Doom Eternal: a Game Review, of sorts.
The new computer game Doom Eternal: two-parts Global-Order-disassembling US trade-war, two-parts simple, predictable and commercially regurgitated narrative logic of scorched-earth gameplay and one-part impressively textured, modelled and rendered 3D-graphics gaming software. I initially watched a video of a much-hyped, staged media release of the footage but rapidly found the overlaid sound of audience cheers and whoops of joy at the progressively violent demonic dismemberments to be disturbing. The primary takeaway from the version of the gameplay sans audience enthusiastically applauding progressively sinister and macabre acts of explosive dismemberment is that the game is at base and regardless of the improved graphics really just more of the same: run, shoot, reload, run. This is a simple (indeed – simplistic) logic of competitive problem-solving which seeks and arguably succeeds in “hooking” into pre-existing tribalist urges and insecurities endemic in human beings.
The media event and cultural trope of the grand media spectacle and attempt to generate commercial momentum sufficient to drum up sufficient online interest and memetic replication is a cultural artefact apparently always of the rock concert trope. The business model of these kinds of gaming products is so deeply impacted by the rapid turnover and accelerated senescence of gaming software, platforms, hardware requirements and ever-diminishing customer attention-spans that the extent of buzz and hype represents a solid attempt by games franchises to hammer themselves into the popular zeitgeist through the construction of spectacle around, and spectacular violence within, the gaming system.
I have spent numerous years, in an earlier incarnation, as an online First Person Shooter (FPS) player and in-game admin, primarily in an assumptive “Reality Mod”. This particular game (a not-for-profit modification of Battlefield 2) attempted to bring contemporary real world tactical engagements, ballistics, communications and strategic contexts into the multiplayer gaming environment. The key heuristic benefit and analytically-useful experience of such gaming environments is that they allow for alternative forms of thinking and goal-oriented teamwork to occur in adversarial virtual environments in which tactical violence is merely one facet of the crystalline interdependence of gameplay elements. This reduction of an emphasis on run-and-gun gameplay returns the onus to that of teamwork and cooperation, effectively providing mature problem-solving experiences and opportunities within a context of virtual adversarialism. Unfortunately, exploration of narrative, logical and conceptual possibilities is rarely a safe investment gamble and gaming suffers from a global macrocosm and context of shallow innovation and the flogging-a-dead-horse of thoughtless procedural self-replication that tertiary education, business practices and organisational or political methodologies everywhere are also heir to.
Granted, it is never possible to extract actual political contexts and biases from any aspirationally “real world” gaming experience and there is as likely always an effective indirect “loser” in this as there is in any other material or symbolic economy. To even attempt to abstract the ultimately simplistic tribalistic or cultural caricatures of FPS gaming from the real world they inevitably parallel may in any case be to miss the entire point of the commercial and symbolic cultural processes encoded here.
Conflict-in-gaming is that reductive distillation of key aspects of the world around us; of the internal replication and re-mapping of those simplest and most angular facts of inter- and intra-social turbulence. No less than the elementary tribalisms of sports, ideology and politics – this is an endemic human drive towards the symbolic representation of violence and conflict and this also inevitably represents the reflexive patterning of cultural, social and technological self-replication. Momentum is derived through the generation of a deficit, vacuum and consumer desire through the cultivation of a transient commercial entity or product-franchise which reproduces and (perhaps unintentionally validates) the most readily reproducible facts of human reality: the bias towards self-interest, competition and the unfortunately destructive, angular and lowest-common-denominator of inter-tribal violence.
Spectacularly well-crafted 3D computer graphics within games exist pari passu the reflexive research and development of hardware rendering systems. The sheer power of these systems was on clear display when, several years ago now, a previous iteration of the PlayStation platform was under placed export restrictions due to credible fears that it could be used in the development and implementation of real-world guided missile systems. Current applications as used in massively parallel architectures of graphics cards in Artificial Intelligence applications continues to underline the extremities of rapid data processing power. Never mind that a top-end gaming rig might set you back the cost of a decent second-hand car, the mastery of virtual Armageddon is attractive enough (coupled with tribalist urges to belong to an in-crowd and behavioural clique) that this particular Siren’s call is guaranteed to keep the gaming industry revenue streams as sound indicators of return on investment. It is arguable that the reflexive interdependence of software and hardware in a gaming business and cultural model represents something of a self-propelling commercial binary system, locked in tight orbit.
There is a lot more to be said of gaming, of FPS and of Doom Eternal in particular. There are psychological and sociological layers-upon-layers of symbolic mythology and self-propagating semiotic systems at work in this domain. There are also inevitable pop-Theological aspects at work where the primary adversaries are quite literally rendered as Demons and agents of Hell. Never mind that this same emotive psychological and semi-religious background narrative can very easily be co-opted with overlays of whomever or whatever group, political theme or nationality is currently fulfilling the role of Outsider, Adversary and Diabolical Other in popular popular political ideological narratives. The cultural, technological and communications systems which are generally the most successful are those which are most adaptively and rapidly repurposeable at a subliminal or culturally-unconscious level.
What can be said of Doom Eternal beyond a perhaps necessary conclusion that the endless efflorescence of gaming systems and contexts in which violence and a simple adversarial logic of the Conquest of Difference results in predictable gaming experiences, regurgitated virtual rewards and an accompanying elevation in social status ? An unacknowledged titular irony of games such as Doom Eternal is that the adversarial logic and lowest-common-denominator of self-propagation reward-for-regurgitation may indeed cause us all to be destined to a collective Doom Eternal.
My review: 3 and a half dismembered demons out of 5 for a visually impressive remake of pretty much every single (simple) gaming idiom since the original Quake, Doom and Castle Wolfenstein games. Unless you have s deep desire to work on a vitamin-D deficiency while cultivating a potentially unhealthy (if cathartic) interest in creatively dismembering, skewering and immolating Demon Spawn, I would save that money that you need to buy a computer rig powerful enough to run this game at maximum performance levels and go spend a week in Bali instead; for all the probable “fun” to be derived from gaming, experiences in the notionally “real world” are the ones you will look back on with joy when you are convalescing in a retirement home or hospice at the end of your days.