroactive mindset of how culturally rebellious it is, then everything it did must follow suite with that aside from the obvious of Satanic imagery and comparably excessive violence. One could make the case that games are becoming less about the core appeal of games and marketing to people it supposedly never marketed to. So, in this way, Doom is still countercultural from the outrageous seeds it had planted back in ’93.
And if Doom was never intended to be an icon of masculinity, then that’s certainly not how it was perceived in the communities based around it from casual to dedicated. It’s a tropey comment to make in response to any gameplay footage of the newer games to say that it “made me grow a beard from watching it” or that “this is what pure testosterone sounds like.” If the game was never meant to convey images of masculine iconography in the long term, it has failed exemplary at that. Id Software is absolutely no stranger to elitist and competitive attitudes regarding video-games and how people play them: Many of their early works mocked you in the fourth wall for picking easier difficulties, so they know they’re making the impression that you have to be a badass dude to be worthy of the game’s offerings. It proudly refused to be seen as just another kid’s toy in a time when video-games were evidently becoming more than that in pop-culture. In fact, I’d argue that it has become an icon of attitudes that clutch onto a feeling that retro games are of a superior form to modernized games because of their higher resistance to commodification and, uh, outside interest groups with no interest in video-games… which is weaselly language to refer to journalists. Regardless, not only is it unafraid to be countercultural, it’s now unafraid to be traditional in all the right ways.
It makes sense for Doom to be adopted as an icon of manly interests and masculine representation in our current discourse climate where games are framed as being ‘under siege’ from feminizing forces that, according to their detractors, don’t get the idea of games and the reasons for their escapism. Games are becoming political, games are focusing less on the gamey parts of themselves, games are exploring themes beyond what can be glanced from five seconds of footage, and the literary media surrounding them is filled with people who clearly inject their progressive agendas into the discussion unwarranted. Doom looks at all of these modern trends in the industry and can be reasonably seen as a rejection of all that: Both the artistic form and the commodity form are enemies to its true essential value, and a key element here is being unashamed. If Doom is unashamed of itself, there’s reason to believe it could also be unprecedented in its masculinity if you believe our current cultural trends point towards a disenfranchisement of masculine media.
I mean, look at how poorly received that licensed movie was received when it tried to pull a feminist PR stunt. All of the classic “anti-SJW” YouTubers came out of the woodworks to rally Doom fans behind their disparaging message against feminist encroachment on their supposedly masculine game series. Irrelevantly, I was amazed that they were still around after all these years after the explosion of skeptics. Relevantly, there’s still an element of hostility towards any of the supposedly modern tropes of games coming towards Doom, as if it was desanctification.
But, is that really how the game was, or was that just a product of its marketing? The game as itself, put in a vacuum from the culture around it, is very much a game that could function entirely on its own without the presence of masculinity anywhere. There’s no textual importance anywhere stating that the protagonist has to be a man or that he needs to be a symbol of supposedly aggressive behavior found in men. While yes, the image the game was aspiring for was drenched in the machismo of that time, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily championing it. In fact, it remains innocuously supportive of it in a way that possesses next to no awareness of how the culture would shift decades later. The original Doom supported this characterization with a “hell yeah, bro!” more than a “I’m not ashamed of being masculine, bro!” Doom (2016) makes an even bigger case for the series’s ambiguity towards the role gender plays in its story, in that it doesn’t matter in the slightest. But, not mattering is often interpreted as support in favor of the status quo if allowed to fester, and that’s what I believe occurred with Doom. Keep this idea in mind, because the idea of apathy equating to indirectly supporting the status quo is what’ll lead to a consistency in all the themes present in this episode.
The idea of Doom representing everything cool and edgy with a cultural machismo that’s supposedly under attack from modernizing forces is a projection: That’s the important part to keep in mind. And that projection is allowed to prosper because Doom’s perfectly ambiguous and unobtrusive narrative is what allows it to be so easily interpreted with these mindsets in mind and have it be relatively harder to challenge as a result. As a result, these interpretations, rooted in insecurity and essentialism in gender, become a lot more validated. To use another game to illustrate my point, someone could hypothetically say that Final Fantasy VII and its necessary narrative (because it’s an RPG) don’t represent the object of the story, which is that the game’s Shinra corporation destroying the home-planet of Gaia in pursuit of Mako energy, but instead represents a young boy attempting to reaffirm his masculinity from stupid feminists, one would hypothetically be more able to dismiss that analysis as being rooted in the analyst’s insecurities. However, the fact that Doom has had so much of its identity based around having the bare minimum of an ultimately compelling and fulfilling narrative is what lends far more credence to even the most asinine and superficial of analyses.
Do you remember that American Krogan personality I mentioned earlier in this episode? Well, he couldn’t resist making another video about Doom, and this time, his truly inner self showed through in it. In the now-deleted video called How Doom Eternal Appeals to Westernkind, Krogan attempts to use the lately recent controversy surrounding that infamous line, I mentioned earlier in this article, to talk about how the developers of this game implemented subliminal messages to reaffirm a greater sense of desiring a return to societal order. Krogan attempts to make the case that the messaging in Doom Eternal far outweighed the ambiguity of being unapologetically masculine in Doom (2016) to the point where he personally believes the developers nodded to his reactionary ideology. Let me get this out of the way that American Krogan is most definitely a fascist from head to toe: He frequently makes videos about how Europe is under siege from immigrant hordes created by a Jewish cabal in an effort to minoritize the white race, and it would be made obvious to anyone with a knowledge of far-right symbolism to be tipped off by the thumbnail depicting the Doom Slayer with the accessories of Winged Hussars, an obvious symbol of Polish nationalism. So, keep that character flaw with you while you continue to read.
The video doesn’t only just site the poor-taste joke using language of tolerance to describe literal demons as evidence that the developers “know what’s up” but also expands upon this minor controversy to state that the entire game is appealing to his monstrous worldview. To get to the point, Krogan believes that the ‘demon’ aspect of Doom is a stand-in for the consequences of corporate interests meddling with actions we won’t understand the impact of until it’s at our doorstep, but he uses this as the basis to explain why nationalists find appeal in it out of all people because he sympathizes with their worldview. Here’s the thing: Anyone with a brain and observational skills can easily tell that the conflict Doom uses to serve as a basic theme is that of corporate corruption leads to unleashing consequences we’d have no understanding of, but the pivot here is that Doom doesn’t direct a road for players to go down that directly points to a less prejudiced and rightist understanding of this allegory, and this has been the case since pol.WAD to this video. Doom has a had a long history of attracting some ‘disagreeable’ people.
