The Sights and Sounds of DOOM

Happy #Spooktober, everyone! As far as scary games go, images of id Software’s 1993 classic corridor shooter, DOOM, like this one…

…this one…

…and this daunting gem…

…may not read as especially horror-riffic, particularly when compared to the grisly scenes in the same game’s recent reboot. But folks, for this video game player, back in the early 1990s, DOOM was about as scary as it got. And that’s wasn’t necessarily because of its gruesome monsters or its “space marine fights through the underworld” story. For me, the true scares in this game came from its visceral environmental models and dread-inducing sound design.

To this day, I’ve no idea exactly how DOOM made it into our house, and I’m pretty sure my parents would have chucked it if they had known about it. I do know that we had its Shareware version, which contained only nine levels and wanted very badly for you to buy the rest of them in its “sequels.” But it didn’t matter; nine levels were all I needed. Once I found DOOM, I found gaming bliss…and the only way anyone was going to take from me was by prying it from my cold, dead hands!

But I digress.

Fact is, back in the day, I played DOOM on our gloriously beige IBM PC, and it got me hook, line, and sinker. But, because I’m also something of a weakling when it comes to horror games, it also frightened me, terribly. Oh, I tricked myself into thinking I could handle playing it in our darkened computer room over the window of which I threw a blanket. But before too long, I found myself pulling off that blanket and flicking the lights back on, hesitant to go back to the keyboard. I just wasn’t used to being pulled into a game so thoroughly, let alone one that offered up some rather nightmarish scenes.

I mentioned that the scares didn’t come from the game’s monsters, and they didn’t. (Well, mostly. Running into a floating Cacodemon was never a picnic.) Instead, most of the sheer dread I experience in the game came from (1) having to travel through a number of the game’s more claustrophobic and dark spaces, and (2) the moans, groans, shrieks, and guttural utterances of said monsters, especially when they weren’t immediately in view.

Prior to playing DOOM, the most immersed I ever became in a game was probably when I became obsessed with finding all the secrets in Super Mario World. And even then, the only time I was concerned about the look and feel of Dinosaur Land was when Mario was about to kick the bucket. DOOM offered a type of immersion that I had only nominally experienced previously in Wolfenstein 3D. A fine game in its own right, Wolfenstein 3D and I never really clicked, and maybe it was because its overall design didn’t look or sound as intimidating as DOOM. And the thing about DOOM was that, honestly, my imagination made the game much scarier than it was (in hindsight). Whenever I was about to enter a dimly-lit space that I was sure would be brimming with baddies, I absolutely stopped in my tracks. Every time it happened my brain said “are you sure you want to go in there?” And every time I had to say “yes,” because my space marine had to get out, and the only way out was forward through some terrible places. Wolfenstein’s bright gray hallways, though teeming with enemies, never filled me with such palpable fear.

The same dread-filled hesitation occurred any time I heard a monster before I saw it. If you really want to give me a scary experience, forget about jump scares in a hockey mask. Give me far-off wails, incorporeal growls, any creepy sound that can’t be immediately associated with a physical body. DOOM was excellent at providing just the worst and scariest sounds without faces. Most of the time, this was a good thing in the end, because it meant that I had a minute to prepare for an oncoming onslaught. And thank goodness too, because I needed part of that minute to steel my nerves. Those monster noises coming from nowhere, until they came from somewhere, absolutely added to DOOM’s immersive experience and its overall sense of terror.

DOOM laid the groundwork for what was to come with me and horror games, which, honestly, I didn’t think would amount to much. Only then, DOOM II was released…

All embedded images © id Software (1993).

One Comment

  1. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Wait, since when did it become nearly the end of October?! Despite my inability to keep time, it’s #Spooktober over on Virtual Bastion, and we’re celebrating scary games all month long! Here’s my first #Spooktober entry, which is all about, of course, DOOM.


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