The Surprising Metaphor Hidden in Doom (2016)

Despite it's visceral fast-paced brutality, Doom carries an interesting and nuanced message about how extremism on either side of a conflict is a sucker's game.

In addition to bringing the first person shooter genre roaring back to its white-knuckle adrenaline fueled roots, the 2016 Doom reboot (Soft reboot? Sequel?) managed to thread the needle of having a coherent story with interesting, if not one-note characters while never actually requiring the player to pay any attention to this. Not many nostalgia powered updates are able to do this. I’m looking at you, Bionic Commando.

But for those willing to look closer at the demon gristle stuck between their chainsaw’s teeth, there’s actually a lot going on in the relationship between the player character, the Doom Slayer, bane of all demons and green clothing enthusiast, and his best frenemy, Dr. Samuel Hayden, the most over the top imposing looking machine-person since General Grievous. Throughout the game, Hayden helps point the Doom Slayer in a direction making the most use of his singular gift for ripping and tearing. He’s a guide/seeker relationship that, while bordering on exploitative, stays at least tacitly cooperative. But let’s break this down a little further.

Be warned, from here on out, there be spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the campaign for Doom, do yourself a favor and go snag it up. If high speed action that doesn’t take itself too seriously is your jam, you will not regret it.

Where It All Goes Down

Just a quick and dirty recap for those unfamiliar, Doom takes place on a Martian industrial research facility run by the United Aerospace Corporate (UAC). Through some advanced technological and/or magical tomfoolery, they make inroads into an alternate dimension inhabited by all sorts of demonic looking nightmare creatures.

So they do what any capitalist would do. They find a way to channel this dimension’s primary natural resource, dubbed Argent energy, back to Mars and harness it as an energy source to keep humanity’s lights on. Along the way they discover a few mysterious artifacts including a sarcophagus and a set of armor that terrified the demons so much they collapsed an entire temple around it.

Naturally things go to shit when the head researcher Olivia Pierce makes a literal deal with the Devil kicking off a demonic invasion of the Martian facility which she hopes to spread to Earth and bring on a new age of darkness where everyone buys their clothes from Hot Topic and Trent Reznor wins every music award for the rest of eternity.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say Hell represents the society-bolstering power of industrial grade energy sources such as coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas. The positives of exploiting these resources cannot be understated, as they allow humanity to advance its collective quality of life by orders of magnitude all the while unaware of the high risks associated with their comfort

But as with anything that good, there’s a cost. When the invasion starts, waves of Argent energy are released that turn ordinary people into mindless zombies and causes viscous demons to spill over by the dozens into our dimension, leaving a huge, possibly permanent, environmental scar. The demons are the negative effects of rampant capitalism exploiting an environmental resource for private profit with no contingency for if things go off the rails. They are an oil spill, a nuclear core meltdown, and a coal mine collapse all in one times a million with sharp fangs and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.

Yup, within this game about ripping demons apart with your bare hands is a metaphor for both extremes of the environmentalism/energy debate.

The Major Players

So where does our buddy the Doom Slayer fit into all this? When he’s woken up, he finds the world around him in shambles and overrun by demonic hordes. Soon he’s contacted by Dr. Hayden, who wastes no time asking for his help cleaning up his mess and pointing him in the right direction to do so. 

The Doom Slayer is willing to go along with all this since it gives him the chance to do what he loves doing best; murdering the shit out of demons and shutting down anything either associated with them along with whatever else happens gets in his way. He is effectively an eco-terrorist; absolutely disgusted with what the demons do to whatever space they inhabit and utterly gleeful in his quest to eradicate them, regardless of the consequences and with no interest in the ramifications of his actions. He never takes any action to help save any other people he meets along the way. 

In one key moment, the Doom Slayer is guided to the complex and delicate machinery that draws Argent energy from Hell in order to shut it down and cut off demonic reinforcements. When he gets to the first of three Argent filter stations, Dr. Hayden isn’t even one sentence into describing how to carefully shut them down when the Doom Slayer takes a more direct approach by stomping the ever loving shit out of it.

At each of the subsequent two stations, Dr. Hayden repeats this plea, to no avail, and after all is done, he ‘congratulates’ the Doom Slayer on shutting the lights out for mankind. the Doom Slayer can’t be bothered by all this though. The impression is that as far as he was concerned, using Argent energy was an unforgivable sin and risking another dark age back on Earth is just the price humanity will have to pay.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum towers Dr. Samuel Hayden. When we first meet him, he’s blocking the Doom Slayer’s progress in order to get him to help clean up the mess he’s claiming responsibility for. Basically, he’s been occupying a position of extreme power, money, and influence and now that things have gone south, he’s still operating in full on exploitation mode in order to cover his ass and turn things around.

This seems almost noble, if not for big reveal at the end. The the Doom Slayer, having killed the big bad and stopped the demonic invasion is welcomed back by Hayden before being robbed of the powerful artifact he used to close the gap between the two dimensions. Hayden’s stated goal is getting the demonic furnaces firing up again. He’s learned nothing from what’s happened and to top it all off, he casts the Doom Slayer back into Hell saying he “...can’t have you getting in my way”. No risk is too great and no consequence too dire for him to give up his misguided goal to harness the un-harnessable and keep his own lofty position.

No Real Good Guy

No one is occupying any sort of moral high ground here. They’re both more interested in personal motives than fixing anything or saving anyone.

The Doom Slayer, on the surface is a raging paladin of destruction, out to kill every demon that threatens the stability of any space they occupy. The game’s lore shows this is actually a quest for personal revenge. 

In a previous life, the Doom Slayer was a member of a protective order known as the Night Sentinels. He ended up betraying his world though, opening it up to the ravages of Hell in order to get back his dead son. Having never read Faust, he didn’t foresee getting screwed over and the son he got back was a twisted demonic abomination. So he swore revenge, was granted some superpowers by angels, and carved a bloody swath through the demon’s realm until he was finally brought down by having an entire building collapsed on him. This isn’t some noble quest for him, just simple bloody revenge.

Hayden’s personal motivations are a even simpler. In addition to having his finger on the light switch for all of humanity, his cybernetic body, the source of his power and immortality, runs on argent energy. He’s willing to put the rest of humanity at risk because he is unwilling to face his own death.

Bringing It All Home

So what does this all mean? I don’t know if the game’s developers even meant for the game’s characters and lore to be interpreted this way. I’ve watched hours of documentary footage on the making of Doom, and not once is this angle ever brought up.

If this whole message is intentional, what could that mean for a sequel? Maybe when (not if) the demons invade Earth, allowing the Doom Slayer to re-enter this dimension, he’ll have Dr. Hayden at the top of his shit list. At some point along the way, the Doom Slayer would be forced to choose between saving the world, as he failed to do so long ago, or getting revenge on those who wronged him. That sounds like a pretty good character arc to me, but for now, we’ll have to wait and see. 

In the meantime, it does well to bear in mind the dangers of subscribing fanatically to any single ideology for selfish or greedy reasons and that doing the right thing for the wrong reasons sometimes isn’t good enough.

Also Super Shotgun is bae.


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