In detail, Krogan attempts to explain that the demons themselves are emblematic of the immigrant crisis facing Europe now as a natural consequence of decades of imperialism turning many countries in the Global South into inhospitably dangerous places, which prompt many of their population to seek asylum in neighboring countries with much higher quality-of-life. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with the suitcase of this interpretation, and it’s tempting to throw it all away for being so outwardly bigoted, but the fact that this resonates with so many people who aren’t immediately able to point out why it contradicts with the elements presented in Doom’s plot gives me a sense of purpose to outlining it. Obviously, the conclusion that Krogan wants his audience to draw is that the Doom Slayer, being the person whose goal is to be a vessel for the player to slaughter the common enemy throughout the game, serves as an allegory for measurements against immigration into Europe and the Western world. And it’s not even progressive with the process of genocide because it is absolutely made for you to conclude it’s suggesting he’s a savior for committing allegorical genocide. But that’s to be expected with a literal fascist.
And here’s the thing: There’s so much ambiguity and deliberate avoidance of conviction in the game’s narrative that this interpretation can be validated. I’m serious when I say this: There’s nothing concrete in the game’s plot that can snappily make a case for how this interpretation is rooted in projection and wanting to see one’s prejudice represented in what they favor. The demons are very much humanized oftentimes by being the only characters you encounter in the game besides the cold monologue of VEGA or the bickering of Hayden. In the original games, they were the only characters you could become adjusted to, so the pattern of humanization went from something as innocuous as wondering how the demons feel about the Doom Slayer murdering them to thinking they’re a stand-in for people who experience systemic violence in the real world.
The implication that immigrants are comparable to demons implies they’re a mindless, brutal threat to civilization, which can’t be divorced from dehumanization in any way shape or form. It’s an allegory made to get an observer thinking about how violence against them is justified in the name of protection: The Doom Slayer might protect humanity, but the fascist thinks that they protect their homeland, and there’s no hamfistedness like Id’s other franchise, Wolfenstein, to tell you that a takeaway like that is definitely in contradiction with the subject presented. Actually, that was a reoccurring point all throughout the video: Krogan assumes that Id Software is somehow appealing to his worldview despite the blatant contradiction of the brother shooter of Doom. And that’s so fascinating to me: The contradiction of Doom being made by the same people who made Wolfenstein never crosses his mind as something that’d lead him to the conclusion that the creative team is against his fascistic worldview. He throws the idea under the rug entirely because this inconvenient truth ruins the narrative he tried so forcibly to project on the game, but Doom’s ambiguity once again lead it to rejecting this interpretation by merely existing.
Just as much as the theme’s ambiguity can lead to Krogan feeling his views are validated, they also lead to his interpretation being shot down swiftly once you look outside the game’s matrix, but only is it outside the self-contained plot where this interpretation can be dismissed. The point is that it’s far more difficult to dismiss his view arguing solely from the universe of Doom. The language he also uses demonstrates his purposeful adherence to the self-confined world that Doom relies on: He states that the Doom Slayer can’t possibly be related to the Jewish protagonist of Wolfenstein, B. J. Blazkowicz, through canonical reasons, so his fascistic interpretation can’t possibly be spoiled by the Doom Slayer’s possibly Jewish heritage.
Krogan’s interpretation has its validity stand entirely on the prerequisite that you accept the idea that the demons are a personified element being a threat. At that point, the power-fantasy is manipulated onto whatever the interpreter desires to be its symbolism, and in the case of a fascist like American Krogan, it was that the game appealed to his militaristic, anti-immigrant attitudes, most definitely linked to a conspiratorial thinking of a Jewish cabal manipulating the world-order. His words are the best way for to describe it: He thinks of the Doom Slayer as the defender of Western civilization, Samuel Hayden representing the interest of the ‘globalist’ forces destroying everything in the name of profit, the demons representing the result of the former’s actions causing unforeseen destruction and destabilization, and Olivia Pierce representing the Westerner foolish enough to fall for deception of the cabal and willingly give up her heritage and tradition to embrace the degeneracy. It’s an interpretation entirely composed of far-right projection, drenched in a fear of losing something you never had, absolutely monstrous and damnable in every way, and… it’s an interpretation many find appealing. I’m afraid to say that the machismo and brutishness we once thought was innocuous in the ’90s has changed forms dramatically to something far more ugly, and Doom unfortunately has to carry the baggage of it like a tumor.
Another video by the YouTuber ShoddyCast takes a perspective eerily similar to that of Krogan’s in his video where he pretends to be a lawyer for the game’s demons (part of his larger series where he puts on this persona with other games). In his thesis, he argues that the ‘real villains’ of Doom aren’t the demons the player fights throughout the game, but rather the UAC corporation and the unethical decisions it has made to bring the demons into the game’s Earth dimension. While that case is obvious, he also makes another one as part of the act where he acts as an attorney for the demons. In his legal defense, he compares and argues that the demons are equivalent to colonized peoples in the real world, and that they’re subject to the whims of the unauthorized capitalist exploitation at the hands of the UAC. He then states that the Doom Slayer is classifiable as a wanton terrorist responsible for engaging in a corporate-sponsored genocide of disenfranchised peoples. All of this is justified by referencing the game’s plot, particularly in how Hayden releases the Doom Slayer to deal with the demonic invasion that’s merely an inconvenience for him.
While I can judge that Austin (as ShoddyCast refers to himself in his videos) was trying to shine a righteous and subversive light on the message of the game, the core problem with his interpretation is that it still reinforces the same idea as Krogan’s in that the demons represent groups of real-world people who’ve been made marginalized by similar exploitative forces. The only difference is that Krogan views the demons in a negative light, like the game directs you to do, and Austin views the demons in a redeemable light like his subversive presentation was meant to do, but the dehumanizing allegory is still present in both.
Austin isn’t approaching Doom from an artistic perspective more than he’s approaching it from a playful perspective: He’s making a committed entertainment product more than he is trying to derive real-world message out of Doom by his tactics of already applying real-world tropes into his content: The whole ‘gamer lawyer’ shtick, you know. He’s not trying to push a serious agenda unlike Krogan, and thus he doesn’t realize the implications of his persona’s conclusions. He’s lending credence to a monstrous interpretation in the name of trying to create a unique narrative spin on Doom by presenting the Doom Slayer as a terrorist and the demons as being disenfranchised victims of the UAC’s meddling, which absolutely holds ground by his arguments, but it still reinforces the monstrous interpretation that I believe he was trying to avoid. Austin, likely due to his privilege, doesn’t see the danger he could potentially be causing by equating the demons to marginalized people in the real world despite how believable it makes his case as a pretend-lawyer.
Truly, the point of this is that, no matter what perspective you try to approach it from, the conceptualization that the demons represent real-world marginalization lends credence and validity to rightist interpretations that stoop Doom’s role as serving their anti-immigrant power-fantasy. It’s also quite flimsy and stands fairly on the curiosity of what the demons do without the Doom Slayer present, but I should be careful in my words again because the demons themselves, despite their evil appearance, are quite humanized in the game. Many of them react to the imminence that they’ll be gutted with a look of genuine fear, and the lore states that many of them are former UAC employees who were transformed into what you see dead on the floor. But humanization of the demons is what makes them so charming and fun to interact with, so this isn’t a problem with the inherent elements to the demons. Doom shouldn’t curtail itself according to what the most vile people see in it, but rather what it can do to distance itself from them… unfortunately, that “mortally challenged” comment from earlier isn’t doing much to stop fascists like Krogan from thinking that their views are being represented or stopping fools like Austin from indirectly lending credibility to his awfulness.
