Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Doom is a Casual Game

Do you remember when Doom was the most realistic, immersive video game ever made? When it represented the holy grail of game design? When reviewers took the game as seriously as they take games like Grand Theft Auto 4 these days?

If you've played games like Half-Life 2, you can probably understand why this seems a little bit hard to believe from a modern standpoint. Graphics, sound, and physics technology have advanced a lot, obviously, but so have storytelling, pacing, and game structure. Yet Doom still has its appeal. But it's a different appeal, and this is what I find so interesting.

I think Half-Life 2 is, by whatever objective measurements are possible, a better game than Doom. But I played through Doom recently (for the first time, actually, since I never went beyond the Shareware version before) and had a lot of fun. And then I played through it again on a harder mode. I found time to squeeze in a level or two here and there. It was pretty addictive, because it was easy to pick up and play and enjoy for a short time, and move on. I don't do this with Half-Life 2 because it's a strong narrative that can't really be broken down into small playable chunks. Doom, on the other hand, is much more simple, brainless, and... casual.

That's right. I said the C-word.

Sure, the game is too gory to be as much of a party centerpiece as Peggle or Rock Band, but I treat it much the same way as I do those games. It's a quick fix, one which often evolves into long play sessions but which I can just as easily put down if something else comes up. The levels are largely interchangeable, aside from some of them being harder than others. It rarely requires any real strategy; just dexterity, timing, and pattern recognition. The same can probably be said of many old games, like Pac-Man and basically all those other games that couldn't afford to take the player on any real journey.

So what's my point, anyway? I guess I'm making a case for casual games, which have been greatly maligned lately. I understand why Wii Play and its ilk do not exactly inspire confidence in the subgenre (or supergenre, whatever), but I think some of the greatest gaming experiences around come from games that have no plot and no ambitions other than to give you a fun way to kill time for a few minutes. There are some casual games out there that are barely games at all and really don't even reward skill in any way, and I won't be rushing to their defense any time soon. But some truly great games fall under what I would consider the "casual" banner. Let's not forget how fun they can be.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go defend my garden from zombies.