David Kushner’s Masters of Doom brought back memories of hours in high school spent gaming. This was mid 2000s, when Delhi school computers could only properly handle the graphic engines released in 1999: Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, and not to forget, Counter Strike 1.6.

Masters of Doom

I first ran into id Software in the mid-90s, when my US-based uncle brought a copy of Doom on one of his annual visits to India. I don’t remember what I made of it, but I definitely didn’t make much of it. Perhaps I was too glued to playing Electronic Arts’ Cricket 97.

I’m indebted to id for Quake 3 Arena, a game that I can attribute many of my high school friendships to. I vividly remember one of the maps in the game: The Longest Yard, which was completely open, making it incredibly difficult to hide, and had gravity defying bouncing pads and teleportation. The resulting combination was crazy fast gameplay.

In my opinion Q3A’s success (especially in India) can be attributed to the 60 MB file, available as a free download on the id Software website. This approach came from the business model of shareware, one of the main themes of the book. Shareware made sharing software on disks free and easy. Software with limited functionality, or a trial period, was made available for free, and the full version was paid. For games this meant some maps/levels were available for free, and free did not mean crippled: you could play them as much as you would want.

Shareware as a term is more-or-less dead, but the concept is virtually (pun unintended) everywhere: in fact, the text editor I’m typing this on is shareware. While the internet upended the need for distribution through disks, all paid software is distributed as trial for free. We now call it freemium, or in-app purchases.

The book raises questions on the impact of violence in video games. The Columbine High School masacre led to lawsuits against the video games industry. Whether violent video games were the cause of violence in American society, or were they an effect of it is questionable. In my circle of friends in Delhi we treated it as any competitive sport that brought us a lot closer.