Like Krogan and Austin, I might be taking my entire analysis in a direction where I think I’ve grasped all of the intricacies that make this topic so peculiar, but there could be an outside factor that renders all of it overcomplicated and unnecessary by the philosophy of “we’ve been knowing.” The difference between Krogan and Austin is that Krogan hints that he deliberately ignores the cases that debunk his interpretation while Austin purposefully takes into account differing perspectives to make the presentation of his video work. Both of these argumentative perspectives ended up at the same political theme in the end: The demons represent people imperially marginalized in our current society, and the actions the Doom Slayer performs are equivalent to genocide and mass terrorism via extending the allegory.
It seems to be that there’s nothing to find on this spectrum of analysis other than genocidal ideology and people who pretend to be lawyers for video-game villains alongside a slew of crappy WADs and edgy mods. Quite frankly, I’m also getting bored with it because of how banal it is: “The demons represent immigrants and I want to kill immigrants, so Doom is the perfect fantasy for me.” Like, I get it: You’re a fascist who’s bad at interpreting art because your ideology fundamentally despises individual expression in art when it’s in control. We know you appreciate how simultaneously edgy and regressive Doom potentially is with its cultural center, and yadda yadda. Cut to the next chapter when interpretation gets interesting and less horrifying.
Episode III: In Journo
For a second, let’s literally perceive the demons as what they are objectively in the game’s story: Demons from a hellish dimension. The demons represent nothing deeper than their literal depiction as flesh-consuming monsters who will kill any humans on sight, and your best bet is to be as violent as possible with them. There’s no airiness about them representing immigrants or colonized peoples; they’re just demons. What changes because of this? Well, I think we ironically gain a deeper appreciation of the theme through taking what’s presented literally. Here, we can arrive that the conclusion that the demons represent not individual groups of people but rather the only other thing they can be: A force of nature. I believe that’s how they’re presented in Doom (2016): Not even through any direct narrative statements is that interpretation more validated. The seeming nature of the enemies in the game is what lends favor to the interpretation that they’re a force of nature, but again, there’s no subtext to confirm this, so we’re starting off on shaky ground.
It’s in this case that the slaughter the Doom Slayer gets becomes a lot more justifiably linked to the sheer narrative enjoyment one experiences through doing this. Of course, that had to be that way for the game to be true to its identity and be enjoyable, but it could’ve easily made some fluke of commentary by adding a deceptive element to the integral slaughter. Removing any interpretations that humanize the demons lends credence away from rightist interpretations and towards more satisfying perspectives. The Doom Slayer shouldn’t initially feel bad about his killing, nor is the game asking you to feel heroic in what you do: It’s asking you to feel cruel satisfaction. Essentially, the Doom Slayer is a character built with a player’s expectation in mind of how he’ll perform, and that’s in complete disregard to whatever drags him along in favor of an approach where he appreciates what he was destined to do and saves whatever brings positive connection along with him.
Even if you identify the element of savior mentality the Doom Slayer engages in, that’s no longer an admission that the allegory of ‘defending Western civilization’ is validated, but rather in a context where it can literally be about protecting humanity as a whole and not be a stand-in for nationalism of some strain. The Doom Slayer, if taken literally, has no country to protect, no sense of national identity to preserve, and no political justice to perform. He becomes what he was intended to be: A catalyst for raw enjoyment that has no ulterior motives than whatever’s immediately in front of him, and the sheer lack of ulterior text to that is almost nihilistic in approach. But, a character being written around complementing and naturalizing a gameplay role isn’t uncommon at all; it’s just that it’s usually reserved for NPCs and not the protagonist. Is this position the Doom Slayer is in as a protagonist contributing to a need to see him as something more than literally what he is?
The game already provides a lore explanation for his purpose, and that’s that he’s a somewhat ritualistic entity that is summoned every particular revolution of time to enact what he was designed to do. He’s an entity designed to wreak havoc upon the Hell dimension and must be summoned to do so. A speculated parallel the game is drawing on here is that the Doom Slayer operates far more like demons in popular media do than the actual demons themselves: He needs to be summoned, brings a curse upon all those that do summon him, and he only seeks to cause ruin and destruction. I’m sure this conclusion has been reached before, but the point here is that highly political interpretations of the subtext aren’t always satisfactory or productive, especially if those subtexts are built off flimsy ground. What subtext is there to this juxtaposition? Well, I just explained it to you, and it’s… self-contained and largely apolitical: It’s more theologically topical than anything else.
Those who take this interpretation are actually taking a less political perspective on the topic than those who are supposed to represent the mantra that video-games shouldn’t be political like we saw with Krogan. And it’s often those who are sympathetic towards the idea that games should be artistic that have this view of Doom’s story. In a revelatory way, Doom simultaneously reinforces the idea that video-games are artistic and ‘just games’ by having analysis of its subtext become richer through rejection of forced political implication while reinventing a new political subtext in its wake. Taking the elements as they are presented literally and not forcing allegory onto them arguably made them more in-line with the game’s story itself.
Speaking of theological topics from earlier, Doom is arguably a professionalized in that. And the religious perspectives on the game range from either conservative Christians perceiving it as a Satanic media that brainwashes children into the cult or religious people who view it as an anti-Satanic game due to the fact that you’re pitted against the demons and they’re ruthlessly antagonized. The later interpretation was coined by one of the original developers of the game — Sandy Petersen, who is a Mormon. He’s accredited with saying “I have no problems with the demons in the game; they’re just cartoons. And, by the way, they’re the bad guys.” While this is arguably an important aspect of the game’s cultural impact, I minimized it in this article purely for the fact that it’s not my realm of expertise. I really brought it up because it’s another piece of recursive evidence that points to the conclusion that Doom’s political theming becomes stronger and more reaffirmingly identifiable when it’s taken as what it literally is and entails rather than projecting one’s personal politics into it.
In contrast to this, one can inject those dreaded politics into our perfectly apolitical game and say that the Doom Slayer is emblematic of Westernkind again because of his actions relating to Christian morality. The slaughter of demons can certainly be seen as an intrinsic act of holiness backed up by canonical info from the comic: In it, the protagonist is revealed to be a faithful Catholic who went through four years of Catholic education. There’s certainly clues there that let people connect the dots and say that the Doom Slayer is a defender of Christian morality against literal unholiness (and subsequently all enemies of Catholicism if they’re feeling extra conservative), but that’s just the comics. I don’t how sincere that character trait is considering the only strongly religious person who worked on the game was a Mormon, but I digress. If Doom is meant to be a pro-Christian game in the lens of those who sincerely think Catholicism is a good or who just want to get their evangelical parents off their back, then there’s a divergence of symbolic sincerity: One takes an observation to be a reinforcement of their artistic conservatism while another one takes it to be a reinforcement of their artistic rebelliousness.
