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.
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.