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I will never forget hearing one of the peace activist Berrigan
brothers,
either
Philip or Daniel, explain — in a broad, nasal New England twang, before
the Catholic priests were carted off to prison for their dogged anti-war
beliefs which included home-made napalming draft-board files — how
wrong America had gone: “The Culcha is a Killa.”

We are “so there” right now. “Waste ‘em!” seems to be our national
modus operandi, both here and abroad — in our schools, on our streets,
in our computer games, in our movies, in our wars. Why are we ever
surprised anything bad happens in America, a nation built on guns and
genocide? I want to say that again here in print, because the first
time, it passed without much comment, not even a honk from S.L. Goldman.

Beginning with DeTocqueville’s pioneering mid-19th century
masterwork, “Democracy in America,”
based upon his
travels studying the United States political system and social mores,
outsiders have always seen our country most clearly, stripped bare of
homilies and platitudes. “Violence,” said H. Rap Brown

civil rights leader and radical Black Panther fellow-traveler now known
as Imam Jamil Amin — “is as American as cherry pie.” It seems these
nightmarish episodes run in cycles: either we assassinate our leaders,
or we massacre each other.

Now, when I look at a map of the United States, instead of states I
see a Crazy Quilt, a Crazy Quilt of Conflict, where cause and effect all
blend and blur and merge and swirl, where nothing matches up, but the
patterns sure are mesmerizing.

The Computer’s Blasphemy? I had just bought a used computer.
In the center of my screen was the word “DOOM.” It felt like a curse,
waiting to explode in my face, irrevocable as a death sentence. I
couldn’t imagine what it might be. I didn’t have a clue. All I knew was
it didn’t belong there. And I didn’t want to open it up to find out what
it was, under any circumstances. I didn’t have a clue. It scared me,
seeing the finality of that word up there, on my screen, burned into my
brain.

Filled with nameless dread, I called up my trusty engineer friend
Werner who assured me I could delete it, that it was just a computer
game, not an integral part of Windows, and so I was relieved it wasn’t
some secret scheme of Bill Gates to mentally enslave us … any more,
that is, than we already were.

Two months before Littleton, Colo., and Columbine High School
penetrated the national psyche’s Massacre Hall of Fame, I scored a used
Zenith laptop, 1.7 gig HD, for $400 from a 40-something geek named Mike
with a terrific telephone voice who lived with his elderly mother and
aunt just outside Wilmington, Del.

My requirements for software were simple, I told him; all I need for
writing is AOL and Microsoft Word. He didn’t charge me extra for the
DOOM. I didn’t even know it was in there until I got back home to
Philly.

Later, I was fascinated to discover it was that exact same
notoriously violent computer game so beloved by the Trench Coat Mafia.
“The kids also used Windows 95. Pretty scary, eh?” he razzes me by
e-mail. I e-mail him back. I was morbidly curious whether Mike installed
DOOM in the computer himself, or was it there from the previous owners,
who seemed to be part of an office system? Did he ever try DOOM himself?
I wondered what it’s like when a normal ordinary healthy person plays
it, so I was doing the next-best thing and asking him, had he played it?

Here’s Mike’s reply: “The reason I put DOOM on machines is to show
the best face of the machine, the graphics ability of the system. People
expect at least a few games on every machine. DOOM was chosen because it
is an early version that runs well even on an older computer model. I
don’t like the death/skull and bones BS, either.

“My standards of decency,” he continues, “have been eroded because
that’s what the public expects and demands. After several years of
resistance, I caved in and started putting some of the blood and gore
stuff on the machines. I used to put shareware like Bible passages and
wholesome ‘thoughts for the day’ on machines, but jeez, that would
probably piss somebody off, e.g., Agnostics, Jewish, non-Christians.

“My humble attempt at positive cultural revolution is by providing
the tools to listen and produce music on my machines, e.g., MIDI songs,
music composition tools, sound synth modules. That reminds me: I even
transcribed some 500-year-old music to MIDI format, one note at a time,”
he says.

“That was about 10 years ago, but I have changed since then. Now you
get DOOM and Quake II. You really get the idea that people used to be on
a higher plane just by hearing the music of the times.”

But has he ever tried DOOM? “Like I say, I don’t care for those type
of games, but they are a cheap trick for making sales. I still feel
squeamish even when artificial blood is being splattered across the
screen. My substitute for them lately is Motocross Madness — you fall
off a motorcycle and say, ‘Ouch.’”

“Why hasn’t anyone mentioned how these computer game players are
brainwashed captives to being imprinted by violence?” asks Bev Mowbray,
former exhibits director of a natural science museum. The reason these
computer games have such a hold on kids’ minds, she says, is while
playing them, they get lulled into an Alpha State,
resembling a hypnotic trance,
making them totally open to what is, in effect, a kind of brainwashing
by these games. Researchers have found that beliefs lodge in the
pre-conscious mind. When in an Alpha State, the right side of your brain
is most active, but the critical, censoring function performed by your
left brain is “half asleep.” I should add that an Alpha State is neither
a fraternity nor a university.

“When a (dead) monster is squashed under a door or crushing
ceiling and then resurrected by an Arch-Vile, it becomes invulnerable
(and can walk through walls) and can only be killed by hitting nearby
walls with rockets, or by blowing up nearby barrels.”

