Although this is an inspirational article about writing, art and life in general, I’ll be spending most of it talking in a rose-tinted way about my favourite old computer game from the 1990s. Don’t worry, there’s a reason for this and – apart from the introduction to this article – I’m not geeking out about computer games just for the sake of it.
(Although I am going through another “obsessed with Doom” phase at the moment, so expect some fan art tonight. Normal articles will resume tomorrow.)
Anyway, in case you’ve never heard of the “Doom” games before – they were a series of sci-fi/horror/action games that popularised the first-person shooter genre in the early-mid 1990s. People still play these games enthusiastically (and make new levels for them ) over twenty years later.
“Doom” probably wasn’t the first FPS game I ever played (that honour probably goes to either “Wolfenstein 3D”, “Ken’s Labyrinth” or “Duke Nukem 3D”) but, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve played the old “Doom” games on at least a semi-regular basis.
Of course, if you believed all of the scaremongering in the media at the time of Doom’s release, all of this regular exposure to “Doom” should have turned me into a nihilistic violent psychopath of some kind. But, it didn’t.
In fact, it actually taught me quite a few positive lessons about creativity and about life in general and I thought that I’d share some of them with you today:
1) Nothing is unsolvable: The most fun part of playing “Doom” isn’t the times when you obliterate hordes of monsters with your most powerful weapons, it’s the times when you are quite literally doomed.
It’s the times where you only have a couple of health points and a few rounds of ammunition left, and you still have to get past a large horde of monsters in order to complete the level.
It takes a bit of skill, but 99.9% of the time, you can still complete the level. In fact, finding a way to complete a level under these seemingly “unwinnable” circumstances takes a lot of strategic thought and puzzle-solving skills.
But, once you’ve done it a few times, then you’ll actually look forward to these “unwinnable” situations and relish the challenge they bring or, at the very least, you’ll enter into them with the confident knowledge that you can win if you’re clever.
And, well, sometimes this feeling of confidence can carry over into my creative work when I’m uninspired. If I’ve got writer’s block or artist’s block, then I know that I will eventually produce something – but that I’ll probably just have to find a clever way to do it (eg: basing a blog article on my favourite computer game).
So, yes, “Doom” taught me that no problem is unsolvable and no situation is completely hopeless if you’re willing to think about things in a slightly different way.
2) Timeless things can still be made: When you hear the word “timeless” used to describe a creative work, you’ll probably think of really old stuff like Shakespeare’s plays, Rembrandt’s paintings etc… And, if you’re a writer or an artist, then it can be very easy to feel discouraged because of this.
After all, it can often seem like “timeless” things could only be made a few centuries ago and that we’ve all missed the boat. And, well, the old “Doom” games prove that this is just not true. Timeless things can still be made these days.
Computer and video games usually have a very short lifecycle. Usually after about five years at the absolute most, a game will be seen as “old hat” by most players, who will move on to the next big thing.
“Doom” is one of the few games to have avoided this fate (the only other example I can think of is “Tetris“) and you can still find playable versions of “Doom” on just about anything (even calculators!) more than twenty years after it was originally released. Chances are, people will still be playing it two hundred years from now.
The first “Doom” game was only released in 1993. So, what’s to say that you can’t make something timeless today?
3) Openness and fanworks: One of the reasons why “Doom” still has a dedicated fanbase these days is because, unlike a lot of modern mega-budget games, the creators of it actually left it open to fan interaction.
In the late 1990s, they released the source code for the game – so that people could modify it to their heart’s content and create versions of the game that would run on modern computers.
Likewise, “Doom” has always had a large community of people who build new levels for it – purely for their own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of other fans. Some modern games companies clamp down on this sort of thing with their games, so that they can sell new levels as “downloadable content”. But not “Doom”.
Ever since it’s inception, fan-made levels have been encouraged and supported. And, well, this is one of the main reasons why the game is still going over twenty years later.
So, what can we learn from this?
Well, one of the best ways to keep your creative works popular is to open them up to the fans. To allow people to make fan art and write fan fiction and to participate in your work in whatever ways they enjoy. Far from “ruining” a story or a type of art, allowing fan works is one of the main keys to it’s longevity.
4) Originality is overrated: It’s true. Execution matters a lot more than originality does and there’s no better example of this than “Doom”. Although it’s a great game, there’s very little completely original stuff in it.
The game’s backstory about hell was taken from Christian mythology, the gameplay is a slightly refined version of the gameplay found in other FPS games of the time and all of the sounds in the game were taken from a commercially-available sound library.
Not only that, the background music in “Doom” was heavily inspired by pre-existing heavy metal songs (like this one) and even some of the iconic weapon models were just digitised photographs of BB guns and a chainsaw.
So, if “Doom” isn’t a very original game, then why is it so great and what can it teach us?
It’s a great game because of the way that it took all of these “unoriginal” elements and combined them in a way that was shockingly new at the time and in a way that is still enjoyable many years later. In other words, it’s something that is far greater than the sum of it’s parts.
Yes, completely “original” things can be great – but things that take stuff from other great things and then turn them into something even greater are often far better.
In the words of Isaac Newton, it’s important to remember that we are all “standing on the shoulders of giants”.
5) The value of practice: One of the other useful lessons that playing “Doom” has taught me (or at least reinforced) is the value of regular practice.
You see, when I was a teenager, “Doom” was a lot more difficult game than I remembered. Yes, thanks to the “Doom 95” source port I used on my old Windows 98 PC at the time, I could select different levels – but I rarely actually finished the more difficult ones. Even on the easier difficulty settings.
Fast forward a few years later, and I can actually complete the notorious “Stardate 20X6” episode for the game (on the “hurt me plenty” difficulty setting). And this all comes down to having lots of practice, learning the “rules” of the game and learning the right tactics to use.
And, unsurprisingly, exactly the same thing is true for any creative skills that you want to learn. Anyway, I should probably end this article here before it turns into an essay of some kind.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