So I started Doom Eternal the other day. I know I’m six months late, but I was otherwise disposed – aka, running a turnip racket in Animal Crossing: New Horizons – when it first came out. To be completely honest with you, I completely forgot about its very existence, which is strange because I loved the 2016 reboot when it first came out. Then, over the weekend, I noticed it was on Game Pass and jumped right on in.
First off, before we start, I’m going to be real honest with you: I found Doom Eternal to be a pretty disappointing experience. There was a moment, a few hours in, where I genuinely thought that if I saw one more platform that I had to double jump and dash to – inevitably tumbling to a lava-y demise – I might smash up my console with a hammer. Sometimes the game’s difficulty curve can be attributed to poor game design, but often it’s just the perversity of the challenges put before you. It’s certainly one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.
Secondly, I’m about to tell you something that I am deeply ashamed of. Something that has kept me up at night. Something that I think might make me a lesser person. I lowered the difficulty setting half-way through.
I think I’m ready to admit that, despite video games being my favourite things in all of existence, I’ve never been particularly good at them. As a kid, I never got more than ten minutes in on Ghouls ’n Ghosts. At university, I was always the first to die on GoldenEye 007. I once burst into frustrated tears because I couldn’t master Super Meat Boy while I’ve been trying to get out of the lowly league on FIFA for months and months.
I am, however, pretty egalitarian when it comes to video games. I think games are for everyone to enjoy and all titles should have gameplay modifiers as the standard. Developers should look no further than Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us Part II, which set an extremely high bar for such a feature. The human race is a nuanced species, we all need different things. Some might require a change in colour palate, while others need things to be a little slower. And me? I just need things to not be so hard.
So why then do I feel so ashamed? Maybe it’s my age. I come from a generation raised on the cult ’90s Channel 4 show GamesMaster where teenagers would compete against each other to see who could clear a level on Super Mario Bros. the fastest, in front of a braying mob. Elsewhere in the show, children would come before the titular Games Master (a levitating robotically enhanced head, played by the late astronomer Sir Patrick Moore), who would sometimes help the child or laugh at them. As a child, I was extremely scared of Games Master. As an adult, I might still be.
Truth be told, I’ve never really seen games as a competitive pursuit. I play games to escape to somewhere else, to experience things lacking from my often-mundane everyday life. In recent years I’ve become a fan of titles like What Remains Of Edith Finch or Gone Home.
There’s no peril to these games. No danger of plummeting into a pit of bubbling magma – as you can see this has affected me greatly. But what these games offer me is a great deal of absorption, joy and wonder. And honestly, that matters to me much more than the fleeting buzz of victory.
There’s a huge amount of toxicity in games in 2020. Only the blinkered would argue otherwise. Don’t believe me? Jump into a game of Overwatch, Fortnite or Sea Of Thieves – all three, and more, have struggled with such issues since day one and it only seems to get worse with each passing year. Perhaps, I simply associate all of this bile with gaming’s competitive element. But then again, you don’t get all that in Animal Crossing. There, we just trade turnips, not insults.