John Romero is a designer of computer games about killing. DOOM –
followed by DOOM 2, FINAL DOOM, ULTIMATE DOOM, etc. — is the “highly
immersible” 32-level game invented, you should know, by the Texas
transplant once lionized by chicy-poo GQ Magazine as “The Tarantino of
Computer Games.” This brings us full-circle, in a way, back to the
ultra-violent films like Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir
Dogs,” and Oliver Stone’s Trench Coat Mafia-fave, “Natural Born
Killers,” that smarmily prophetic story of how the media elevates
killers to fulfill the public’s fascination with blood and violence. The
computer-game equivalent of a rock millionaire, ferret-faced,
30-something John Romero
is a fabulously rich,
reportedly generous-to-his-friends-and-fam, long-haired California-born
junior college drop-out, an ex-Burger King clerk, married to a New
Orleans debutante and living The Good Life while kids playing his
“highly immersible” games are either dying like flies or enriching the
carpal tunnel industry. …

“Monsters. Monster spawns. Firearms. Ammo. Armor. Weapons. Berserk
strength. Invulnerability. Flesh consumed. Smashing pumpkins in small
piles of putrid debris. Invisibility. Radiator suits. Walk through
walls. Deactivates non-monsters. Aliens. Planet quake. Pain elemental.
Death-match. Lost souls. Stray lost souls.”

HIS favorite computer game is DARK FORCES. Ha! I guess it’s no
accident John Romero is credited with inventing a whole genre of
computer games — dubbed 3D action/adventure, first-person shooter, or
– my favorite — “twitch,” for the bodily reflexes you must use to play
his games, from Wolfenstein 3D, through the various versions of DOOM,
through QUAKE, and beyond. A blockbuster not just with nerds and gamers,
DOOM was mindlessly hailed as a genuine pop culture breakthrough, a
cultural crossover. DOOM got the cover of Wired Magazine and product
placement on the computers of the TV show E.R. Hollywood was clamoring
for dramatization rights. Someday, perhaps, it would even become a soft
drink or a product like Pop Rocks.

“At DOOM Level 30, the backwards-sounding voice of DOOM creator
John Romero says, when played in reverse
” — which my friend
Calabash says is a technique of Satanists — “‘To win the game, you
must kill me.’”

Before the Littleton Massacre, there were many mindlessly awed media
accounts of John Romero’s success, like this mawkish mash note from a
Dallas paper a few years ago: “For the moment, a half-dozen players are
zoned into their massive computer screens, looking over the barrel of a
rocket launcher, shotgun, or other weapon. They are racing through an
industrial post-apocalyptic world, hoping to blow away the figures
representing co-workers into bloody mess. Others move from screen to
screen looking for new perspectives on the carnage. One player … has
tallied more than 200 kills. He is a marked man. … John Romero watches
that mayhem with quiet satisfaction. ‘I made that world. It’s always fun
to see people enjoying it.’”

“Batman Doom, The Chaos Crew, The Darkening, Hellstorm, The Iron
Fist, Mockery, Neo-Doom, Ninja Doom, Paradox, Parallel Team, Twice
Risen, Twilight Warrior, Wolfen Doom, Zombie Doom, Doom Serv.”

As a little boy — introverted, imaginative, child of divorce — John
Romero had a penchant for drawing luridly violent, over-the-top comics
with lots of agonized screaming and stuff blowing up in folk’s faces.
Sound familiar? Get this: DOOM actually goes back to a comic John Romero
created when he was 8 years old: “Melvin,” about a cute blond crewcut
kid always getting in trouble, always facing swift, inevitable, and
incredibly violent punishment. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?
Doom’s protagonist, known only as Our Hero, is, you guessed it, blond
and crew cut, but has morphed into a gung-ho marine always getting into
tricky situations.

“The head on the pole behind the Demon is DOOM programmer John
Romero’s.”

With puberty, John Romero became obsessed by video games, paying for
them by stealing money from his paper route. Because his stepfather was
a muckety-muck doing classified work with spy-planes, John spent 10th
and 11th grade in England, in part at a Royal Air Force Base, where he
encountered personal computers. Here, gossip becomes apocrypha;
supposedly, the base was abuzz with news of this adolescent cyber-whiz
whose amazing prowess with programming led to him being eventually
dragged in to check out some top-secret project that they slipped him
$500 for; after that, pilots showed him flight simulation software,
which obviously expanded his frame of gaming reference.

“Adding additional Player 1 starts to a level results in immobile
Player figures, or voodoo dolls. When you shoot them, you will hurt and
kill yourself. When you first (get) hurt yourself, and then kill the
doll, you’ll become “undead,” still able to move around without weapons,
’til a monster actually kills you.”

Reportedly, back in America for his senior year, school got in the
way of John Romero’s learning computer code. It’s said his high school
average was 1.3, so low the state university ignored him as dog-meat.
His salvation, if you can call it that, was a junior college that let
him make computer games. During his stint at Id Software — he’s since
left — DOOM and other similar games were launched. In one of those
grand ironies that make this all seem scripted, we learn that DOOM is,
in essence, the demon spawn of Id Software. This, then, is how a former
Id Software CEO explained the genesis of the company name: “Id has
everything to do with Freudian theory. The description that used to be
in Id Software’s ‘help’ finger read: `Id: the one of the three divisions
of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory, completely unconscious, the
source of psychic energy derived from instinctual needs and drives.’”

Welcome to the home page titled
“Raphael Playing Doom.”
I can’t get
it out of my mind. “DOOM is a game. Just a game. Hey, what are you
doing here with this shotgun? Wait a minute. NO! Aaargh.
…”

We get what we pay for.

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