One may take the game’s general aesthetic of Satanist sci-fi as an indication that the game is portraying all aspects of the devil in a negative light, but the weird thing is that Doom doesn’t really explore the theological ideas of hell outside of using it for aesthetics. The game will parade things as being labeled after sin and eternal punishment, but nothing is ever explored in a way that ever linked this to Satanic worship until the 2016 reboot. The demons in Doom originally were far more monstrous and othered in a way that excluded the aspect of summoners or human connection (outside of possession) in the original games. In other words: There was no identifiable link, in the original games, between the human player and the monstrous demons, so there’s an amplified element of disconnect there that doesn’t contribute to any meaningful dehumanization process. The demons are dehumanized right off the bat. So, I don’t think the game is trying to paint Satanists in a bad light, and if anything, Satanists might be the ones drawn the most sincerely to Doom for presenting their aesthetics in such an awesome light.
It’s quite funny: Evangelicals railed about how a game about slaughtering the forces of Hell to save humanity is emblematic of a Satanic brainwashing scheme, but it was those identifying with Satan (and rejection to organized religion) himself that found a game so intent on slaughtering their symbolism to be vastly appealing and a piece of valuable counterculture. That says way more about the nature of Christian conservatism and how it approaches challenging media or any media it projects its paranoia onto… and this is how a pro-Christian interpretation of Doom easily slides in the same framework as the fascistic interpretation of it: They’re both based off a mindset of paranoia injecting itself into the literal elements of the game, and that’s projecting your politics into my ‘pure’ video-game. Whether or not that paranoia is based off nationalistic security or spiritually defending oneself against demonic forces is something that’s left to nuance.
I’ll say that the elements of the occult were bolstered vastly in the reboot to the point where I can adequately make a connection to Christian beliefs, specifically regarding the idea of Hell as damnation to suffer for all eternity. Prior, this was just a tacked-on theme to an already self-defined game through its own designed merits, but contemplative questions of the nature of theology were far more of a narrative focus for the franchise’s reboot.
The Doom Slayer, according to the Slayer’s Testament, “chose the path of perpetual torment” meaning that, he as a man of free will, chose to stay in hell to fight off demonic presence until it was completely eliminated. This implies that he chose a temptation to satisfy his ‘sinful’ heart of anger and hatred over choosing to live as a servant of God back on Earth. But therein lies the question: Is the Doom Slayer staying in the Hell dimension to eradicate its presence an act of sin or righteousness? The trailers for Doom Eternal explore this conundrum by revealing that the Slayer has angered other extra-dimensional forces by disrupting a sorta cosmic balance by his genocidal intentions. He himself caused his own Sisyphean struggle and has become an ‘angel of death’ that acts in righteousness but may have become too much of a counterweight to the UAC’s corporate nosiness. In short: His attempts to snuff the damage the UAC caused by tampering with the Hell dimension might’ve caused far more destruction than it prevented.
In all my intiution, I can say that this element of Doom and all other media like it is an anti-theistic view of Hell and its accepted immovableness as a constant spiritual fear: The idea of one’s immaterial self suffering for eternity because of their unholy actions on Earth is defiled ruthlessly and with utter disregard to the hypocritical sanctity that religious institutions place upon it. The power and brutality of man rejects the passivity that churches have towards the presence of Hell and it’s taken into the hands of someone willing to become an embodiment of eternal suffering in order to eliminate its existential threat. It is the antithesis to deicide, in which the idea of demonic nature being as divine as angelic nature is thrown aside and demonic presence is mortified and man is made immortal, as we can see with the plot of Doom. The Doom Slayer is an immortal entity that has the form of a human, but he himself acts as the bigger monster than any of the demons he slaughters in his sheer barbarity and hatred. Meddling with Hell, something that’d be perceive as an ultimate good, is rephrased to be an act of man defying God, but man replies by asking why God is so inadequate as to deal with Hell immediately if he’s an infinite being.
Why then do such fascistic and religiously authoritarian people identify with Doom so much if it’s such an anti-theistic game? The answer is simple: They only understand it on an aesthetic level, and the aesthetics are what allow someone to ignore the literal text of present and project straight onto the subtext. If the game has the aesthetics of the Gothic period of European Christianity, then it must represent a subtext appealing to those who find that period necessary to return. If the game features the presence of a population of creatures in which the protagonist slaughters, it must be relating to real-world desires for the genocide of marginalized people. All of this projection is done in the name of recognizing that a game about slaughtering the army of Hell doesn’t give a damn about God despite having a protagonist that does. No wonder Evangelicals hate it and Satanists love it so much.
Let’s slide back into literal interpretations, and we’ll continue with how people perceive the Doom Slayer’s emotional state: Angry all the time. Why is he angry? Well, the game implies that he’s angry purely out of a spontaneous spite towards all of demonkind, and that spite arrives from many speculated reasons. However, let’s take into account the man’s circumstances: He is the resurrected curse brought back to life to be an agent for Hayden to better achieve his goals and prevent Pierce from annihilating his plans further than she already has with her obsession of pleasing the Hell dimension’s lords. The only thing he has been marked to do is slaughter with just enough cleverness to not be characterized as a barbarian, and he indirectly resists being made a tool of corporate interest all the time. He likely does this because it interferes with the purpose of his resurrection, which we know is something written to justify a video-game protagonist that’s so obsessed with just being a vessel for player enjoyment.
Let’s take a step further back and see what someone on a less conservative side of outlook might interpret Doom representing. Let’s preface and say that Doom certainly isn’t a franchise that represents any intersectional themes explicitly because it doesn’t have a need to. It recognizes that there’s nothing about the game that politically encodes the demons as being representative of any social ill involving conflict-theory, so it sees no need in making a topical statement where there’s room for none. We also know that Doom is emblematic of its period because of how many tropes it nostalgically captures, and it carries the cultural weight of that time. It’s not ‘problematic’ or anything for having a white male protagonist, but it must be known that was the cultural norm for its medium in its period, and thus that’s not the criticism I want to outline here. Rather, I think a left-minded person would see the value in Doom’s message coming from a more apocalyptic perspective… because it literally has an apocalyptic setting. Literalness in interpretation is going to be a trend, you see.
I’ve previously stated that there’s more worth in one’s analysis if they remove any humanizing allegories to the demons, so that leaves us with the interpretation that they’re a force-of-nature. And what possible conclusions can there be drawn by recognizing the game’s themes of corporate interests not aligning with humanity’s interests and it resulting in a force-of-nature that wreaks havoc upon humanity? Well, the most hot-button issue facing our entire species nowadays is the dawn of climate change, and this something that’s been developing over centuries of capitalistic industrialism being allowed to foster and crush resistance. While placing one foot down, I need to ask how one can make the conclusion that the demons are more accurately symbolic of a force like climate change rather than an ‘immigrant horde.’ If you remember from earlier, I stated that Doom’s theme develops more narrative sincerity if the demons are divorced from tempting rightist projections and seen as what they literally are, and that perspective is what leads to seeing them more as an environmental element than a personable element. And that makes sense because Doom is a PvE game and it certainly doesn’t want to to develop a personable relationship with the demons as a ‘successive’ play-style.
