The Tragedy of DOOM 2016

I hold that DOOM 2016 is a tragedy.

I can already see many of you shaking your heads and moving to click away. No, no, don’t hit that back button yet. It’s not what you think! DOOM 2016 was a fantastic game. I loved every minute of it.

But it’s still a tragedy.

Right, quick addendum before I get into the meat of things here. First, I know I normally don’t talk about games on here, despite doing a lot of gaming in my limited spare time. Today is one of those “exception to the rule” days. Should be fun regardless.

Second, mandatory plug for Colony! It continues to rack up readers, and there’s a reason for it: The story is awesome! If you haven’t grabbed it yet, consider clicking the cover on the right there (or to the books page if you’re viewing this post some time from now and that cover isn’t Colony) and taking a quick look!

Those things aside, let’s get back to the topic at hand: The Tragedy of DOOM 2016. As I said earlier, DOOM 2016 is a fantastic game. It managed to not just perfectly catch the high-octane feel that the old, original Doom titles had when played by a pro, but translate them, not just into a modern era but to a modern audience as well.

The result is something incredible. Violent and insane (this is not a game to ignore the M-rating on; it earns it with showers of demon-blood), but incredible. You’d be hard-pressed to walk away from a session of play with DOOM without feeling your heart pound. The game is just that good.

But it’s also a tragedy.

By now you probably realize that I’m not referring to DOOM‘s white-knuckle gameplay. No, I’m referring to the title’s story. And, well, the titular character of the title itself: The Doomslayer. Or Doomguy, if you want to use the name most players have for him.

See, I put some thought into the game as I played through past the “jump here, shoot that, swap to this weapon, execute that,” all of which was great fun, don’t get me wrong. But DOOM actually does have a story. A surprisingly thought-out one, given the original source material. But, as is my way, I paid attention to it as I played through the game. And as I came to understand it, I realized something.

See, when I read a book or play a game, one of the things I like to look for in a protagonist (as well as other characters) are traits to admire about them. Traits like selflessness, charity, generosity, good humor, etc. Not only are they reasons to like said characters, but also lessons to be gleamed (however slight) from the material and perhaps applied to my own life. Reasons to be like the heroes, basically.

And with DOOM‘s Doomguy, I can only find one trait that I really admired: His determination. Everything else about him? While it was fun to play and watch, it was nothing to actually admire. The Doomguy is a machine of boundless rage and fury—not exactly an endearing trait. But here’s the thing: I understand why.

A bit of backstory, then. Though the story is a little vague, the Doomguy whose armored suit you fill starts the game being awakened from stasis. See, a long time ago, this nameless protagonist was from another universe (bear with me) or timeline where researchers from his world punched through dimensions and attracted the hungry eyes of a very dangerous and creepy race of dimension-conquering aliens that are for all intents and purposes demons from hell. Crud, the game even calls them that. And they pretty much are. Anyway, with the path to this protagonist’s Earth open, they spilled out and did what they do: Started consuming the planet and everyone on it. The character (I hesitate to call him hero) we know as Doomguy fought back, becoming a one-man-army as he stood against the armies of demon’s ravaging his planet.

He lost. He didn’t die, no. But he totally lost. Even assisted by the remnants of other races that had fallen to this hell dimension, he couldn’t succeed. As near as I can tell from the story, that “version” of Earth fell, and everyone with it, and was destroyed.

Leaving the Doomguy trapped in hell. Or, more accurately, hell trapped in their world with him. Long story short, after he rampages around on a roaring, blood-soaked path of revenge (after all, he’s got nothing else to do), the demons manage to collapse a mountain on him and seal him away, thus ending the threat.

Until DOOM 2016 starts up, at least. Another timeline, another world, another Earth (well, Mars) has pierced the fabric of reality and alerted hell to their presence, this time in the process of funneling away some form of energy to power their civilization. In the process they find the Doomguy and bring him back to serve as a failsafe in case this dangerous army of demons they keep mining for energy ever figures out how to strike back, and surprise surprise … they do.

