It Only Took Me 26 Years to Beat DOOM 64

Contributed by DJMMT

I sometimes think about the fact that many kids today don’t play “proper” video games. More kids than ever before play digital entertainment software that is usually classified as video games. But many of them don’t get the experiences that people in my generation were raised on in terms of gaming. When I was a kid, beating a game was the most important achievement in a video game. Reaching the final boss, defeating it, and rolling the credits was an accomplishment. You felt a sense of pride for having reached the end of the game. A lot of games don’t have that anymore. I have a nephew who loves video games. But he almost never finishes them. Often, they can’t even objectively be finished. His favorite game to play is Fortnite; a game with no conclusive ending or coherent plot. While my nephew knows what it’s like to win a match, he doesn’t really know what it feels like to beat a game. Furthermore, I don’t even think he knows what it’s like to care about being able to beat a game.

I remember the first time I beat a video game. It was Star Fox 64 back in 1997. I had already owned an NES, an SNES, a SEGA Genesis, and a SEGA CD. I’d already played countless games by the time I got Star Fox 64. But I was never able to finish any of them on my own. I could play them, but I’d always get stuck before reaching the end. I remember playing countless hours of Super Mario Bros. (1985) on the NES, as a kid. I didn’t actually beat it for the first time until I played it via Nintendo Switch Online decades later. I remember playing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1994) on the SNES so many times. I could literally get all the way to the boss of the game without using a single continue. But I could not beat that final boss on my own. I had a next-door neighbor who was a couple years older than me. He would come over and beat the final boss for me. It wasn’t until I was bored one day during college, when I didn’t have access to any of my other consoles, that I whipped out the old, still working (kudos Nintendo) SNES and finally beat that game from start to finish without help. Star Fox 64 was the very first game that I was able to play from start to finish with no help from anyone else and beat.

I remember playing and failing to beat these games, and many others, as a kid. It’s why I was motivated to return to them, literally more than decade later in some cases, and take the time to finally beat them. I genuinely don’t know if my nephew will ever get to experience that. On the one hand, that’s very freeing. The ability to play games and not care about your performance or completion of them would be super convenient from a mental health standpoint. I’ve completed countless games I didn’t really enjoy, simply because I’d gotten far enough into them to feel like I should reach the ending. My nephew has never had to go through that. I’ve spent literal days stuck on the same boss and kept spending time going back and dying over and over again, because I felt compelled to reach the ending. Whereas my nephew would just turn off the game and start a different one, once he decided it wasn’t fun anymore.

I definitely see the value in not caring about the accomplishment of beating a game. At the same time, that kind of destroys the value of a large number of great games. What would Dark Souls be if people didn’t care about overcoming the difficulty and reaching the end? What would Final Fantasy be if people just stopped playing at the first sign of repetitive grinding? So many games and genres just wouldn’t function if players simply didn’t care about rolling the credits in video games. So, I worry about the future of gaming, and gaming culture, when so many projects are live service, never ending, PVP eSports titles with no narrative and no final boss.

While some people might think it’s a good thing, one of the biggest things lost in a world where gamers don’t care about finishing games is the motivation to return to games you failed to complete and finally overcome the challenge. In other words, a loss of shame. When you quit a game, because it was too hard, you feel shame. You may move on to other games, but you always remember in the back of your head that you never finished that one game. You couldn’t beat that boss. You couldn’t complete that challenge. You couldn’t “git gud.” It hurts to feel that shame. It motivates you to go back to games, sometimes years later, so you can finish them and cast away that shame. That’s what today’s post is about. Casting off a piece of long-held shame.

In 1997, my dad bought me a copy of DOOM 64. I honestly don’t know why this happened. I did not ask for DOOM 64. I hadn’t, and still haven’t, played any of the DOOM games preceding DOOM 64. I didn’t, and mostly still don’t, like FPS games; and I rarely like the demonic aesthetic of games like DOOM. But he got me the game, so I decided to play it. I was eight years old. I got stuck on the first level. Now when I say I got stuck on the first level of DOOM 64, I am not saying that the fights were too hard. I am not saying that the game was too scary for me as an eight-year-old boy. I didn’t even get that far. When you first start DOOM 64, you end up in a maze of corridors and locked doors. I couldn’t figure out how to open most of the doors. I literally just got stuck. I think I encountered one or two enemies before I literally just couldn’t move forward. The reason for this is that the game has pretty much nothing in the way of QoL features. It has a HUD, which tells you everything you need to know about your loadout and what keys you currently have. But the game does very little in telling you what you’re actually supposed to do. So as a kid, I was just wandering around the same hallways trying to find more things to shoot and failing to do so. Eventually I would get bored and turn the game off. This happened multiple times before I finally stopped trying to play DOOM 64 for good.

This experience completely soured me on the idea of wanting to play games in the DOOM franchise. In fact, I never tried another DOOM game until DOOM (2016), which I absolutely did not want to play. The only reason I tried it was because a good friend who knows my gaming tastes strongly recommended it to me. Even while knowing that I hate FPS games, he assured me that I would love that game; and he was absolutely right. I did love that installment of DOOM. I still consider it my favorite FPS game of all time. For the record, I have not played DOOM Eternal yet, so that may change. All that said, both before and after playing, and beating, DOOM (2016), I never forgot about the fact that I never even made it past the first level of DOOM 64. I had thought about that fact several times over the years. It didn’t matter that I didn’t even like the DOOM franchise, or the genre. The fact that I had tried to play it multiple times and never managed to even reach the first real fight was a mark of shame. I carried it for most of my life. But with the power of ports, I am finally free.

I ended up buying the DOOM 64 port on Epic Games Store sometime last year. It was on sale or something. It’s not particularly expensive to begin with. Not in the Taiwan store anyway. Though I did buy it with the intention of finally toppling this failed challenge from my childhood, I didn’t start it right away. There are plenty of excuses I could make, but ultimately I was probably just afraid that after all these years, and literally more than 1,000 games beaten including titles like Demon’s Souls, God of War, and of course a later installment of DOOM, that I still wouldn’t be able to beat this game. Again, I never even made it through the first level originally. But finally, as the end of the year was quickly approaching, I decided to start DOOM 64.

It took me 26 years from the first time I played it, but I finally managed to beat DOOM 64. While I wouldn’t call it an easy game, it’s certainly not hard. Funny enough, I still had a bit of trouble with the doors at the beginning, but I did finally manage to figure out what I needed to. With the power of Google, which I feel no shame in using, I never let a single hidden switch or secret passage stop my progress. (There wasn’t that many to be honest.)

I feel much better having now beaten this game, after all these years. There have been a number of games like this in my lifetime, but few made me feel as bad about my gamer credibility as much as DOOM 64 did. Probably because of how many years it took me to complete it coupled with how far I didn’t manage to get when I first tried to play it. But now it’s over and I can finally move on with my life. Thank you, Midway, for hanging that over my head for all these years. My shame lasted longer than your studio. No hard feelings.

XPG Terrence

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