When videogame giant Electronic Arts was founded more than 20 years ago, it ran magazine ads wondering, “Can a computer make you cry?” It seemed a far-fetched notion at the time, a tagline that was designed to be intriguing as well as cocky. But with improvements in technology over the next few years, the way humans related to computers radically changed. By the time of the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, the question had evolved to “Can a computer make you kill?”
Id Software’s “Doom” was a favorite game of the Columbine gunmen, a fact that resulted in a lawsuit — later dismissed — that tried to pin the blame for the shooting on the developers. The point of the game is to hunt down various baddies and lay waste to them in such a way that would make Sam Peckinpah proud.
In “Masters of Doom,” the main creators of the game, John Romero and John Carmack, are shown to have a single-minded obsession with creating the most graphic, intense and dark-humored game the world had ever seen — the childhood game of cowboys and Indians with better graphics. Their determination came at the expense of almost everything else: human interaction, diet, hygiene.
The book, however, shares the problematic tunnel vision of its creators. It rarely takes a broader look outside of the gaming community to see what true impact “Doom” had on society and business as a whole. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is mentioned several times offhandedly and the Columbine issue is dealt with in half a chapter. While the character study of “the two Johns” is interesting, the book is targeted at the gaming converted instead of the broader entertainment community.
But in that videogame sphere, there can be no doubt that “Doom” still resonates. At May’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, a crowd 10-deep gathered around the display just to watch the trailer for the console version of “Doom III.”