The Doom Mod That Best Describes Our Uncanny Reality

There is a deep tragedy at the heart of the story of video games, an attempt at transcendence born from a tacky, clunky, consumer-based digital frame. We may have armies of employee footsoldiers working long hours to build robust digital infrastructures and simulated worlds in extreme detail. We might have incredibly smooth framerates and 4K definition. But there is no game maker who doesn't still struggle with how to make their game mean something.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
1 Like

Am I missing it, or does the article not have a link to A.L.T. itself?

I’m planning to dig into A.L.T. this evening. Russian WADs I’ve played do seem to be more surreal and visually ambitious than most, and this looks like it goes even farther.

it doesn’t! thank you for linking it! i did a playthrough stream of A.L.T. last year that is also worth checking out


I think this is a really wonderful article, but I have a real problem in the way it ties A.L.T. and Stalker back to modern politics. Ryerson cites Adam Curtis’ observation that after the election of Donald Trump that “we live in the Zone now”, and compares our current social situation to that of the late Soviet Union.

The problem I have with invoking the Zone as a metaphor is that the Zone is, by it’s very nature, a place of clear demarcation, a place that is firmly segregated from the world around it. There is of course the physical border of the Zone, patrolled by armed guards ready to shoot to kill, but afraid to follow anyone into the surreal Zone. When Tarkovsky has us enter the Zone, as depicted in the awesome art at the front of the article, it’s done in a single cut to color. Every subsequent time that we change perspectives it is done the same way, with a single cut, the colors never fade or bleed into one another. The point here is that the Zone is characterized by this, by it’s high level of separation and discontinuity from the world around it. When the Stalker and his wards enter the Zone they might as well have slipped into another dimension.

Drawing a clear line of demarcation between the “post 2016” or “post Trump” era and the decades that came before it actively obfuscates political realities, rather than increasing our understanding. If we’re living in the Zone now, it’s because we’ve always been there, not because we crossed a line at a specific juncture. It is impossible to understand Trump or any of the other events that characterized the past year through a lens of their utter uniqueness. It is as well myopic to view the world through narratives built around American national electoral politics. In a world where Clinton won, all of the natural disasters and many of the manmade ones would have happened regardless. Obama presided over millions of deportations and tens of thousands of people killed by the U.S. military. Were those people not living in the Zone already?

Am I saying that it would have made no difference who had won? No, I don’t want to make that false equivalency, the lesser of two evils absolutely was the lesser and Trump’s election has had undeniable material consequences. But by taking a defeated, catastrophizing tone in regards to the election and painting Trump’s presidency as some kind of unprecedented and surreal disaster we create a narrative that oversimplifies the problem. It’s a narrative that says “If we only elect the right Presidents we’ll be fine”. If Clinton had won, we wouldn’t have to live in the Zone.

I want to emphasize that the article’s main thesis, that we need more transgressive and challenging games, is absolutely on the money and I have no qualms with it. But I also think that the way contemporary politics are invoked to serve that conclusion relies on the simplistic “2016 Catastrophe” narrative that obfuscates the fact that Trump is far more of a continuation of the U.S.'s political issues than an aberration from perceived continuous progress. I was way more willing to read a lot of takes that amounted to “Wow isn’t this depressing and surreal” about a year ago around Trump’s inauguration, but a year on it feels like wallowing in an unhealthy place that lessens our understanding rather than broadening it.


I think this is really interesting, but also I think the way Liz Ryerson introduces “The Zone” as an articulation of Russian politics in the 70s and then ties it back into modern politics shows how it’s a construct for a variety of political circumstances. As you’ve pointed out, a lot of marginalized people have always been in the Zone or been in it much longer than I have. Considering Ryerson’s previous work, I think that she is well aware of this.

Basically, this is line of criticism that I’m sympathetic too, but I also think that this article is going for something subtler. It tries to place in this weird piece of Russian art in an American context. Thereby, it makes a case for how transgressive art can exceed context, rather than trying to reduce a complex political situation to an easy metaphor. That admittedly might be because I haven’t seen Stalker and I’ve read a lot of her previous writing.


Great article, I can remember playing Doom mods but nothing like this!

You start to lose me linking it to HyperNormalization and Roadside Picnic, but I think I get the general idea.

i do appreciate the criticism of “The Zone” as a metaphor but i think of it as speaking more to a subjective cultural perception than the hard political realities, which haven’t changed all that much. a lot of what frustrates me is the cloud of commentary and constant framing around this political moment, which is a big part of what i and i honestly think a lot of people are responding to. it feels almost gaslighting, and it can be hard to understand and rationalize what’s actually happening when everyone is freaking out around you. which is why we need art to make sense of that. ALT resonated with me a lot when i discovered in 2012/2013 and that hasn’t changed - it’s just that the current moment has made it all the more clear how important it is.

the point is that as a culture, we in the West don’t know how to handle acknowledging corruption and strife and conflict to the degree that people in other parts of the world do - we’ve been in denial as a culture about what we’re involved with overseas and what happens on our own soil in poor and marginalized communities. therefore maybe artists from Russia or Ukraine who have had to deal with the collapse of their shared culture are more equipped to understand and express that in their own art. i mean you can see that as a big part of why a weird 90’s game like Vangers spoke a lot to that particular cultural moment in time. The Zone is an image that comes from that cultural space and it describes a lot of the unexpressed ethos of ALT and other Russian games i’ve played, so that’s why it’s used. it shouldn’t be simply reduced to that though, it’s just a rhetorical device for having a frame of reference to engage with a weird piece of art a lot of us might otherwise have no context for. and the Adam Curtis connection applies it back to our current moment.


