Mandatory fun: ‘Doom’ and the doom of relaxation

What is the best single-player videogame?
Ask any decently-experienced gamer and they’ll probably rattle off a handful of must-have games, many with deep and engaging storylines. Names like “Portal,” “Bioshock” or “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” may come up, among dozens of other games whose narrative beats resonate as some of the most powerful stories humans have ever told. Some of these games ask serious questions about morality, using the impermanent fabric of digital code to stitch together scenarios that leave you questioning yourself long after you log off. Other games set you on a one-way ticket through a compelling story you can’t help but feel connected to. All of these recommendations, you will be told, “are well worth the effort.”
But has the quest for deep, meaningful, video games overtaken the idea of them being mindless fun, and can that same question be applied to media and relaxation as a whole? Has the strength of our fictional storytelling surpassed our ability to enjoy those stories effortlessly?
I ask these questions because we live in an age of incessant action. For college students, we spend much of our time not in class working with clubs, or going to events. Weekends are spent with friends, being active and engaging with the world around us. Correspondingly, our media has become more thoughtful and requires more engagement to fully enjoy — even if that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Take the “Doom” franchise; it began in 1993 as with groundbreaking — for the time — visuals and mechanics. The story was little more than an excuse to tie together five hours of killing pixelated demons and was told through text displayed before and after each level.
In 2020, the franchise’s latest outing, “Doom Eternal,” was released. This modern game told a multi-dimensional story, explaining earlier versions of the games’ protagonist, the mute “Doom Slayer,” with grand stories of the creation of the universe. No longer were players bouncing from room to room blasting little circles at barely-recognizable sprites. Now they were on a grand quest to level city-sized monsters with an alien energy sword accompanied by heavy metal instrumentals, rivers of blood and mountains of undead enemies.
At the heart of it all is a tale of a relentless warrior marching through his enemies to deliver justice for his people. The story is no longer just about killing demons because it’s fun. It’s about never ceasing in a quest to right what’s wrong. It holds up the Doom Slayer as an ideal of righteous anger carving his way through armies defined by being pure evil, naturally taking up the banner of good.
So when do we take a break? We are, for all our wishes, not unstoppable demigods, and this extends to the things we do to relax. If you used your free time to play each of these great games back to back, yes you would have a fun time, but you would also be exhausted. Fully appreciating “Doom Eternal” takes effort and energy and care, something we don’t always have when we relax.
It’s okay to play sub-par games with poorly-written stories. It’s okay to play a mediocre game if you enjoy it more than the Game of the Year. Relaxation time is just that: relaxation. If you relax by playing games nobody looks twice at, then go off king. Our leisure time need not be defined by how many critically-acclaimed works we consumed; let it be defined by the exact opposite.
So what is the takeaway? Why did you read ~400 words about video games to get here? Because this applies to every form of entertainment and relaxation. Go watch bad movies and read cheap thriller novels. Go play a superficial video game. Stranger Things may be the most popular and best television show of the year, but if you prefer to watch the NBC show “La Brea” — which sits at 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and is about a giant sinkhole opening up in LA — watch the show that makes you happy.
We spend a lot of time wondering what we should do. Sometimes it’s okay to just do what seems fun.