The true personable actors in the plot are those of Samuel Hayden, the UAC corporation, Olivia Pierce, and the Slayer himself, as they’re the ones whose actions actually affect the progression. With this, the demons are subjugated to an environmental obstacle for all of them: All of them except for the Doom Slayer, who perceives them as a fulfillment of his purpose. Hayden views them as an obstacle against his greedy interests, Pierce views them as a corruptive force that needs to spread further to satisfy her master, and the UAC corporation is an entity that was desecrated by it entirely. They aren’t individual groups of people going around to affect plot elements, but rather identical to a force-of-nature in how its described in virtually any other story that deploys it. With this newfound perspective now, it’s far easier to compare the demons to a real-world force like climate change.
The demons are obviously a predicted consequence that came about because of the UAC corporation’s inherent profit-motive getting in the way of any rational concerns about the possibility that extracting energy from a separate dimension might come with unwanted side-effects. Surprise, surprise, the demons are that unwanted side-effect, and with this, Hayden has to resurrect the Doom Slayer to deal with them: Not for the good of protecting humanity but to ensure that his operations of harvesting argent energy aren’t halted by Pierce. The entire purpose of resurrecting the Doom Slayer was done out of a profit-motive, meaning that the initial reason for his reawakening was to protect the interests of a single, wealthy man against the storm that he created and now refuses to admit accountability for. The constant anger the Doom Slayer is seen as feeling might be for something more than a disposed hatred for demonkind: It might be for the fact that he was given new life just to be someone’s mercenary. And, it’s this view that aligns more accurately with the plot as laid out.
According to the Slayer’s Testament, the entity of the Doom Slayer was sealed away after he had finally succumbed to the onslaught of Hell’s forces. He was sealed away with a specific insignia to let any demons know that his tomb should never be awakened. Therefore, if someone were to awaken him, it’d have to be for a damn good reason, and that’s somewhat true in the game’s plot. While Hayden unleashed him ultimately to preserve his interests, Hayden’s obstacle was also unique in that it was a flood of demons into a world that isn’t theirs. The Doom Slayer is given a new purpose as a result of this tearing of natural order, and this brings a new weight to his release than there would’ve been otherwise had he been released on accident or for entirely different motives. He was given a secondary purpose to add more meaning to demonic slaughter than just the tautological one, and this purpose is always sidelined and made subtle to avoid becoming an obtrusive plot.
That second purpose he was given shifts as the plot matures: It goes from being Hayden’s foreseeable pet and evolves into begrudgingly working for Hayden if it means he can stop Pierce from causing further damage. There seems to be a shift in approach in which the Doom Slayer goes from recognizing that someone — Hayden — wants him to kill demons for his agenda to then killing and destroying in spite of Hayden’s commands. Not only is the Doom Slayer defiling preordained elements on a theological level, he’s also doing it on a business level because that’s what you’re fulfilling in the game: A business investment. You see, Hayden doesn’t sincerely seek an end to the demon invasion, but rather he only wishes it can be self-contained so he can mitigate any of the damage done to his assets.
Why does this serve as an allegory for climate change? Well, in the lore of Doom (2016), the entire reason why the UAC was tasked with finding new energy sources on Mars was because the Earth was facing an energy crisis as a result of burning all of the planet’s nonrenewable energy sources. Clearly, there was an absolutely systemic failure to switch to renewable sources, dooming many people on the planet to suffer because of poor strategic planning on the part of those in power. The problem with tasking the UAC in particular to do it is that they’re a private organization that still serves the demands of capital, only they’re doing it on an interplanetary scale as opposed to the presumably ruined corporate schemes on Earth. This means that the goals of the UAC were to find a new resource on Mars, exploit in a way that can be used to replenish the capitalistic rates of consumption on Earth, and then profit off of the monopolization of this energy. Whatever consequences could occur as a result of this are just a side-effect that’ll be dealt with accordingly.
While the UAC is tasked and served with providing a source of argent energy to the Earth, it’s main focus is profiting first. That’s why absolutely no precautions were taken to investigate and study the energy in methods that’d help people not suffer excruciating death or mutation from it. All research was done in ways to understand argent energy so it could be better extracted; very little effort was placed on safe extraction or the question if extraction should continue at all. Much of this is similar to how corporate interests acts today. Let’s face it: Climate change is happening and our systems caused it because they put profit first over the concern of literally everything and everybody else. The Western idea that nature is something in the way of enlightened men that must be conquered and subjugated is shared by the UAC as it has been with the past several centuries of human, er, colonial history. The main difference is that Doom portrays the colonization of Mars while the only thing that was colonized in the real-world is ourselves.
An event that Doom colloquially predicted was that humanity will likely invest in Mars colonization at some point in the future, and this isn’t originally to Doom at all, but it’s extremely relevant in this episode. What’s being talked about today in fields of scientific advancement in aeronautics is the possibility of building planetary bases on Mars, and the biggest concern skeptics have with that is its inevitable privatization leading to an abysmal future where space-exploration isn’t something to look forward to at all. The constant setting of the game is that of a hypothetical Mars colony ran by a private entity, and right from the start, the narrative is meant for you to distrust this backdrop you’re involved in because the presence of the demons is conjoined with the environment. The demons aren’t deployed in a foreign environment despite that being the reason why they came here: They feel very much an understandable consequence of the world they were released into.
What do we see nowadays in the media? Talks about potential colonization of Mars and expansion into the solar system. It’s so evident that, ever since the Space Race back in the ‘60s, that humankind has expressed an interest in settling beyond our home-planet. To me, what feels strange about being immersed in this environment is the disconnect I feel from the optimism so many are having, but unlike Doom, I don’t focus on the unforeseen consequences more than I do the implications. And I have valid reasons to do that because, with all scientific consensus in mind, it’s very unlikely that we’ll discover a new energy form on Mars and have it unleash an inter-dimensional portal. No, what you and I have to deal with is the cynicism of contemporary capitalism and the fetish towards expanding it beyond the boundaries of our planet.
But, Doom isn’t a literal metaphor for the cynicism towards the potential of planetary colonization, because if it was, that’d make it a very different and very boring game. Imagine the Doom Slayer writing op-eds about how millionaires like Elon Musk are going to face a demonic prediction in the future if we don’t reorder our society now. No, instead, it presents a fictionalized depiction of what private interests would do on a planetary scale. Doom is about living in the aftermath of whatever disaster resulted from the continuation of corporate interests. With Doom, it’s a demonic invasion, but in the real world, it’ll be with climate change, and I can suggest that it’d be far less fun in reality than it’d be in the game. Do you see how this is far more believable than what I surmised in the last episode? That’s real topical importance, and there’s a symbolic yet fun consequence being portrayed here.