Do you mean exceed context? Might also say exude!

I think that the example is that in the Soviet Union in the nineties the hypernormalised idea of emancipatory communism unquestionably supreme betrayed by the stalinist reality, a reality that had to be constantly ignored and acted around to maintain your life in that society. And this left an uncanny and unconvincing historical moment which gave way.

And so Adam Curtis and others may be speculating about the current uncanny and unconvincing feeling about the morals and customs that rule today- Specifically that it is the result of hypernormalised free market capitalism held dear, assertively betrayed by the monopolist reality. And this can’t be sustained and may crumble.

I think Curtis unforgivably neglects to mention the mass protest and dissent of the nineties in Russia, as a planned and super centralised economy failed to serve.

Its a message though that just when the establishment seems monolithic, persecutory and defensive and total, it can in fact be rootless and ready to drop in spite of all its machinations and militarizations, when people lose love for it and just for a moment lose fear of it. Some incompetent communication from an understaffer to the media gave people the idea some crossing would shortly be allowed and that brought people out with an eagerness that was infectious, and the refusal and walking back of that line was incoherent and disbelieved, disobeyed, and the Berlin Wall fell, and that was the all clear. Shams with a lot of aggrieving hassle can be tolerated as long as it seems like in a cowardly way they are atleast safe and functioning as the devil you know.

What precisely this establishment gives way to in the USA, well time and you will tell. But structurally broken democracy is intolerable especially when the elite that insert themselves as trustees manipulating the process are exploitative, incompetent and no more quallified to judge than anyone else, and people have always been prepared to suffer and struggle to fix that. The Zone is indeed an intersectional proximity, and its form of mutant uncertainty and prophetic failure can clearly be brought about physically in many ways, be it the dangers of uranium or the devaluing flexibility of truth demobilisingly imposed by dictators. The radiation around chernobyl is patchy and trapped by the geology. But now I’m just playing with metaphors.

I guess there’s wallowing and then there’s treading water searching for a ladder, and I think this article comes from a genuine place but we are for sure unhappy about being in that place. I agree the article undereggs how its a continuation and emergence of something already here.

Something that can help when you’re demoralised is the theory of history-making contingency. How not just various objects in your surroundings are changable based on your actions and arrangements, but standards and dynamics that seem a given are historically contingent in struggles where every last person’s input mattered in the outcome. The health service in the UK seemed a natural force, but now its continued existence relies on massive campaigning, and come another crisis it could be obliterated. As it is now mismanaged and underfunded on purpose by government who have a higher priority on profit than health, a formation of cross-party neutral ‘compromisers’ promising to ‘put politics aside’ and ‘look at the practical problems’ has already been founded, and could persuasively put the boot in by manufacturing consent on the basis of this technocratic authority in a media and parliamentary blitz asserting the socialist model is broken (they broke it, it needs a repair) and unworkable or otherwise off the table, and setting up an American style private insurance system, persecuting the working class in the extreme, is merely ‘practical’, while those that can afford it in desperation are already jumping ship because the standard of service is perceived to be better even though it is an unaccountable unsustainable rip-off from the get go, never mind down the road when they have no competition. As if because of an aging population and greater strain this ‘nice’ model is unfit, when actually the utilitarian efficiency of its collective bargaining power and undivided ethos is more important than ever, our cost of healthcare per head in this country is among the lowest in the world, and fragmenting it to a matter of individuals will be not just discriminatory but a huge waste of energy and money as we’re fighting amongst ourselves and shareholders profit motive is fetishised by ideology when as a project it consistently fails its own tests. Part of our campaigning must break this bloc and the monster it incubates, making parties disown politicians that sign up to it.

If you know about contingency it prevents you from being aquiscent in the face of what you should challenge, complacent about what you should defend, and unable to tell the difference. Empirically in terms of what’s changing and morally in terms of what you want. I found this article useful:

I really enjoyed this article but, I mean, come on. I’m gonna need to see a source on this one.

I was 17 in 1993, right in the heart of the shareware generation. Trading with friends, local shops, the back of magazines - DOOM wasn’t spoken about in hushed tones, it was loudly proselytized by anyone who played it. And we were of course well aware of its status as a video game. I’d been playing games in my PC for the better part of a decade by then. We were only 2 years from the release of the PlayStation.

DOOM was new but it wasn’t black magic. It was just a really, really cool game.

Sorry if this ruins your headcanon of 40-somethings as some lost tribe that thought computers were going to steal our souls.

I mean Doom kind of was this forbidden mystery to me and my brother’s when we were kids (and that was in 1995). But this was mostly because it couldn’t be openly advertised in Germany for its violent content. So I wouldn’t completely rule it out that, depending on where you live, your perspective on this stuff might vary.

come on. it’s for dramatic effect. that’s why i said “I sometimes imagine it was spoken about.” i played Doom only a couple years after it came out and it had that sort of effect on me, and it was how it was introduced to me - not as just a “fun game” but a big new thing that had a cultural impact beyond just being a “fun game.” there’s also a passage in Masters of Doom that talks about how its shareware spread like wildfire.

and anyway, later in the piece i criticize Doom 1 and the ending of its shareware episode as being a cheap advertisement for the rest of the game and not having any actual plot significance (and the game in general for lacking in any real coherence). ALT is introduced as manifesting much of that weird side of Doom that Doom itself failed to manifest in many ways.

1 Like

That response started as a recollection of watching the episode of ER where the entire staff is obsessed with Doom, then I did some research and discovered it was actually Doom 2, which just made me feel old, and in my effort to defiantly stare down entropy I maybe overdid it a little. Sorry.