Goddamn Wolfenstein, or, the post I never wanted to write but knew I would someday

So this post has been a long time coming. I’ve previously alluded to my dislike of Wolfenstein, in this case specifically Wolfenstein 3D (1992), so why pick now as the time to finally write about it? I don’t know that I have any really great reasons. I’m not currently in a dark place, but these memories do take me there. Will they be any less potent or cruel if I hold onto to them even longer? Probably not. I was recently inspired by this episode of From Cassettes to at least think about opening up a little, adding some depth to my “Internet persona,” so maybe that’s why? If I could say, I would; but I can’t, so here goes.

By the way, I have no idea how this post is going to go. It might be raw. It might be malicious. It might be beautiful. It might make no damn sense at all. I guess that’s a warning.

Wolfenstein 3D cover art © id Software, GT Software
Wolfenstein 3D cover art © Apogee, id Software, GT Software (source)

I first played a Shareware demo of Wolfenstein 3D during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. And it wasn’t awful then, but I also didn’t connect with the game in the same way I eventually would with DOOM. Developed by id Software and published by Apogee, Wolfenstein 3D was the third in the self-titled “series” (it was more “inspired by” earlier titles than a true sequel) and the first to be placed in three dimensions. It was a typical of video games of the time of the time, with bright, pixeled graphics, static levels, and a host of enemies – in this case Nazis. Like I said, I didn’t dislike the game at first, but as my first ever first-person-shooter, it took me several levels to grasp the mechanics of navigation and action via keyboard. Part of my frustration with the game (or rather, myself) was due to my inability to always hit the right keys at the right time. After playing the Shareware demo, I managed to get a full copy with a little bit of teenage sneakery.

It was around the time that I got the full game, just before the start of my senior year, that I began to notice that things weren’t quite right with my family, specifically, my parents. The first sign was our last family trip of the summer involved only me, my mom, and my siblings. My dad stayed home. It was the first time I remember them not being together on a family trip. It was odd. But when we got home, starting school was the only thing on my mind. And I both did and didn’t look forward to it. I was neither popular nor a pariah through my formative years. I maintained a few friendships but lost many more. I found solace in things like music and drama, and I prized days of solitude, when the typical jeers from your typical school bullies didn’t fly my way. I had learned to connect with people when it became necessary, but I spent most of my time in a disconnected state.

The same applied at home. Throughout the year, I knew that my parents weren’t getting along so well. They spent less time happily together and the arguments, though always behind closed doors, increased. No matter what, however, they did their best to be pleasant when we all had to be together, like for family dinners and get-togethers. What kills me today is how easily I ignored it all then. How much I bought into the “everything’s okay” mentality and just looked the other way. They never talked about the fights, and the topic was never brought up among us kids alone – not that we were getting along all that great at the time anyway. And you know what I did in the face of misery? I played games. And I played Wolfenstein 3D. That game allowed me to be angry, really fucking angry. And in the dark disquiet of our computer room, I shot Nazis like there was no tomorrow. The empty violence made me so goddamn happy.

The tables turned during one particularly awful incident that occurred between my parents over dinner. A family dinner. The one place that before then they had silently vowed not to fight. So much pain and hostility erupted from two people (more one than the other) in a matter of vicious, livid minutes. Between the yelling, slamming doors, and then utter shock and silence, it was a tremendously unpleasant evening.  Afterwards, I took my ungraceful sobs directly to Wolfenstein, and I played, and I cried, and I absolutely hated every minute of the goddamn game. In that moment, the empty happiness I had felt become nothing more than a shitstorm of pure emptiness. I got no “enjoyment” out of killing, er…progressing through the stupid game. I hated those fucking Nazis and their fucking dogs. I hated that I kept pressing the goddamn “e” button instead of the “w” button.  I hated that the goddamn levels looked so bright and cheery in that old school sorta way as they wall were being splattered with the blood of my enemies. I. Fucking. HATED! Wolfenstein.

The day after the dinner incident, apologies and promises were made, but I wanted none of it. Oh, I “listened” alright, but underneath I stewed. And I disconnected even further. To fucking hell with all of them! My parents had their problems, my siblings had theirs, and I had mine, and never the thrice would cross as far as I was concerned. I was then preparing to move away for college. I wish I could say far away, but really it was just far enough away. As much as anger and “I don’t give a shit” had dominated that last half of my senior year, I still cared. Christ, I really did. I knew that many of my peers had gone through much worse. But we were talking about my family. And my family was perfect.

Only, they weren’t.

