Synopses & Reviews
Masters of Doom is the amazing true story of the Lennon and McCartney of video games: John Carmack and John Romero. Together, they ruled big business. They transformed popular culture. And they provoked a national controversy. More than anything, they lived a unique and rollicking American Dream, escaping the broken homes of their youth to produce the most notoriously successful game franchises in history—Doom and Quake— until the games they made tore them apart. This is a story of friendship and betrayal, commerce and artistry—a powerful and compassionate account of what it's like to be young, driven, and wildly creative.
"[A]s a ticktock of the creative process and as insight into a powerful medium too often dismissed as kids' stuff, Masters of Doom blasts its way to a high score. Suck it down, indeed. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Many may well skim the final third in pursuit of the dirt on the Two Johns' eventual falling-out. Laudable coverage of an undeniably important, unsettling cultural transition." Kirkus Reviews
"[T]he truth is that any rabid fans of Doom and Quake...are likely to devour this book in one sitting. Although no profound lessons are to be learned from Masters of Doom, it does tell a fascinating story." Los Angeles Times
"[An] extraordinary journey...an exhilarating time capsule of a moment in time where anything could happen and often did. Kushner's take on this geek uprising is like a breakneck-paced comic book that you can't put down." Newsday
"Kushner's portrait of Carmack is lustrous and gripping....An impressive and adroit social history." The New York Times Book Review
"Terrifically told....The storytelling is so fluid, so addictive, that your twitching thumbs keep working the pages." The Washington Post Book World
"Reading this fascinating underground tale is as addictive as the games themselves....This is a true antihero story of our time, complete with the infamous all-night programming...computer geeks turned rock stars spawning an entire cyberculture." Booklist
"Kushner's mesmerizing tale of the Two Johns moves at a rapid clip...describing the twists and turns of fate that led them to team up in creating the most powerful video games of their generation....An exciting combination of biography and technology." USA Today
Masters of Doom is the amazing true story of the Lennon and McCartney of video games: John Carmack and John Romero. Together, they ruled big business. They transformed popular culture. And they provoked a national controversy. More than anything, they lived a unique and rollicking American Dream, escaping the broken homes of their youth to produce the most notoriously successful game franchises in history Doom and Quake until the games they made tore them apart. This is a story of friendship and betrayal, commerce and artistry a powerful and compassionate account of what it's like to be young, driven, and wildly creative.
About the Author
David Kushner has written for numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Wired, Electronic Gaming Monthly, the Village Voice, Details, and Salon. He is the digital-music columnist for Rolling Stone online, and a contributing editor for Spin and IEEE Spectrum. He has also worked as a senior producer and writer for the music website SonicNet. He received a B.A. from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master's in creative writing from City University of New York. He can be reached at www.davidkushner.com.
A Talk with David Kushner
What made you delve into the subject of video games?
As a writer, there's nothing quite like exploring an uncharted world. And the world of gamers–despite its cultural, economic, and artistic impact–is still a mystery to most people. That’s why I wrote MASTERS OF DOOM. I grew up reading all the New Journalism books and I saw an opportunity to do for gamers what Tom Wolfe did for astronauts–recreate their definitive story and make them human.
What do video games say about American culture?
You have to be careful not to overanalyze video games because, ultimately, they’re just about having fun. But, on another level, they do say a lot about Americans desires and dreams: dreams of power, escape, fantasy, and violence. What makes this unique from any other medium is the interactivity. Games let players try on different roles–wizards, warriors, athletes, and hip-hop stars. This is one reason why Americans spend roughly $11 billion annually on computer and video games, which is more than they spend on movie tickets.
The two Johns have been called “the Lennon and McCartney of video games.” Why is that?
Every medium has its rock stars. For video games, which are still a relatively new art form, they’re Carmack and Romero. Along with their exceptionally talented colleagues, they innovated games that still impact business, technology, and pop culture. They’re also completely self-made, rising from their basements to rule a multibillion dollar business. And, like any good rock stars, they’re controversial.
In many ways, MASTERS OF DOOM is a classic business parable. Do you agree with this assessment?
Sure, I think Johns’ success story is important to anyone in business. These guys never took no for an answer. And they always thought outside of the box–so much so that, at one point, a journalist said they made Microsoft look like a cement company. Even if you don’t care about or play video games, you've got to admire their passion and dedication. That's one reason I wrote this book as a reconstruction of the past. I wanted readers to feel like they were right there with them, riding that incredible ride and smashing through the obstacles along the way.
Video games are a multi-billion dollar a year industry, but they appear to be underneath a lot of people's radar. Why do you think that is?
It’s easy to forget this business is still so young. Though it's been a multibillion dollar industry for years, it’s just now gaining mainstream recognition. One reason I wrote this book was because people still had all the wrong ideas: mainly, that games are the domain of teenage boys. In fact, the most popular computer game on the planet is probably Solitaire–and the players are parents and grandparents. While he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush admitted to playing computer Solitaire almost every day. Now that the Pong generation is coming into power, the industry won't be underneath the radar much longer.
Violence in videogames often comes under a lot of scrutiny in the media. How did the two Johns answer these criticisms? How would you answer these critics?
For various reasons, the Johns didn’t speak much to the press after the Columbine tragedy, when certain people were suggesting that Doom inspired the killers. I’m glad they had a chance to finally tell their side of the story in my book. Both of them felt that their games were being unduly blamed for a terrible crime that defies an easy explanation. I agree. The reason people keep criticizing games is because they don't understand them or, for that matter, play them. When I showed Doom to my mother-in-law for the first time, she said, “I can't believe that everyone’s making such a fuss over this.” Also, a lot of people don’t realize that the gamers playing–and making–the more violent titles are adults. And for those who are concerned about kids’ exposure to violent content, all they have to do is pick up a game and look at the rating on the box before buying it for their children. Even Senator Lieberman, one of the industry’s harshest critics, has lauded game publishers for voluntarily rating their products.
What's next for Romero and Carmack?
Romero has returned to his roots, programming games with a small team. He’s designing games for a new platform–cell phones and handheld devices–just as he pursued the new medium of PC games over a decade ago.
Carmack and the guys at id Software are getting ready to release Doom III, the first new Doom game in nearly a decade. It’s already been voted game of the year by the industry, and it hasn’t even come out yet. He’s also building a rocket which he hopes to launch into outer space. Knowing him, he’s got a decent shot.
What's next for David Kushner?
Another book. But first, lunch.
From the Hardcover edition.