So, what’s the result? The primary protagonist of DOOM 2016 is awakened to rip and tear his way through every demon he sees in order to stop this new invasion.

So what makes him tragic? Well, both where he comes from and what he’s like. A tragic character is usually one that’s suffered a downfall or an unhappy ending despite all they’ve done.

Doomguy lost everything. He failed. He became this crazy, demon-killing warrior, and yet he lost. His Earth? Gone. He couldn’t save it.

Worse yet, it’s broken him. Doomguy is not a whole individual. Barring a few minor different moments when finding collectibles, Doomguy, through the entire game, exhibits only one emotion: pure, unbridled rage.

Seriously, this guy is the very definition of “anger incarnate.” Nothing slows him down. An alarm is blaring at him? He smashes it. The overflow system the alarm wanted him to engage? He does so not by opening the valve, but by smashing it to pieces. There are no half-measures here. Everything is destroyed, torn apart, torn off, etc.

Now, special credit needs to be given to ID for managing to convey the character’s mood so well through the hands and feet you see on screen, but it paints a sobering picture: Doomguy is pretty much little more than a broken, rage-fueled machine. You know those stages of grief people talk about, the ones concerning dealing with loss? Maybe you consider them more options of grief (as some people seem to skip the “stage” part), but you know them?

Well, Doomguy has “dealt” with the loss of everything he knew by burying his emotions in pure, unbridled anger. As far as we know, he’s repressed everything else, or if he did attempt to deal with it, he didn’t do a very good job. The end result being that he’s sort of a rage-fueled revenge machine. Anger just isn’t clouding his mind, it’s pretty clear that it’s all he is anymore.

And that? That’s tragic. It’s not anything we would aspire to, and it’s actually kind of sad. Doomguy, for all his skill in crushing and destroying just about anything in front of him, is a broken individual. They lost their world, and in turn, then lost themselves to rage in trying to deal with it.

That’s a tragic hero right there.

But that isn’t the end of it. See, while Doomguy himself is a tragic hero, what of the story of DOOM 2016?

Well … it’s also a tragedy. And yes, here come the spoilers, so be warned …

SPOILERS FOLLOW THIS POINT

The game opens with Doomguy being woken from his stasis by one Samuel Hayden, owner and CEO of the company that’s been “mining” hell. Turns out hell absorbed another world long ago (the same one thats remnants modified Doomguy’s armor back during his backstory) that had some crazy energy source, and they’ve been using it to fuel their conquests ever since. Hayden’s UAC company has been mining bits and pieces of it, but hell is insidious and evil, and have swayed one of his own subordinates to “open the doors” for them so that they can invade this world’s dimension. Naturally, the Doomguy being an unstoppable killing machine that the demons of hell feared, Hayden wakes you up with expectations that he’ll stop hell.

Oh, and this time he does. Under Hayden’s direction, Doomguy sifts through the absorbed remnants of the creators of the power source hell has corrupted and absorbed to find “The Crucible,” an object capable of absorbing and relocating the energy source. Doomguy, of course, wants to absorb the source to stop hell and then, since the source has been corrupted by hell’s evil, destroy it. So, steal it as step one, destroy it as step two.

He never gets to step two. Upon completing step one and dealing with Hayden’s wayward employee, Hayden backstabs the Doomguy, taking the now full Crucible so that his civilization ‘can have the power it needs’ while completely disregarding the warnings that hell has corrupted it. Then, before the dimensional rift fades, he chucks the Doomguy back through it, leaving him trapped in hell while Hayden deals who knows how much damage back on his Earth with a bunch of corrupted energy that can only bring about darkness.

Yeah, power corrupts very literally here. But that’s the ending. Just as Doomguy is about to succeed … he fails. He’s metaphorically stabbed in the back and imprisoned once more, as another world he just worked to save is tugged towards its own doom by Hayden.

Yikes, now that I type that out I realize how dark that is. Dang, ID. But it also fits the requirements for the classic tragedy: ie “a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character.” We got both.

