The decaying remains of planet Earth serve as a mere playground for demonic annihilation in DOOM Eternal. Buildings that once hosted people are nothing but bridges and obstacles in the Doom Slayer’s path, each floor now holding undead beings that lack all semblance of humanity. Red eyes, fangs, wings. Civilization is turned upside down, its survivors seemingly cryogenized or otherwise trapped within outer space facilities. The only humans left are just looking for a way to stop their imminent extinction. By the time the player has arrived on Earth, it’s too late to prevent doom.
In this depiction of the apocalypse, doom is personified in a videogame protagonist, the so-called Doomguy. Doom walks and breathes, but also tears and shreds. Humanity is aware of his presence—his footprints are recognizable as holes in the walls, pools of blood, and spent shotgun shells. Both heaven and hell know what’s coming to them. But it’s the citizens, those from Earth and those still echoing in the empty halls of Argent D'nur, who have chosen to put their trust in doom, to see this figure as the personification of salvation, not damnation. In DOOM Eternal, the Doomguy is a deity—a rebel horseman of the apocalypse willing to defy tradition and revisit the very same steps that have led to nothing but destruction in the past, hoping that this time the outcome will be different. To humans, his mission is a dogmatic crusade—survivors consider it a divine event to atone for their sins. To the Doomguy, the need to kill demons is his duty, no matter the cost.
“Christianity is called the religion of pity,” Friedrich Nietzsche argues in 1895’s The Antichrist. “Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity. That loss of strength which suffering as much inflicts on life is still further increased and multiplied by pity. Pity makes suffering contagious.”
Doom knows no pity—therefore, doom is not deprived of strength. Eternal’s humans place their faith in doom’s strength, drawing parallels with the Bible and seeing him not as someone who can walk among gods, but rather a god-like being in his own right. They fail to grasp reality beyond the glimmer of hope that radio transmissions share sporadically in their shelters and space stations. The doom we know—the doom who’s fought back hell for decades of past videogames— has been in this situation countless times. DOOM Eternal tries to fill in the blanks, expanding upon nü-DOOM’s attempt to mythologize the marine. His duty lacks human perspective. Every threat must be sliced, punched, shot, and kicked in literally dozens of gruesome ways, the more visceral the execution the better.
Every weapon can become bigger and stronger, but Eternal argues that the player can be a weapon of her own as well, not just a mere host for them—using her superhuman speed, empowering her god-like strength. There’s no pity for the cities forced to suffer the collateral damage of the battle. Their citizens are long gone now, either killed by the troops of hell or magically enlisted in their ranks, their fresh demonic carcasses defending the same grounds where they once lived.
Those still willing to warn the Doomguy about the impending calamity he’s about to cause are simply ignored. He takes whatever he needs and tears apart whoever dares to prevent him from doing so. It’s expected that he will, at some point, succeed in this mission. This deity, a human who was once mortal, has been mentally and physically repurposed to pursue his duty. “Rip and tear” goes beyond an old comic book gag and Bethesda’s insistence to display it as a slogan in every possible commercial and press release. DOOM itself now lives by these words. Torment is cast upon its hero, and laid onto others as a result.
In Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, philosopher Louis Althusser argues that “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” Thus, ethical, political, and religious ideologies are said to be largely imaginary “world outlooks.” They simultaneously constitute an illusion, and so “... we admit that they do make allusion to reality, and that they need only be ‘interpreted’ to discover the reality of the world behind their imaginary representation of that world.”
He presents two types of interpretation. The first comes from the mechanistic philosophy of the eighteenth century, where “God is the imaginary representation of the real King”. The second, introduced by Ludwig Feuerbach is a hermeneutic interpretation that’s elaborated upon in his theological-philosophical school—one where “God is the essence of real Man” and “men represent their real conditions of existence to themselves in an imaginary form”.
In looking to explain the reason behind this human response, Althusser argues that priests and despots are directly responsible for representing “themselves in an imaginary form.” He states that, in the belief that they are obeying God, men place their belief upon the clergy, as the sole direct link to their makers, their saviours. The real conditions of existence lead to a cause for the imaginary transposition, such cause being “the existence of a small number of cynical men who base their domination and exploitation of the ‘people’ on a falsified representation of the world which they have imagined in order to enslave other minds by dominating their imaginations.”