The growing counter-narrative to this cultural trend of wide-eyed hope for the expansion of the ‘infinite growth’ mindset in space exploration has been that it’ll merely serve as a catalyst for the privileged few of society to escape the inevitable climate catastrophe on course for Earth. Many sci-fi works have already approached this concept (the one I can recently remember is the 2013 film Elysium), but Doom specializes in combining this with a Satanic aesthetic mixed in with the atmosphere of H. R. Giger and H. P. Lovecraft. It’s really not that special when you consider that the tale has been told over and over again as a forewarning for the culture we live under now we where just trust millionaire technocrats to save us from climate change by terraforming Mars and establishing colonies on it. It’s obvious their concern isn’t at all with saving the Earth as it is currently, but hoping for this pie-in-the-sky solution where they can live out their lives continuing human existence on an interplanetary paradise while all the poor are deemed to suffer on Earth.
It’s painfully obvious that Samuel Hayden is representative of the technocrats we currently idolize in our culture: It doesn’t refer to anyone in particular, but you’re probably listing names by now. Hayden constantly reminds us that his unethical motives to secure argent energy are worth it in a utilitarian perspective. He doesn’t care about what the means are to obtaining argent energy — meaning how many die in the process — as long as the energy crisis on Earth can be solved through harnessing it. He represents a truly cynical view of the idols we have now in which they operate under the guise of altruism to seek what they truly want: A plan that secures their own interests in the coming climate and energy crisis humanity will soon face as a result of continuing capitalism for so long. Regardless of what they say to themselves, what appears on the outside is a desire to have a galactic haven from the troubles Earth will soon be in. The poor can’t direct their anger towards the rich if the rich aren’t on their planet, right?
“I’m willing to take full responsibility for the horrible events of the last 24 hours, but you must understand — our interest in their world was purely for the betterment of mankind. Everything has clearly gotten out of hand, yes, but it was worth the risk. I assure you.”
“I feel I should apologize for what’s happened here… some of my employees took things too far. Olivia was the cause of all of this and I believe… you… will have to deal with her in time. You may not agree with our research but know this: we exploited Hell and its resources because it was in mankind’s best interest to do so. What you see now in this facility is the cost: [The cost] of progress.”
I struggle with accepting this not out of a difficulty but because of a feeling of surprise: I’m amazed with myself over how simple it is. There’s no gymnastics one has to perform to justify an interpretation where the demons are emblematic of an untamed horde of foreign intruders because that’s not the greater purpose they fulfill in the lore. At least I like to think so… When we simply remove all of the weird, conservative implications from the game’s narrative, it becomes a lot more self-contained and thus satisfactory. Sometimes, it’s necessary to remove unwanted politics from a game’s narrative if the game’s goal was never to be so explicitly political in the first place. I find it fairly absurd that so many rightists would want to project their political messaging into a game that has nothing to do with refugees, Western civilization, or “blood and soil” mentalities, when it’s clearly just about how a corporation, up to no good, took little precautions with their economic strategies and thus plunged our protagonist into a scenario where he has the cease the threat it spawned. This is the breakaway point from where Doom asks of you to view it as a political commentary and start viewing it as a theological commentary: All the political meandering with the UAC and the economics of argent extraction is through, and now it asks of you to view the Doom Slayer’s actions from a moral and, more recently, a theological perspective.
That leads the door open to a lot of interesting interpretations: Are the presence of demons possibly a religious prospect? Is it God punishing humanity for its greed by halting any attempts at planetary exploration? What role or purpose does the Doom Slayer fulfill in continuing to annihilate demons? What are we fulfilling by continuing this? It’s all so juicy if you’re a person who appreciates unpolitical storytelling that still manages to ask deep questions when it comes to the nature of God and demonkind in this universe. There’s no questions left to ask on the political themes behind Doom because they’ve already been laid out unquestionably: It knows that’s not where the focus is because you’re already coming into the game with a certain pretense. What brings out the thematic joy of Doom is the morally questionable: If you want thematic joy in a political sense, Id Software has you covered with Wolfenstein: A game where the politics are baked into the raw enjoyment.
At the end of the day though, I find myself again at a feeling of uncomfortable ambiguity. The anti-corporate themes within Doom are apparent, and it’s from here that the demons would more accurately be described as a force-of-nature that has no active pursuit for a goal but just serve to be mindless, destructive agents. But, many rightists are insidious and deceptive in their views: They can make sense of any projection if someone shoves their head up their own ass far enough. Many of them on the more extreme scale can claim that they have anti-corporate sympathies either out of an ideological sincerity or to be a more adaptable recruiter. Therefore, I can see someone arriving at the depressing conclusion that, while Doom’s anti-corporate themes are undeniable, they’re not necessarily supporting a leftist view, especially in the eyes of how the Doom Slayer’s morality is questioned. While I’ve been making my case this entire episode, I can’t totally say that this interpretation is denied by the game’s canon because of its insistence on being ambiguous enough to not alienate people or be seen as artful while also being topical enough to hold cultural weight.
Episode IV: Thy Worldview Consumed
The ambiguity kills me, really. Doom never takes a strong stand against the sizeable portion of reactionaries in its fandom, that find appeal in it for reasons I can’t necessarily dismiss as invalid, because there’s no authorial intent for me to back up my arguments with. The “death of the author” trope is peculiar because many like-minded people like me indulge in using it to dismiss the views I scrutinized in the second episode. It’s a shameless use of authorial intent as an argument when Doom doesn’t have too strong of an authorial intent to begin with because it was never about sending a political message more than exploring a theological message in a ’90s FPS. Any use of authorial intent I’ve made has been made on as equally flimsy grounds as those made by reactionaries, and I can’t offer any strong rebuke other than extra-canonical citing and my own convictions.
It’s so stubborn really: I thought I could make some cool, narrative analysis of the game, but it still can’t pick a side between heaven or hell as to whether or not it wants to update its challenging status or remain forever in the nostalgia of the early ’90s. It’s just… not a very committal piece of art overall. I’ve trumped myself when I brought up the possibility that the game has far more aesthetic and theological appeal than it ever would have political appeal; all suggesting those things as if they don’t overlap. I wanted to make a strong case as to why these fascistic interpretations of Doom are wrong, but I’m not even sure if the creative-team of the game agrees with me from Sandy Peterson to the writers of the reboots. It’s likely that many of them don’t care to make an artistic statement because they understood it to be unnecessary. That seems to describe a lot of the cultural history of Doom: It’s a long series of people applying concepts to it that it never wished to explore or commentate about.