END SPOILERS

Anyway, the story isn’t confirmed done yet. After all, games like to release expansions and DLC, so there’s a chance we’ll get to see some sort of happier resolution. But do you see what I’m getting at now? For all the (admittedly violent) fun to be had playing DOOM and ripping enemies limb from limb … it’s not a happy game. If anything, it’s kind of sad. It’s tragic, really. For all the talents and abilities of the protagonist, they’re not a hero, nor are they whole. They’re a broken shell of what they once were, a shell they’ve pumped full of rage and anger to hide from their hurt. And despite all their successes over the course of the game, things still don’t turn out good for them in the end. Everything in DOOM 2016 is a downfall. A failure at the end. And the main character is already fallen.

The end result? One of the best games of 2016 is a tragedy. Not in sales, or in fun, but it theme. As much as I enjoyed the game, I still wouldn’t say that I admire the main character in anything but their determination. They’re a broken individual consumed by anger. Not exactly inspiring.

Fun to play as, though, even if a little off-putting to my sensibilities.

And there you have it. DOOM 2016 is a modern tragedy.

Heading Image taken from DOOM 2016‘s splash page on Steam. Not claiming any ownership of it, all rights there owned by ID. Using under the assumption of fair use plus free publicity.

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6 thoughts on “The Tragedy of DOOM 2016

  1. Have to say, I din’t really pay attention to any of that during the game. The entire thing is so adrenaline fueled that the mere thought that there could be a deeper story completely escaped me.

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    • Part of the fun of DOOM was that all this story was there if you dug around for it and picked all the little infologs and whatnot. Me being a story guy, I did, and then I started analyzing …

      Basically, they built a full-package and didn’t shirk their responsibilities anywhere.

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      • I can see it now that it has been pointed out to me. I think another reason I didn’t pay attention to the story is that I was treating Doom as a sort of break from more story-centric games. I just wanted to kick back and not think for a while.

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  2. You Understand that the Older DooMs were like “Kill all of these the fastest and then finish the level”, right? Well, except 3 because it wanted to be a scary game too.
    The history wasn’t all that “big”, it boiled down to he disobeyed an order from his superiors, got sent to mars and the demon invasion happened because of teleportation experiments, the deepest we can go is that, he don’t kill human innocents (The superior’s order) and that he lost Daisy, his pet bunny, by the demons when he returned.
    Doom was, for most of the games, a stress reliever (except for the higher difficulties), it you could make a history better than that in some hours, DooM 2016 is a master piece because it picked the old mechanics and bumped it to the max level and then some more, and it even gave us a history through the infologs, as stated by yourself, I believe, it’s not a tragedy, it’s simply the same game made a fourth time with even more brutality than the previous ones.

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  3. Intriguing viewpoint and a well made post. I can agree on the Doom 2016 story portion, it does follow the story beats of tragedy.

    However, I would like to present an alternative theory to the backstory. This is following the popular fan theory that Doom 2016 implies that the previous Doom games (aside from maybe 3) and potentially all the fan levels are canon and the Doom Slayer is actually the Doomguy of old. You might have heard of this already and I’d like to know your opinion on it. Mostly it moves it from tragedy to something like bittersweet.

    While the original Doom and Doom 2 do indeed have horrible things happen to both the Martian installations and Earth, Doom 64 notes that Doomguy’s Earth was ultimately saved from Hell and the portal finally closed, with the price being that Doomguy stayed in Hell to keep watch and make sure the demons never threathen his Earth or any other Earth ever again. In this case, he won. He does have to stay in Hell, murdering the demons for eternity until none remain, but he did succeed. It might not change that he’s a broken man that survives on pure rage to smother his other emotions, but he does have the certainty that he’s saved his Earth and most likely countless others in his watch.

    He might not have many admirable qualities but his determination and incorruptible anger do mean that he’s the only one capable of actually fighting demons in their home turf and winning. Maybe respecting him rather than admiring him would be more apt. “May we never need you again” and all that.

    Spoilers for Doom 2016!

    Of course, that might make the ending sting him even more. Even if it’s not his only failure, Hayden will keep using Hell for energy production and there might not be a way to stop him before Hayden’s Earth crumbles. If there’s ever continuation to the story, we’ll see.

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