On that same shareware collection that brought Wolfenstein 3D onto my family’s home computer, there was another, even more important game to me. Probably the most important game in my life.
We’re talking, of course, about Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold.
Nah, I’m just messing with you. We’re talking about DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!
As good as it was, there’s no surprise Blake Stone is completely forgotten in the wake of the game that came out just a week later and literally changed the world: id Software’s Doom.
Doom forever changed the landscape of videogames. It codified an entire genre, appealed to people who’d never considered themselves gamers, ruined workplace productivity for years, turned id into superstars for a decade, and bought John Carmack like ten Ferraris.
Doom also forever changed my life, in small and large ways, and continues doing so 25 years later. To quote the title of this whole series of essays and apply it to Doom — to say that it made me who I am — might even be an understatement. More than any other game on this list, more than any other videogame I will ever play, I would not be who I am without Doom.
Where do I start? I suppose it all started with Doom scaring the utter piss out of me. This wasn’t the vaguely creepy imagery and unsettling mystery that scared me in Final Fantasy or Mario. I’d grown accustomed to that, and built up a tolerance. I was a Big Boy now, after all; six years old. No, now it was the very real fear of the monsters I could barely defend myself against, of an enemy lurking around the next corner or sneaking up behind me who could murder me in a second. Doom was a challenge of a new sort: I had to overcome my fears in order to play more of this game I loved to play. And it was a challenge I worked at for a long time before I conquered even the shareware version.
After that, Doom became a quest. In the late ’90s when I’d finally beaten the first episode of Doom… and then beaten it over and over again, I started searching for a way to get my hands on the other two episodes advertised in the shareware. Calling and ordering the full game was still out of the question, so I asked friends if they had it. I scoured the internet. Finally I did find a copy, and it was as if years — half my life at that point — had been spent in search of this glorious prize: Doom, complete and unadulterated. (I did eventually legally purchase something like a dozen copies of the game, so please don’t report me to the videogame police.)
With Episodes 1, 2, and 3 under my belt, I began to get curious about the custom, fan-made content I knew existed. I played legendary WADs like STRAIN, Scythe, and Memento Mori — full of maps that rival or even surpass what id had made, or what various “professionals” were making in other FPS games. It opened up a whole new world, an understanding that videogames didn’t just come out of the ether; they were made by regular people. And sometimes, the people doing it for free — rather than the ones selling a product — were doing it better.
The greatest thing Doom gave me, though, was a creative outlet. I technically didn’t start making maps until around 2002, which would place them long after the levels I’d made for Lode Runner, WarCraft II, StarCraft, and any of the other games I’d dabbled in editing. Still, Doom was different from all those in one key aspect: there was a massive audience for the stuff I was creating. The Doom community, even now in 2017, is bigger than you’d probably imagine.
I released my first maps publicly in 2007 — and they sucked. But that’s the beauty of having an audience: you have built-in critics who’ll tell you when your stuff sucks, who’ll help you improve your craft, and who will celebrate you as you grow. Just last year, I won one of the Cacowards, the Doom community’s annual mapping awards, for my WAD Absolutely Killed. I’ve been recognized for all sorts of accomplishments been promoted at my job, written essays that are very dear to me, graduated summa cum laude from college… but my Doom WADs are my own pure creation. They come straight from my mind into the editor, and so being honored for that carries more weight than anything that’s come before it. And it convinced me, ultimately, to stop making excuses and pursue game design in earnest.
Doom has stuck with me, from the moment I first saw it, up to the moment I write this. It’s been a kind of third parent (no offense, mom and dad), guiding me through the phases of my existence and toward what I really want out of life. It’s meant different things at different times, from a fear to be overcome, to a goal to be achieved, to the unparalleled joy of artistic expression and fulfillment.
If I turn into one of those self-obsessed videogame designers in twenty years, you can blame that on Doom too.