Is that all I’ve been doing too? It seems like the anti-corporate themes of the reboot are obvious, but maybe they’re only meant to be taken at face-value. It’s not like there’s a gripping criticism of corporate futurism and space colonization in there that’s actually applicable to our modern lives: We won’t become cursed to slay demonkind in Sisyphean anger for all eternity, and the consequences on Earth aren’t important at all to the game’s story. Video-games are most certainly art, but a question that needs to be asked is if all games want to be art. That’s a question with multiple answers all hinging on a specific definition of what turns a game from “just a game” into something with artistic merit. What Doom might want to occupy is an artistic value dependent entirely on its cultural, historical, and technical importance rather than any ulterior perspective it had to offer. That explains why it doesn’t really take any strong stances to affirm a specific view over another: It isn’t just a fear of alienating an audience but a desire to maintain a consistency and not break what isn’t broken theoretically. Now, what’s left to ask at this point is whether or not Doom has a responsibility in this case, to which I say yes to a degree. Something like that joke poking fun at corporate appropriation of progressive language can be used as ammo for types like Krogan if a disclaimer isn’t confirmed.
Perhaps there’s an optimistic side to this: Maybe those on the PR team of Doom didn’t address that controversy last year because they thought that ‘true’ fans of Id would understand that they’d never associate themselves with reactionary views by the existence of Wolfenstein and the canonical relationship it shares with the Doom. I’ll tell you something odd: This entire debacle reminds me of an analysis of the Angry Birds Movie I saw where the presenter attempted to make a case that the movie has a similar metaphor towards the migrant crisis in Europe. With the pretense of this article, just replace ‘demons’ with ‘pigs’ and replace the ‘Doom Slayer’ with ‘Red Bird’, and you have a similar allegory. That video had a scarily neutral tone that failed to condemn the inherent bigotry in the metaphor being described, which I guess makes sense because the analyzer described themselves as an ‘extreme moderate’ in a followup video. I’m bringing it up here because it demonstrates a point that, if you don’t derive artistic meaning out of something, someone will eventually come along and do it… even if it’s for something as seemingly benign as a movie about Angry Birds. Now, if there’s something that truly doesn’t want to be artistically defined, it’s the goddamn Angry Birds Movie.
So, if Angry Birds can be political, than Doom can be so also. So let’s head back to politics: Both the reactionary (ep. 1) and progressive interpretation (ep. 2) rely on the undeniable subtext of the game that it’s critical of corporate interests and the idea that they always have the interests of the people they serve in mind. That’s a fundamental, but where that analysis is taken determines everything I’ve outlined in this article’s history. Both of these interpretations rely on understanding the game on an aesthetic level (that is, a meathead massacring demonic hordes) and then attempting to wiggle whatever meaning could be derived out of frequent and dedicated exposure. All this despite the takeaway that it doesn’t want to be as ‘politically defined’ as its sister franchise. The game being anti-corporate as prelude doesn’t inherently attribute validity to one interpretation over the other, and that’s the simultaneously appealing and disappointing part of it: You get something that’s applicable to more people at the cost of seeming more exclusionary to others. The moral question is who’s worth excluding. I can produce an entire tangent about how fascists call themselves anti-corporate despite having an ideology that has historically been symbiotic with capitalism, but that’s unwarranted.
Reaching towards the descent of this article, I get a stark feeling in my heart that my original condemnation of the monstrous worldview borne out of this game’s ambiguity were downplayed to end up on a more unchallenged note. Like the analyzer of the Angry Birds Movie, I constantly gave into monstrous worldviews to justify the object that the PR and creative teams behind Doom ultimately don’t care what audience they attract with their games as long as they continue the franchise’s legacy and the cultural expectations tagged with it. I had to be the one to make a case that Doom’s narrative rejects the bigotry a surprising number of people take away from it. As one should know, refusing to not reinforce a conviction in a position where the object being discussed is a racist message, then one ends up reinforcing that racism via their apathy. So, I know that I can’t end up on the unsatisfying and dangerous conclusion to be apathetic towards fascistic interpretations of Doom, but the problem is that Doom doesn’t take a stand. And, I fear that the leeway for fascistic interpretation is what adds validity to the theological view of the Doom Slayer as a deicidal terrorist: Mass slaughter is the name of fascism, and the Doom Slayer is quite good at that. The leeway for their arguments is there, and I have no strong ways to counteract it that don’t rely on Wolfenstein’s existence.
Certainly, I wasn’t solely responsible for trying to win a battle on my own hill: The community for Doom is rather wholesome and intolerant of bigotry way more than this article would lead you to believe. For example, a community member named Sgt. Mark IV is the creator of the classic game’s most popular modification: Brutal Doom. A majority of the active modding base have come to despise Mark and his creation, partially because of how inconvenient it is to work with despite it being the most popular mod: Many people harass developers to include functionality support for Brutal Doom when they don’t want anything to do with it. Another little-known thing about Mark is that he’s a hard reactionary who’s made his bigotry well known. So, not only is Brutal Doom considered an unwanted blemish on Doom modding’s reputation, it’s also developed by a terrible person. To this day, there’s a stigma against players who use Brutal Doom or claim that it’s the “best way to play classic Doom.” A stigma that I think is rightfully deserved because there’s far better mods that deserve to be the face of the game’s modding scene.
Regarding Brutal Doom, it reinforces my point that the legacy of Doom as being the antiquated symbol of cultural rebellion in the early ’90s continues thirty years later, but there’s a tiredness that comes about from people outside of passionate circles for the game. Fans have become tired with the reputation Doom has received for being a symbol for the validity of ultra-violent display in video-games because they recognize the game has to mature beyond that to be appreciable beyond a haunting zeitgeist. The irony in all that I say is that those appreciative of Doom have already recognized its artistic value from continual community and accepting the maturation process. It was those who truly loved it that recognized the messages of the franchise’s reboot for what they were given, it was those who didn’t give a damn about the image of their game being a rejection of the encroachment of unwanted art, and it was those who didn’t care that Doom: Annihilation tried to score some girl points. Those who are truly aware know that there’s nothing to be alarmist or act conservative about in regards to the artistic menace. Doom neither loses nor gains anything ultimately.
I would’ve preferred if I made more of a narrative effort to tell you what to take away from this essay, but that’d ruin the perfect ambiguity I created that manages to appeal to so many through its object and positive emotional engagement… as they say. I’d prefer if this went down as a counter-cultural statement of our contemporary era where more and more people are becoming ideologically opposed to the idea of video-games as art, but who knows what could form decades down the road from now. What was gripping about this wasn’t the plot getting in your way, but rather the plot you made yourself through the sheer, raw enjoyment of something I created in an environment equally surrounded by machismo, pizza, and bad movies. I already excluded the reactionaries that’d find their itch scratched immediately due to the initial content-warning, but it was never my goal to be apolitical. I’m not a believer in the idea that analysis is its most optimal when it’s bipartisan because articles don’t write themselves, and I’m a person who thinks Doom has artistic value in a way that’s valid and in a way that’s invalid.
