Off the Top of My Head: Media Realism and Doom

Off The Top of My Head

There has been an odd move in video media to make things more “realistic.”  I’m not sure where this trend originated but having grown up in the 80s and 90s I find it more than a little troubling.  I have spotted a few trends that cross various kinds of media but I’ll use some specific examples to try and make the broad points.  There will be a few of these but I’ll start with one that’s been nagging me the most.  Realism in First Person Shooters.

DOOM.  Yes.  When I think 1st person shooters I still think of Doom.  In Doom you could about 8 weapons, you moved like you were wearing roller skates on a conveyor belt, and the rocket launcher fired out of the middle of your character’s chest.  But while playing Doom I don’t recall ever thinking, “You know what this game needs?  More realism.”  If I played Doom II and I could only carry a shotgun and a plasma rifle I’d be pretty pissed…  Likewise, to heal yourself all you have to do is run over various sizes of health power ups.  I’m not sure how much the game would have been improved by making me stop and actually treat my wounds realistically.

Yep firing a rocket out of the middle of my chest. What?

Fast forward to the modern FPS.  You are usually restricted to carrying a limited number of weapons, running makes the camera (and I use the word CAMERA) bob around like mad and healing somehow takes place just by hiding and not taking damage for a while.  It’s like people forgot how to video game…  All of this was done in the name of realism. Without getting into the fact that for some reason hiding behind a building and breathing until you regain color to the screen is a more realistic way of healing gunshot wounds than running over health packs, why did the industry feel this was necessary?  How does limiting the number of weapons I can carry improve the gaming experience?  How does making the movement look more like “actual” movement help the game play?  I never thought the movement in Doom, or even Wolfenstein, felt bad.  It felt like a video game and since that’s what I was playing it was a-ok.

The addition of seeing a characters hands filling part of the screen has greatly improved my gaming experience. Having NPCs do all the work helps too.

Even stranger is the idea that you can make something like this realistic, but not too realistic as that would be crazy.  How about one-hit kills?  I don’t know too many guys who can take a half dozen gunhits before crouching behind a wall and shaking it off.  How about completely limited ammo?  You have your primary weapon and a couple reloads.  Your secondary weapon and a couple of reloads.  You can’t interchange ammo and when you run out you’re SOL unless a realistic supply depot is nearby.  Or powder burns.  Or misfires.  We don’t see our characters eat very often.  Or go to the bathroom.  (unless it’s the Sims) but no one is clamoring for those additions.  Of course no one really clamored for the others either.

To me an FPS is essentially watching a wheeled humanoid, nearly impervious to wounds, with a Go-Pro on its head and a weapon for its right arm navigate an environment, shoot the other humanoids and make them dead.  There’s no adding realism to that really…  Or if realism MUST be added it shouldn’t be done so at the cost of fun.  I can’t remember having fun with an FPS made after 2006.  Of course the new generation of Modern Military Shooter fans will rend their garments and tell me why Call of Duty is far superior to Quake; and just looking at the shiny their case looks sound.  But when it comes to fun there’s no competition.  Give me the brown castles and 2D sprite enemies of Quake any day…  At least its level of “realism” makes sense!

Life Lessons from Video Games: Every Day Video Game Influences


Video gaming has affected modern culture in strange ways. Many of the more recent ways spring from online/multiplayer culture, but surprisingly the games I grew up with, the ones from the 80s and 90s, have had a lingering effect. Things I do day-to-day still show the touch of the 8-32 bit era and just recently I thought to document the weird game references I do in everyday life and here are just the top ones…I’m sure everyone does something like this…

5.) Korobeiniki: I’ve found this to be more common than I realized. As someone with an advanced degree in OCDs and organization I’ve found that organizing anything, desk drawers, folders, shelves, U-Hauls, is always accompanied by this song playing in my head, and occasionally I hum it aloud. I never even played much Tetris because of how messing up lines made my OCDs want to eat my brain but I attached this song indelibly to putting things in order, in nice right angles, NEAT UND TIDY!

4.) Null sweat, chummer: Yes, yes I know Shadowrun was a pen-and-paper RPG before it was ported to the Sega Genesis and turned into an action/adventure masterpiece in 16-bit glory…but I never knew that in the 90s. I knew Shadowrun as a cool used cartridge I got with a very interesting futuristic landscape and creative lingo. Every now and then instead of the usual “No problem,” “sure,” or “My pleasure,” “Null Sweat, Chummer” pops out, much to the bewilderment (usually) of the person receiving this statement. I think if I ever say this to a girl and she responds “Keep running in the shadows” I’ll probably propose…

You say sure thing…he says “Null Sweat, Chummer”

3.) At Doom’s Gate: I spent more time running down the hallways of Doom than I spent in school I think. It’s a rare game I could put on godmode and not get bored. Thirty days in a row… To this day moving swiftly down hallways, corridors, or even through crowded mall makes this music pop into my head. Given how much time I spent blasting hellspawn in that game I wonder if I should fear for the crowd…

