I think for many of us you’d think the idea of a woman in her thirties showing her young child a horrifically violent game decried as a threat to the youth would be the kind of thing we’d pretend to find appalling. To me, though, it was some of the most heartwarming anecdotes of my childhood.
This isn’t some sob story about making do about the little we had, rather, this Mother’s Day I thought it’d be apt to share my own story of gaming with my mother. She is as much a gamer in a lot of the same ways a fish could fly. That is to say explicitly under certain conditions, and with extremely liberal definitions of the word.
My mother, in her 30s, always had a funny habit of having games. Given how today’s gamers can hardly go a sentence without either telling you they’re a gamer or flashing their RGB paraphernalia around, it was honestly impressive how low-key she’d kept it. We didn’t have consoles, so games were more like these hidden raisins in the oatmeal cookie of our PC. (Editor’s note: The author of this piece likes Oatmeal raisin cookies, and finds them a delight).
Thinking back, I should have maybe asked more questions at the time, but perhaps seeing an adult coming home and mashing buttons allowed me to take it easy on myself when, 20 years later, I was by and large doing the same; and for that I’m thankful.
Her library was hardly anything compared to even our most humble Steam collections post-sale, but it was present: Theme Hospital, an absolute marvel of gaming prowess that would be spiritually reincarnated like it was M. Bison, and POD, a Ubisoft game that to this day I’d still love to somehow pressure the publisher into bringing back.
However, this story is not about either of those games. Because there was one game that she adores above all else, and it’s that game that makes our bond so strong it’s a threat to my ability to get women to stay: Final Doom for the Windows 95 (Specifically, the version released as Doom 95).
As a kid, I’d have an early bed time. By right, my mother would return home from work at a time where my sister and I should supposedly be asleep. Yet, as is always the case with parenting, sometimes rules can be broken. In those occasions, out adventures in the midnight hour were simple: my sister and I would stand on either flank of my mother, watching her rip and tear, until it was done.
There’s a sort of visceral thrill to watching your mother play a game blamed for so many of the world’s ills. Not so much because of the violence- but it’s a magic in just seeing a grown-up partake in computer games. In the 90s, I might add! Back then a computer was a strange alien device we had to call our parents for permission to use, and here was my mother strafing out of Hell’s barrage with the same dexterity she uses to play the piano in daylight hours.
I should out my mother here on just how much she loved this game: She had the original CD case for it, where every subsequent computer we’d gotten had the game installed until Windows dropped support for DOS. She goes on to joke nowadays that the only way to survive the horrors of work were to have a game like Doom to take the edge off. As an adult, I see the truth: my mother was no comedian and every word of that was true.
When we’d gotten old enough to try it on our own, my sister and I had discovered the cheat codes- nothing more empowering to a 7-year-old than the ability to phase through walls fully armed and firing your BFG 9000. Also, I might add, a great way to teach faster typing. Wanting to share this revelation to our mother though, she wasn’t having any of it. To her, the big sprawling dungeons and the limited ammunition went hand-in-hand. She would continue her seemingly endless march through Doom without any help.
It baffled the mind back then, but I appreciate it now. This wasn’t some maternal metaphor about life needing struggle to have value, this was about my mother wanting to know she had limited Shotgun Shells, and one of them was to be firmly lodged inside of an Imp. I respect the hustle.
Nowadays, we get so wrapped up in achievements and battlepasses and million dollar prize pools it’s easy to forget that games were fun for everyone. Like I said, my mother was no capital-G Gamer, but give her a virtual firearm and the spawn of hell and you’d swear she was part of some experimental arm of the Church with a more direct approach to Satan’s grip on the masses.
She enjoyed this game, and you could tell based on how many devices she had it installed on. Bless the shareware culture of the 90s, if she had to buy extra licenses or a monthly sub for Doom 95 I might have gotten my typing practice done on a cereal box tilted at 45 degrees.
Doom would go on in our family history as a constant conversational topic. In my older years friends who came over to play videogames would be told stories about how both my parents were gamers, much to their shock.
As first-person shooters gained camera controls, both my parents had decided modern games had left them behind. While we did play Doom 3, it’s still the game you bring up and watch an entire family just kind of wince and desperately look to change the topic like you’d just brought up why the family dog had to go to a farm. Literally everyone had bounced off the mouse-and-keyboard controls, and by the time I’d gotten to play Halo: Combat Evolved (many many years after the fact) I’d pretty much become that one child in a brood with an evolutionary advantage, yet still drowned in pools.
Still, the Doom series is venerated in our family for largely this reason- it was bonding. It wasn’t just my mother, either- we’d also kick back and watch my dad partake in a bit of ripping and/or tearing too. Those early years are seared in my brain as the kind of thing I’d see lighting a match before I die in the cold- of warmth, love and death to the Spider Mastermind.
In case you’re wondering we had fought to clear Doom’s good name- she actually quite enjoyed Doom Eternal, wherein she’d really appreciated the southpaw controls. but ducked out once she realized combos were expected of her. Between watching her and my sister pass the controller between each other and attempt to clear a room, I did occasionally have to ask myself the question of accessibility, though I suppose that’s a conversation for another time.
It should be noted, however, that her own saga with Doom doesn’t end there. After my dad had bought himself a gaming PC, their first instinct was to use it to boot up a game from 1995, partially enabled by my younger brother, who had not only been born in the years since the time of “Coming home and watching mama play Doom”, but had also become very good at convincing them to spend money.
Happy Mother’s Day.