Fear is the most common emotion shared by almost every animal on the planet. It is built into everything from rodents to humans as a survival instinct; let’s face it, if you are faced with a lion and don’t fear it, you’re probably going to be lunch. When we experience fear, a chemical cocktail is released in our brains pumping us full of adrenaline and speeding up our heart. When the fear ends, or you escaped whatever posed a threat, endorphins or feel good chemicals follow the adrenaline rush. This results in quite an exciting sensation that many people are actually addicted to. Some people sky dive or watch a horror film, and some people play video games.
The Doom series began in 1993 and was originally designed as a computer game, but later moved on to the Microsoft Xbox game console for Doom 3. For this post, I’ll be focusing on this one as I have played it most recently. The plot of the series is set in a settlement on Mars in which doctors are testing portals to other dimensions. Something goes horribly awry and hellish monsters infiltrate the settlement and kill everybody or turn them into zombies. That’s where we come into play. Of course, we are the last ones left who must defeat all the demons in order to return back home to earth safely. Doom is one of the most successful games ever created. Why? Because it supplies its players with that overwhelming sensation that makes you jump out of your shoes and scream at the top of your lungs.
As if the storyline wasn’t scary enough, Doom 3 utilizes the technological advances in video games to make the ride even scarier. What is the most common fear every single person has experienced at least once in their life? The dark. Our instincts tell us to be afraid of the dark because we have no idea what could possibly be lurking in the shadows. Naturally, we want to keep living for as long as possible. There are things that could kill us that are definitely capable of hiding in dark places, thus our tendency to fear darkness. Doom 3 takes advantage of this fear. The player is forced to navigate through the many horror-filled levels of the space complex in almost complete darkness. Luckily, those nice guys over at id software supply us with a flashlight that never seems to run out of batteries (must be one of those where you shake it and a little metal cylinder charges the battery). But this is a horror video game, and what fun is it if you can just shine a light down that dark ominous corridor, reveal and dispose of any creatures from hell that may be waiting for you. In order to limit our comfort level, the designers force us to choose between our light and our weapon. And by the way, the monsters are really fast. So when you think, ‘Psh, I’ll just waltz around with my flashlight out and should something appear and attack, I’ll just switch if over to the trusty machine gun and take care of the matter,’ think again. When an 8 foot tall roaring demon fresh out of hell leaps at you, basically into your living room, it’s rather difficult to keep your calm, back peddle/duck, switch to your weapon of choice and take it out. Instead, what usually happens is you immediately press the ‘fire’ button which comically swats the giant with your six inch flashlight. I think you know what happens after that.
Another aspect of Doom 3 that makes it even more thrilling is the fact that it is played entirely in the first person point of view. The first person POV or subjective view does a much more convincing job at putting the player in the character’s shoes. This can be quite disturbing when the character is trapped in a bloody zombie-monster-hell fest on Mars. In Alex Galloway’s Gaming, he relates this feeling to the film industry, particularly horror flicks. Imagine you go to see a movie called Super Yeti, and in one part, scene cuts to a far away shot of a group of teenagers hiking through the wilderness. The camera is unstable, and a couple tree branches are coming in from the edges of the screen. What do you automatically perceive? Perhaps there hasn’t even been a sign that a super yeti exists, but the subjective point of view, or predatory view as Galloway describes it, forces you to see yourself as the attacker, whether you like it or not. Therefore, when you play Doom, the emotions one would experience while trapped in a space tomb seem that much more realistic. Another point of suspense this adds is that fact that you can’t see if there’s anything sneaking up on you from behind. The designers new this, and torture the player by constantly throwing in sneaky little surprises. Monsters that weren’t behind you five seconds ago conveniently pop out of a vent behind you, and all of a sudden your face down on a metal grate with a deformed beast on top of you.
The designers also added a lot of false alarms that come pretty close to causing cardiac arrest. Pieces of the ceiling will fall right in front of your face, an eerie demonic laugh echoes through the hallways, a hanging body gets snatched up into the ceiling by an unknown being. Things like these add to the aura of the game. This not only makes it fun for the player, but for the group of friends cowering on the couch beside him as well. I remember the first time I ever played Doom 3 was at a friend’s birthday party. I had at least ten other people screaming ‘watch out!’ and ‘get him shoot it kill it!’ which made the experience that much more exciting. Needless to say I went out the next day and got a copy of my own to scare the crap out of myself.