Doom and Chamomile – conditioning your inner super soldier


By Neil Merrett

Doom, released on Nintendo Switch in 2017Bethesda Softworks

The last time we had a new game in the Doom series back in 2004, the main concept was seemingly to make you afraid of the dark, scared of what may lie in the shadows.

However, the latest iteration of the seminal shooter instead seems designed to override a player’s natural caution and make them – within the game world itself – fearless, or at least brutally stupid when facing down demonic hordes.

Never mind being wary of the darkness, this one is more about literally leaping in to a demon’s nest head first with a chainsaw.

It is a perfect example of how well designed videogame worlds can condition the player to not only take up the role of someone else, but also act like them, in a way that is contrary to their everyday demeanour and outlook.

This isn’t always about violence though.

From an empathetic standpoint, games often allow the player to bring their own viewpoints and perspectives to outlandish fantasy settings, lifelike conflict or high-pressure situations to test how they might really react in those situations. They can serve as a means of trying to make people understand a world from another’s view, or critically rethink how they cope with pressure.

Part of the medium’s appeal is you becoming a different character, often shaping their actions with your own experiences and approach to challenges.

The Interactivity of the medium for instance can allow a naturally cautious player to find alternatives to relying on out-and-out violence to meet an aim, perhaps by employing stealth and trickery.

Gamers are not immune however from in turn being conditioned by a game.

Doom, a reboot of the massively influential 1993 first person shooter that arguably popularised the genre, is not the first time the classic run and shoot demon’s adventure has been updated for modern tastes and technology.

The latest title, which keep with the theme of battling an army of demonic denizens of Hell in a mining colony on Mars, is more like having an adrenaline shot that mashes the traditional human survival traits of flight or fight together into a whole new approach – fight and fight.

In essence, the aim of the game, when confronted by the amassed legions of hell, is to keep moving and keep firing, ‘stopping is death’ is one of the more enigmatic hints the game gives a player between loading.

Doom conditions the player not so much in a direct psychological sense, but more how they face down the numerous monsters that line its worlds. In the game world, swashbuckling levels of violence and brutality are rewarded in an experience that is alarmingly fun considering the number of heads that get ripped off during any given playthrough.

An alternate reality

Think of it as an alternate reality where the standard rules of evolutionary survival, or strategic cowardice – things that may seem natural to some gamers – no longer apply.

You could never be a doom slayer in real life, but he is the chance to embrace it for a few intense hours.

This is the unique opportunity that the interactive nature of games offers to the narrative experience. Titles such as the Deus Ex series have evolved the shooter genre into the realms of stealth and hacking, so that it is possible to playthrough the game without really shooting anything at all.

It is a game that rewards strategic play and adapting to the player’s individual strengths. DO you fear confrontation? Then avoid it altogether and become a cybernetically enhanced sneaky bugger.

Doom’s latest design and world is built around a single approach to game play, non-stop violent chaos where guns and explosives serve mostly as a prelude to weakening an enemy to rip off and beat them with their own body parts or punch a hole through their skull. It is empowering in a very base way.

Health and ammunition in the game can be replenished on the spot through this act of violent overkill, making it both satisfyingly crunchy and essential to stave off death as projectiles fly around as if in a war zone. Even as giant creatures pummel you into near oblivion, the player is always on the lookout for a creature to gun down until they can be ripped open for life saving rewards.

Though it may be counter to everything a player believes in the real-world, Doom conditions you to embrace this violent approach, shut off your fear for a few hours and play through as the ridiculous, over-the- top Doomslayer.

Games can serve many different purposes for a modern audience, from offering a slow, meditative journey in peaceful, exotic alien worlds, to more thoughtful and introspective takes on our relationship with the world around us and mental health.

Then Doom comes along with the escapist fantasy of having to worry if there is enough chainsaw fuel to mutilate a giant gun toting hellspawn during an almost balletic five minutes of non-stop violence that may have defeated the player numerous times through just gun fire alone.


All of these things are escapism, all are valuable and all condition you to play by the rules of their respective game worlds.

Games can be better for being stupid and fantastically violent as they can for being more thoughtful and more artistic interpretations on the human condition.

In light of the latest media furore over the massive popularity of the game Fortnite and what it might means for playground violence or social reclusiveness in the wider populace, the debate on the psychological impact of gaming has never really gone away.

Scientific evidence that playing Grand Theft Auto will turn a right minded individual into a crazed gangbanger is unlikely to be realised – even as a form of escapism. Yet videogaming is not a mindless pursuit and its roles as a ubiquitous part of our lives should be thoughtfully considered in how it makes us view the world, as with drugs, alcohol and seemingly acceptable recreation.

Like a broad range of media, each individual reacts differently to how a game makes us feel and we react to it.

But the wider media landscape is facing up to the commercial and critical benefits offered by the interactive nature of gaming that serves as a unique artform on how we relate to the world and violence.

The Smith’s once sang, “it takes strength to be gentle and kind”, a sentiment not always shared by the the band’s front man.  But just as with music, games are sufficiently evolved to tell stories that can convey this message as well as other art forms.

But Doom isn’t this game. It is escapism involving chainsaws and a weapon literally called a ‘big f”*&ing gun’.

Bethesda has made something that sounds asinine, yet Doom is a lot of fun and sometimes a game doesn’t need to be anything more than that.

Videogames are a stronger medium for its existence. Here’s to Doom Eternal… Hell on Earth? No problem.

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