The silent video game protagonist may be common in modern video games, usually as a means for developers to place players directly in the shoes of the unnamed warrior to reflect themselves, but it’s roots date back to the arguable grandfather of first-person shooters, 1993’s Doom. For a character without much character at all, the lovingly nicknamed Doomguy has become one of the most charismatic protagonists in the gaming industry, with 2016’s ballsy reboot cementing his iconic status as gaming’s old-school badass marine. Let’s dive into the history behind the unnamed marine and how his lack of personality shined brighter than any actual protagonist today.
1993 was monumental year for gaming. Mortal Kombat II stirred the pot of controversial violence in gaming, Virtua Fighter pushed 3D fighting games to the forefront of the industry, and Doom revolutionized first-person shooters forever. Central to Doom’s plot of battling the diabolical armies of hell was an unnamed marine gifted with supernatural abilities. He donned a green and grey armored spacesuit while holding a shotgun; an image replicated over time that was symbolic of the unrelenting protagonist. Gamers took to popularly nicknaming him “Doomguy”, a creation of Doom’s primary designer John Romero.
In the original Doom, the Doomguy was a space marine stranded on Mars after a failed expedition opened up the gates of hell. Invading demons flooded the facility and killed almost everyone on board except the marine himself, who quickly arms himself with an arsenal of weapons and takes to desecrating everything in his path that moved. In the position of the player, the Doomguy was a vessel for them to project their violent tendencies on a mostly unsuspecting legions of hell. It was a groundbreaking step forward for silent protagonists in video games as his actions and emotions were projected through the complete control of the player – a little nuance that would be vital to 2016’s Doom reboot.
Doomguy’s utter apathy to the horrific events unfolding around him played into the believability of his rigid persona. An unfazed, almost violently psychopathic marine with little to no emotion, he posed as an unflinching threat to the demons of hell, turning the tides of what is usually expected in a video games’ horror setting of being scared and running. In the eyes of the demons, Doomguy was the one exception to their dominance and power. With his seemingly supernatural abilities of inhumane strength, reflexes and agility, Doomguy was the formidable opponent that empowered the player past the point of realism and fear. The game encouraged players to be fearless in the face of the horror by rewarding them with an unwavering one-man army; something that only a few games have managed to successfully achieve without resorting to gimmicks or ludicrous character degradation.
In 2016’s critically and commercially acclaimed Doom reboot, courtesy of Bethesda, id Software capitalized on the Doomguy’s formidable presence against the demons, giving him a kind of tongue-in-cheek backstory about being a legendary warrior that would cause the inhabitants of hell to quiver in fear. They referred to him as the Doom Slayer – a fitting title for a character that prided himself in being a force of destructive nature as opposed to an ordinary space marine – all cleverly in control of the player. The results were a fantastic bloodbath of gore, violence, and risky heretic undertones that perfectly encapsulated the experience of the game as well as the unstable, bloodlust mindset of its protagonist.
Doomguy took his place among the greats of the video game world the moment he cocked back a shotgun and probably smiled with glee as he thought of the damage he was about to lay to an unsuspecting group of demons. While most games attempt to layer their main characters with detailed backstories and intricate characteristics, id Software’s space marine was a surprisingly simple design – an experiment in how our own personalities can rub off on an empty vessel of a protagonist that plays to our expectations of what we want to see in a video game soldier. There’s a little Doomguy in us all.