2.) Test Your Might/Flawless Victory/Fatality: Mortal Kombat…it briefly held our attention by being more cartoonishly bloody than contemporary games. Even beyond that it started its own mythos…you could find secret characters, see secret things, and half the rumors about it weren’t true. The fighting parlance of the game though far out-lasted the novelty of ripping people’s spinal columns out. I use the above three phrases a LOT in day-to-day life. “Test you Might,” any time I have anything to do really (not just breaking big blocks of steel, rubies, or diamonds). “Flawless Victory” is usually reserved for a better-than-expected result, with “Fatality” brought in when that result ended in total ownage.

1.) HADOUKEN: I use this ALL the time. It’s sad. I use it when I throw clothes across the room. I use it when I toss my phone on the desk. I use it when I drop a dish in the sink. I have no idea why but anything leaving my hand at any moment and any speed equals HADOUKEN to me. It’s probably from the ridiculous spamming of that move that came with playing any version of Street Fighter II… If I ever do figure out how to throw a fireball (I’ve tried moving down, then slightly down forward, then forward and yelling it…it didn’t work) the world would be in big trouble (see my comments on crowds in the “Doom Music” section above….).


90s Shooters: The Joy of the Wolfenstein – Doom Era

Though I was a video gamer from a young age, playing Atari and NES, I didn’t get into PC gaming until I was in middle school.

My first home PC was a simple IBM with no hard drive.  I played games directly off a 3.5” diskette and could only play shareware versions of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and use Print Shop Pro to print on the DOT Matrix Printer.  As time went on it became difficult to find games I could play that only had one disk…luckily we eventually upgraded our PC to one with a moderate hard drive (I think around 120 mb or so) and a whole new world of gaming opened up.

This was when I was introduced to shareware versions of Wolfenstein 3D, Blake Stone, and eventually Doom.

These represent the first person shooters I ever played, and some of the earliest entries into the genre.  My friend Mike provided me with Wolfenstein and eventually Blake Stone.  We played both shooting games on the 8th grade newspaper computer instead of actually working on the school newspaper (I don’t know if we even had one) until we got caught.

Wolfenstein Title Screen

Wolfenstein 3D was fascinating, killing all those Nazis in castle hallways.  Hearing their low-fi German shouts (“Halt!”  “Guten Tag! Mein Leben!” “Schutstaffel!”) and eventually working up to fight some strange version of Adolf Hitler in terminator armor.


Blake Stone is almost forgotten now, but it was a sci-fi game of the same making.  I remember the blue-green gun and the mad scientist and green alien bad guys.  Blake Stone was another one Mike and I played in English class (right behind the teacher if I recall…) and, though I never played it at home, it really got me into the corridor shooter game.


When Doom came out it changed the dynamic for me.  Released from the corridors, you now moved through expansive locales and multiple-story levels.  I played it on shareware, only the first few levels and I played them over and over.  It’s the first “god mode” I ever used (IDDQD!) and even more often I’d use IDKFA for all weapons.

I played Doom relentlessly.  I was one of the few individuals who bought a Sega 32X and even though it didn’t have a lot of games I truly enjoyed the ones it had.  I listened to Use Your Illusion I & II and played Doom for months on my 32X as a middle schooler.

Once my PC could handle it I finally got a copy of Ultimate Doom and Doom II at the local Media Play and swapped the dozens of disks to install them.  It was this era when you could play a game for months…even years.  Turn on some midi music and play Doom for hours just as a time waster.  I can’t even remember how many homework assignments I blew off to kill the Cyberdemon yet again…

I’m pretty sure the Imp sound effects are actually camel sounds. Weird to think about it now….

I actually remember it being a controversy at the time: did Doom make kids violent?  It was ludicrous to me.  Doom was as realistic as a cartoon (though a tad gorier than most I’ll admit) and it would follow that kids would only learn how to kill cacodemons with a keyboard while wielding a pixelated plasma rifle…  How that equates to loading a pistol I’ll never understand.  I’d say unless you’re a spiked imp throwing fireballs on screen and I’m a crew cut face wielding a video-chain gun society should be safe.

Doom really stands as the last first person shooter I really loved.  Others came along (Duke Nukem 3D shortly after the Doom era…Kingpin when I was in college) but none really captured that WolfensteinDoom feeling for me.  Now it’s one of my least favorite genres, burdened with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer (I’ve said it a million times…I deal with idiots all day in my real life…I don’t need to deal with anonymous idiots during my leisure time…) and less on long campaigns I could put on some music and kick back to they haven’t appealed to me.

So here’s to the 90s first person shooter.  Turn on the game, turn off your brain, and enjoy some mindless (but entirely harmless) violence!