I never played Wolfenstein again after that horrible night. Even now as I type, the rage-filled memories surrounding the game well up in my eyes. Only now I feel guilty for being so ridiculous. I feel furious for being so blasé. I feel embarrassed about my inability to be there for my family. Once I left home, I left for good, coming back only for holiday visits. I still don’t, and probably never will understand what those years were like for my siblings at home, or even my parents. No one talks about it, nor will they ever. But things are good now; probably better than they’ve ever been. As for me and Wolfenstein 3D, that relationship’s over for good — no more Nazi killing for me, ever. Just seeing the commercials for Wolfenstein: New Order drew up my ire. Dare I…say…? Yep. Trust me, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.


  1. Its never nice associating a game with bad memories, going back to it always digs up old feelings, regardless of whether you want them too or not. But it’s nice that at least there was something there for you to focus your frustration on.

    At least that game can be tucked away and those memories remain there, rather than lingering in something different, like a place or with another person. It’s nice that you would never have to play that game again, you could have took that anger out on another peer, which would have been harder in terms of building that bridge in the future. That game lives in the past, along with those memories and can hopefully be forgotten about more so than if you’d chosen your escape in a place or something you’d see or use every day. Brilliant read, Cary. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a thoughtful comment — thank you, sincerely. I had been holding onto this post almost since the day I started blogging. And it took me quite awhile to become comfortable enough with writing something so vulnerable. Beforehand, I actually sought out blog posts about personal traumas (though mine is far from the terror of some others) to see how bloggers approached writing about their own issues. The ultimate answer came in three words: “just be honest.” But frankly, if I hadn’t been able to frame this part of my history through games, I doubt I ever would have written about it at all. And since writing this post, it’s honestly cleared my head of those demons to which I had been clinging, both consciously and unconsciously. Blogging is quite good for that, sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] But there was a flip side to that relationship, for I stumbled upon Super Metroid during college. During a time when I wasn’t playing games that much – I was away from home and didn’t have a console. If I played at all, it was during my breaks when I went back home. And while there, I simply played whatever games my brother had accumulated. If I had ever been “in” video game culture (and I never was), I was way out of it now. Sure, I read the occasional issue of Nintendo Power, Game Informer, and Electronic Gaming Monthly (somehow my brother had talked our folks into subscribing to a couple of them), but I literally had no idea of what was going on in gaming outside of my house. However, I also don’t think I cared. We had lots of great games, and I didn’t need anyone telling me about the likes of Earthworm Jim and DOOM; all I needed was a little self-motivation to try something new, which I had also gained from Super Metroid. I still played games for fun and for freedom, but I also developed an urge to use them to escape. (You can read all about that in a personal post I wrote about Wolfenstein 3D.) […]


  3. wow Cary, that’s deep. I understand completely having gone through similar experiences when i was younger. There’s one game in particular that is also associated with negative experiences from my past but I’m not that at point where i want to reveal it. I don’t know if i ever will be.

    Anyway excellent article as always 🙂


  4. This was an incredibly powerful post. It couldn’t have been easy to write about something so personal.
    I think games, much like books and films can be used as an avenue of escapism from the world when everything goes hopelessly wrong, and the fact that we can actually interact in a game and totally beat the crap out of everything in it can be much like a punching bag and can help remove some of our underlining fury. With me, in the past I have used another id game, Quake III Arena, as a way to vent all of my frustrations, and have additionally had the Covenant in Halo to thank for getting me through some times when it was all just so hopeless.
    As for Wolfenstein 3D; for me, my partial dislike of the game was trying to find all of the keys for the doors and the elevators; I mean, how many levels could there literally be in a castle!


    • Haha! Yeah, those keys! How silly it seemed that they should have been so ridiculously hard to find. Since my Wolfenstein and DOOM days (or maybe because of them), I’ve toned down my need for aggressive first-person-shooters — I don’t find much release in the violence anymore. One of my go-to games during dark times is Super Metroid. It’s a game I know so well, and I find a lot of calm and comfort in just traversing its levels. It’s my video game zen, if you will.

      Honestly, I didn’t like writing this post at all — prior to publishing, it sat as a draft for several months. But I’m glad it’s done. It does feel like an emotional weight has been lifted.


  5. Thank you for such a personal post. It is safe to say that my experience with Wolfenstein 3D was entirely different, but I’ve taken to certain games for similar reasons of escape and release, i.e. I can relate.


    • Well, thank you for the comment! No matter under what circumstances we find ourselves playing, we all generally game for the same reasons: to escape, to revel, to find, to explore, to befriend. 🙂


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