Doom 2016 Is A Unique Take On Narrative In Gaming

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Warning: This post contains spoilers

When DOOM released last year, it had a lot of interesting ideas and concepts in it. The multiplayer was not to everyone’s liking, but the single player was viewed as one of the best games ever made. It  featured great gameplay, amazing action and a good amount of energy. But what wasn’t acknowledged by many ( although some did), was the way the game handled the narrative. Namely, in a game that was a throwback to old school shooters ( and a successful throwback at that), DOOM had a surprisingly strong narrative that elevated it above being a mindless shooter. Many shooters have a strong narrative but DOOM succeeded in an area that few others do: Show, don’t tell.

The game contained large amounts of lore that you could find that detailed the backstory of the Doom Slayer and the demons. This is reminiscent of other games like Metroid Prime, but with one major difference. That is, Metroid Prime is exploration and adventure focused, while DOOM is action focused. Thus id Software essentially blurred genres while still keeping the game focused on action. Its been pointed out by people like Jim Sterling, that the Doom Slayer’s mannerisms make him a unique character in that even without saying anything and only really showing a pair of hands. It was just the way he moved, the way the camera was angled at certain times, that conveyed emotion and told a story without needing words. You could feel his anger in his reaction to what happened. He came off less as psycho who could only solve things by shooting, and rather as someone who honestly felt everything had to be stopped because he had seen the true extent of the damage that could be caused by tampering with Hell’s power.

But it goes even further. As user, Sir Bill noted here on the SpaceBattles forum, DOOM actually has a large degree of moral ambiguity. Using the Argent energy means tampering with Hell, but Dr. Hayden has a point. The humans have been using it for decades and have devoted fields of science to it. There is no alternative available. The Doom Slayer has seen what horrors Hell can do, with the destruction of his home world being a clear example. Hayden is fighting to keep humanity alive the only way he can, and the Doom Slayer is opposing him because he has seen the damage and destruction this can bring. Both sides have a point and both are right. No words are needed about the matter because the game tells you this without words. It is a masterful case of showing instead of just telling, with the closest acknowledgment in the dialogue being part of Hayden’s reasoning at the end for banishing the Doom Slayer.

DOOM 2016 was assumed to be just an action game, albeit an awesome one, but now we can see that this game has subverted the expectations of what narrative in an FPS should be. Given all id Software and Bethesda accomplished here, I cannot wait to see what they do next. I doubt narrative driven FPS games are going to be the norm in the future, but this is an awesome way to do it, as DOOM, despite the gore and violence and high energy, is subtle in an area where most developers struggle to be subtle. That is skilled writing and I must commend the team on that.

 

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