Even those who think of themselves most detested towards artistic encroachment can find themselves desperate for an answer from time to time, and that’s what we saw in episode two. More correctly, we saw a dichotomy between two attitudes towards video-games as thematic experiences where Austin played along with a character to expose his feelings about the game and Krogan projected his fascistic politics to derive meaning. I don’t want to brag, but I feel like I was the most rational in my analysis because I based it purely off of the objective details in the game’s story. It’s far away from the wishy-washy nature of symbolism that so many eat up nowadays, including Austin and his desire to be a lawyer for fictional demons. If there’s one important symbol I mentioned in the beginning, it’s that of masculinity. The rightist interpretation relied on the Doom Slayer being a vessel to enact ‘traditionally masculine’ behavior, and I feel like I failed to elaborate more on that in a feminist lens.
I’ll mention that this application of masculinity was more innocuous prior to the reboot in 2016, as that’s when I believe all of these political narratives took prominence and made use of the renewed plot to sell the idea that he’s always been a force of unapologetic masculinity or that he’s an icon of Christian heroism and whatnot. Beforehand, it was a tinged on par with the ’90s, but never explicit in such a way that forced you to identify with its masculinity outside of cultural pressure. The game’s temporary rival, Duke Nukem, on the other hand, was far more of an embrace of that archetypal masculinity so many attribute to Doom nowadays. Regardless of these new projections, the consistent themes have always been there since in the original games where the Doom Slayer was relocated to Mars for shooting a commanding-officer that ordered him to fire upon civilians. Both anti-military and anti-corporate, huh? I keep having fun stroking my own ego. Sure, there’s always ambiguity from a marketing perspective, but artistic analysis is meant for you to take convictions within it. That’s how things become more appreciable!
Regardless about what you take away from this (nothing at all is valid too), just know that Doom, in its efforts to remain an ahistorical game originally, has become a momentous part of history, and it can no longer deny that in the glory of its franchise’s renewal… I’d lump modern Doom in now with all of these other pieces of media which seem to take a new approach to Gothic aesthetics to create a hyper-violent fantasy that appeals to many people who see the anti-theist themes in them as well as the potentially fascistic themes. I’d include works like the mangas Berserk and Goblin Slayer. Or other video games like God of War… I guess I can throw in a sentence about how metalheads appreciate Doom so much because metal as a genre overlaps with all of the anti-theistic themes of it, and the brutal nature of the game made it a perfect fit for the soundtrack. Yeah, that’s all I got for music, sorry. Heh, I never really learned how to end things well, so I’ll just list off a basic summary: Doom’s ambiguous and historically edgy nature are what always placed it in a neat ground where it can be interpreted as a medium of rebellion for two very different political outlooks.
Because of how much of Doom’s cultural identity is based around being a raw, fictionalized experience that seeks to strip itself of any deeper meaning to be awesomely superficial, the subtext was never a major factor in a general appreciation of it. The franchise was more about the appeal of its raw art-form in of itself: It’s culturally retroactive more than it is culturally retrospective, and it admits this in its silence in regards to the current state of the gaming industry. It knows it’s a return to form, and that condition attracts both those afraid, apathetic, or supportive of artistic encroachment. I can say that, while fascistic interpretations are based off pure projection, there’s absolutely a basis in-game for why those takeaways are supported and given lip-service to. That’s it: I ripped and teared through every conceivable argument that came my way.
I did kinda leave on a cliffhanger in regards to the theological implications though… The demons are literally demons, including all of the theological implications of them. Whenever someone refers to ‘demons’ in a traditional sense, it usually refers to that which someone is burdened with for a prolonged period of time, oftentimes for life. In the beautiful simplicity of its symbolism: The Doom Slayer has made demons his own demons, because they’re a burden he deals with for all of his life for his own actions. It’s sin that he inherited and accepted the punishment for despite how little the game references an actual godly figure in place to counteract demonic presence (at least until Doom Eternal), and that has always been peculiar to me. With a game that represents such biblical concepts of demons so often, you’d think there’d be obvious components of faith or godliness to fully set the stage, but there isn’t. Maybe that’s intentional to really create the impression that you’re in Hell: There’s no God to be found anywhere… probably because you don’t need one. The Doom Slayer already has the strength of a god, what with being able to commit powerful slaughter on a basis unimaginable to any mortal.
The intriguing question being asked by Doom Eternal now is what happens when this slaughter is finally concluded. What happens when the Doom Slayer wipes out all of demonkind and accomplishes what his anger has driven him to do as we controlled him all this time? There’d be no demons left to kill, ending the one thing that gives his existence purpose, and the only humanity left to save is still struggling with a severe energy crisis. What exactly did he save by going on this genocide? He saved absolutely nothing, because he secretly knows it’s all about the raw enjoyment of slaughter more than being consciously utilitarian: It’s not a situation where the means justify the end because there is no end; there are only means. The Doom Slayer is purely a vessel for means who acts not with any goal in mind outside of quenching his Sisyphean anger. But think about all the people he could’ve literally protected had he focused on killing Hayden alongside Pierce and shutting down the entire UAC’s scheme… That didn’t matter to him more than the call to fulfill the Doom Slayer’s Testament and become the purger of all evil.
But the purger of all evil is only granted to divine beings, and the Doom Slayer isn’t a divine being; he is a cursed being. It is Sisyphus deciding to destroy the boulder he was damned to push eternally and throwing away all of the prerequisite God gave to him to suffer for giving into temptation. We’re supposed to wait until the end of time for God to vanquish all evil out of the world and finally crush Satan’s serpentine skull, but he doesn’t do this in the mean time because that’d mean the end of our free will (according to Catholic dogma). And, isn’t that right? What free will does the Doom Slayer have other than to slaughter in more creative and adaptive ways? He’s still detained by Hayden at the end of the game because he was a good pet who fulfilled his purpose. Even if this didn’t happen to him, all of his desire after the game would be directed back at slaughtering demonkind to fulfill what years of being a vessel has made him into.
There’s always been a recurring joke through the franchise where people chuckle over how the Doom Slayer conjures boss music when he walks into the room because he would normally be the threatening enemy you fight against. That’s what it is though: A man who has no purpose but slaughter and extermination inspires fear in enemies in a reversal of expectations for challenging games. He fulfilled the promise of the Night Sentinels by vanquishing evil in God’s name, but the real history has told us that there was nothing to gain from it but a further parasitic growth for the mother empire that spawned the need for an evil in the first place. And that’s what we saw: The Doom Slayer’s slaughter had brought nothing but profit and prosperity for the mother organization that summoned him again. His obsession with beaning nothing but a machine for means has repurposed and commodified the eternal anger of Sisyphus. In the eyes of those who partake in the vessel, it’s purely apolitical slaughter because the slaughter has no purpose in being anything but, regardless of what projections people put into it.
…It seems that any analysis that tries to draw a satisfying theme from Doom, a game defined itself off having no story and being a darling of retro FPS games and also being a tale of one purposefully committing themselves to Sisyphean punishment to do what divinity fails to do, will end up with a result that always leaves a similar emotion in people regardless of what biases they inject into it: Doomed.