It was nighttime. Late. My housemates were asleep, so I was playing a videogame wearing headphones, too tired to sleep but not enough awake to do anything else.
The game was Doom. The year, 1994. I'd saved for months to buy a PC and now I was reveling in it, losing myself in virtual worlds, exploring the explosion of exciting 3-D gaming technology. Doom was masterful. Just enough horror, just enough mystery. No matter there was no story actually told. No matter none of the questions raised by the game's intriguing setting were ever really answered. No matter most of the scares were of the "Gotcha!" variety. Doom was a new breed of game. A new experience. And crawling through its darkened space station, dodging fireballs and blasting monsters in the face, I felt as if it were made just for me.
I crept along a narrow ledge. Back to the wall, a deep pool of lava on the right. A long drop. Deadly. Treacherous footing is still a pain in the ass in games, but back then, it was brutal. You can't feel your digital feet, and in the early shooters like Doom, you couldn't even look down. Surviving a tight-rope walk was part coordination, part luck.
I kept my eyes focused on the scenery, judging my footing by the geometry of the walls. Halfway across. So far, so good. A little more creeping and I was close. Close enough to see the ledge opened onto a landing, then turned a sharp corner into a room. I focused my eyes on that corner. Willing myself closer. Wanting to get off this damned, impossible ledge.
Two feet. One foot. There. I made it, turned the corner and almost fell out of my chair when the Imp jumped out of the shadows, piercing the silence with his hissing growl, filling my field of vision with his magical fire. Scaring me half to death. I screamed like a little girl. It was quite embarrassing.
This wasn't the first time Doom had gotten me, but it was the most memorable, and has since served as a reminder that behind every game experience is someone with a sense of humor and a burning desire to mess with your head. When you find one of his little surprises, it's as if you've discovered a communication from a distant friend, or found a sign from God. These are the experiences best enjoyed alone.
In this week's issue of The Escapist, Issue 214, "My Player One and Only," we're taking a look at the phenomenon of single-player gaming. With the emergence of massively multiplayer worlds, online co-op and, yes, even deathmatches, it may seem as if the single-player experience is a dying breed, but according to our research (deeply scientific, we assure you), it's alive and well. Jonathan Glover shares his solitary experience with PlayStation Home, Peter Parrish explores the seedy side of single-player in Artificial Girl 3, Robert Hilly shares a touching look at shared single-player experiences and I look at the subject of being a single player from the romantic angle. Enjoy!