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Copyright

Title: Masters of Doom
Author: David Kushner
Publisher: Random House
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0-375-50524-5
Pages: 335
Price: $24.95
Rating: 90%

Revolutions are always sudden and often bloody. Even when the blood is confined to a computer screen, a true revolution’s impact on society is like that of a bolt of lightning on an antenna. The system gets jolted, sparks fly, and nothing is the same afterwards. 

In Masters of Doom, author David Kushner recounts the history of id Software, the company that produced Doom, the game that defined the first-person shooter (games where the player sees things in the game as if they were moving through a real space). Ten years have passed since Doom was unleashed on the public, so it is difficult to remember what gaming life was like before it came out.  

1993 was the age of the Intel 386 processor, capable of cruising along at an astounding 33 MHz. With the speed increase came graphics cards capable of rendering images with more colors and at a higher resolution than previously imagined. But with the technical advances came a shift in the gaming paradigm. Doom brought the bloody, violent dreams of many teen-age boys to the screen. Armed with a pistol, a shotgun, a nail gun, or the BFG (short for Big F-ing Gun), the player roamed an interdimensional hell where giant bull-headed demons threw fireballs and zombies attacked without regard to unlife or limb. But the other, vital difference between Doom and its predecessors was the way enemies died: with blood and viscera spurting everywhere. Prior to Doom, no game had so emphasized death. 

To boys and young men who watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and read A Clockwork Orange, the ability to enact the visions in person, in vivid detail, and without consequence was a release unlike any they’d had in their lives. As Kushner points out, computer gamers are often young males who have a hard time fitting in with others. Computers do what you tell them and, unless you let them, never talk back. It’s no wonder that Doom found such a following. 

Of course, the leaders of the Doom revolution, “the two Johns”, were the alpha and omega of the gamer stereotype. John Romero was the master of design, the creator of the hellish visions he new his peers would go nuts for; John Carmack was the code master, always pushing graphics capabilities of computer hardware to the edge and, where possible, beyond. When the two Johns combined effectively, they created masterpieces. But, when their lack of people skills and divergent views of how to create terrific games came into conflict, their business and personal relationships burst apart at the seams with something very much akin to the carnage depicted in their games.  

Kushner actually moved to Dallas so he could experience the id phenomenon first-hand, and his dedication to the project shows in his writing. His willingness to ask the tough questions, and his ability to get people to answer them, makes Masters of Doom a guide and a warning for anyone who would dive into game development or, for that matter, software coding of any kind.

Curtis D. Frye (cfrye@teleport.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He is the author of Microsoft Office Excel 2003 Step By Step, Microsoft Access Version 2002 Plain & Simple, Privacy-Enhanced Business, and ten other books.