Masters of Doom
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Learn the key ideas of the book by David Kushner

Masters of Doom

The story of two entrepreneurs and a cult video game

Following 6 years of interviews and research, the author of this book tells the story of the "two Johns", John Romero and John Carmack, and their rise to success as icons of the pop and video game world with their company, Id Software, which evolved from their love for games and their perseverance in following their dreams, even when they seemed unattainable. Masters of Doom retraces the steps of the incredible revolution within the entertainment industry, while still touching on the subsequent social and cultural implications.

Masters of Doom
Read in 22 min.
Listen in 28 min.

People’s passion and talents should always be left unbridled, no matter how uncertain the career opportunities may seem, or unlikely the chances of success

Alfonso John Romero, one of the Johns, was born in 1967 in Colorado to an American mother and a second-generation Mexican father. His precocious passion for amusement arcades and video games immensely worried his family who intended a more orthodox career path for him than the one he, as a child, dreamed of pursuing: becoming rich and successful by inventing video games. Romero’s childhood was spent in amusement arcades and playing Dungeons & Dragons, the mythical role-playing game, which to play required nothing more than the rule book, a pen, some paper, and your imagination. He decided that he wanted to possess the key to this imaginary world, which he often turned to as a refuge and escape from his disastrous love life.

 In a very short time, Romero, who had essentially taught himself how to program on an Apple II, created his first video game. In 1986, he enrolled in courses at Sierra College, and began dating Kelly Mitchell, who the following year was to become his wife, and to whom he promised he would soon become rich, famous, and successful. His passion for games, fuelled by an intolerance for family rules, combined with his desire for social redemption, led him to secure his first job offer in the world of video games at a young age. Brimming with ambition, he arrived at Softdisk, Louisiana when he was just twenty-one.

John D. Carmack II - the second John - was born in 1970 in Missouri, the second child in a family of science and culture buffs. Carmack also grew up in the world of D&D, and was literally mesmerised by the first video games he saw. Just like Romero, he learned basic programming on the Apple II, and his family was also taken aback by his unusual and all-encompassing talent. At just 14 years old, during an attempt to steal some Apple IIs from a nearby school, Carmack was caught by the police and subjected to a psychiatric evaluation, which concluded: "boy behaves like a walking brain with legs ... no empathy for other human beings".

After serving his one-year sentence in a local juvenile facility, his parents finally bought him an Apple II, and Carmack made the effort to enrol at university. However, he quit after only a couple of semesters as a result of boredom and difficulty fitting in. He decided to support himself by working part time in a pizzeria in order to do the only thing he was truly passionate about: spending as much time as he could on creating outstanding video games. Looking for a job that would allow him to carry on living his life just as he wanted to live it, he programmed an RPG trilogy called Dark Designs for Softdisk - the same small Louisiana company where Romero had already started working, and who wanted him on its staff.


The key ideas of "Masters of Doom"

People’s passion and talents should always be left unbridled, no matter how uncertain the career opportunities may seem, or unlikely the chances of success
Having a PC at home in the 80s was not a common occurrence, and the idea that it could be used to play games was even more unusual
Finding the right channel to launch an innovative idea can be very complex, especially if the time is not yet ripe to fully understand its scope
Id Software was created on the coattails of ​​a marketing model that had never been applied to video games until then: shareware
The infinite worlds of virtual reality: the evolution of programming techniques has made it possible to create increasingly convincing virtual environments
The release of Doom, and the spread of video games, profoundly changed mass culture and the world of entertainment, giving life to a real subculture
Among id’s most innovative and economically winning ideas was that of catering to hackers and programmers by creating editable and customisable games
There has been extensive social and political debate linked to the effects of the mass diffusion of video games, but no consensus of response, as of yet
Every entrepreneurial project will sink without a clear vision and a solid organisational structure, irrespective of how talented the creators may be
The collaboration between the iconic John Romero and John Carmack, personalities as distant as they are complementary, has left an indelible mark on mass culture
Take-home message
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