One could argue that the Doomguy does not serve as the link to either hell or heaven. He does not even stand in between them, but rather aside, hunting and destroying the strongest links of each side, both to fulfill a personal motive and toward some other means to an end we’ve yet to learn. The gods are responsible for his status as a deity—the gods who failed to see that this would later backfire in their mission to use Earth for their own purposes, turning human souls into energy to pump fuel into their celestial machinery. The Doomguy sees through this so-called prophecy, and for once considers the human cost: The gods must not be allowed to carry on their mission to erase mankind, and thus they must be stopped. But he also fails to see the ideological cost, survivors devoting themselves to a new prophecy masked by false hope, regardless of what this crusade could forever change in our societies. This new sort of devotion is careless, self-imposed, preached by a false prophet.
In DOOM Eternal, all of this is exemplified by the chat logs of doctor Elena Richardson, one of the few responsible for examining the Doomguy on a biological, and not purely metaphysical, basis. Despite finding unrecognizable foreign bodies on blood samples taken from him, she denies the assumption of colleagues that he is a god. “But ... I cannot ignore that the timing of his arrival, the identity of his enemies, the fire and brimstone element to this catastrophe we currently find ourselves in has … it has definitely shaken my scientific resolve,” she continues.
The following logs continue to try and dismantle the deity, but slowly Richardson’s previously scientific speech is turned into a mumbling approval of what she was initially arguing against. She considers the Doomguy—the avatar of doom itself—as the representation of humankind's rage, the will to persevere and overcome what has threatened our survival. After witnessing the failure of technologically-advanced weaponry as a way to repel the invasion first hand, she places her trust in the Doomguy, seeing him no longer as an individual, but as something more—something that stands higher than all of us, despite sharing the same blood. Richardson becomes a believer. “I feel it is in doom that I have faith. The Slayer is the spear that stabs at the heart of our attackers, and those that would seek to harm us should feel warned—for there is only one dominant life form in this universe and it carries a steel barreled sword of vengeance.”
But the same people the Doomguy is trying to avenge are the ones who suffer the casualties. He does not seek, nor even want, to cooperate with anyone. He does not consult, but rather acts, embracing a dogma that his actions have created. He carries the same selfish attitude that has led entire civilizations into extinction. "It is written that your hatred for the demons gave the people of Argent D'nur hope, as it does now on Earth,” doctor Samuel Hayden recalls, affirming the player’s belief that this time the outcome will be different. The player will succeed on her mission, no matter how much doom needs to compromise Earth and its citizens in the process.
And so doom succeeds, its personification stripping the wings and chopping the head off the ruler of what history has led us to consider as heaven, known as Urdak in DOOM Eternal. Doom is finally able to rule as the sole omnipotent force in the universe, but it’s not part of its duty to do so. Instead doom simply waits for the consequences of its actions to take form—to torment and to kill thousands again—only to have an excuse to prove its godhood once more.
His strength is the main reason why demons are terrified of his presence. It is why the handful of humans he encounters stand aside to let him pass, shaken to the core from being in the same room as a deity, one that grabs their weapons and manipulates their machinery without receiving a sole objection. Doom is the only answer to the problem, and so we must stand aside, even if entire planets and civilizations are caught in the crossfire.
Mankind, or what’s left of it at the end of the game, is doomed to live under the rules of a god that marches alone. The threat is never fully eliminated, as we have witnessed in the past 25 years of DOOM, but DOOM Eternal hints at an even more terrifying future. It ends with humanity anticipating a reality where their new god eagerly awaits judgment day, the only time where catastrophe can build a new playground for its own enjoyment, to try and amend past mistakes by following the same path of vengeance that caused them in the first place. God is not the imaginary representation of the true King, it’s as real as you and me—but it has no pity, and, therefore, can never even conceive of what suffering means.
This god’s duty may never be truly fulfilled, and mankind may remain forever trapped in its actions, forced to suffer the consequences, trying to rebuild not only their homes but themselves from an ultimately irreparable tragedy. And still, mankind believes the crusade is justified, that it is their one chance of salvation, no matter the cost. Doom is the only thing they fear.
Diego Nicolás Argüello is a journalist and critic from Argentina. He has learned English thanks to videogames, and now runs Into The Spine alongside writers from all over the world. You can find him procrastinating on Twitter @diegoarguello66.