DOOMguy Knows How You Feel

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnail (1)

Ajay Singh Chaudhary in the LA Review of Books:

Games are machines for producing affect, and the affect the public most fears in games is rage. The moral panic that surrounds games always turns on the fear that games — steeped in an aesthetic and a comportment of aggression — will somehow seep into the “real world.” Although research into this question has proved consistently inconclusive (and replete with serious methodological issues) the fear is understandable in a year in which it seemed that the most ridiculous controversy of 2014 (the bizarre, nearly impenetrably hateful, stupid, and labyrinthine “Gamergate”) might become part of the body politic itself. But that idea — as slippery as the new obsession with “fake news” — generated through a thousand tweets but less convincing numbers on the ground, also misses what a game like DOOM can do. Unlike in, for example, Valve’s Counter-Strike (almost the Platonic ideal of a contemporary first-person shooter), the thickness and absurdity of the world — complete with its resonances with our own — is intimately interwoven with the gameplay itself. The demons and the UAC are driven with pitch-perfect intensity by Michael Gordon’s beyond-on-the-nose Nine Inch Nails for the 21st-century soundtrack. Instead of the world receding into abstractions of geometry and hit-boxes, as is often the case in especially competitive multiplayer shooters, DOOM’s rhythmic dynamic range keeps the plodding idiocy of a world working to build a brighter tomorrow through the endless squeezing of a (literally) hellish today in sharp focus.

DOOM’s rage is telegraphed from the very first moment of the game, but it is only when you are somewhere in the middle of one of its fully fleshed out scenarios, dancing from one platform to another, whirling through your array of weapons, prying the jaws of some Hell beast apart while cursing the utter inane idiocy of DOOM’s world — which is to say our world — that DOOMbegins its rage education in earnest. Games are machines for producing affect, but they are also pedagogical ones: DOOM is instructing us. Pankaj Mishra recently argued that ours is an age of anger. Doomguy occupies the subject position of the 21st-century rage agent par excellence: put-upon, yet powerful; crumpling like a fragile heap from just a few demonic projectiles but with a rage potential unmatched; disenfranchised but with so many tools of power at hand. Mishra wisely encourages his readers to turn to the social theorists of the 19th century who took irrationality seriously; to the Darwins, the Freuds, the Webers, and Nietzsches who saw in modern humanity sexual impulses, old Gods, churning natures, and ressentiment instead of simple, orderly, maximizing rationality. But DOOM already knows that. DOOM takes us as we are.

More here.