[Deutsche Version ]

Britta Donnerbauer, Ruth Krementz & Anon.

Duke Nukem 3D

Abstract: Duke Nukem 3D has been considered one of the most brutal computer games. The fascination surrounding this shooter has only recently found attention in media studies. Now, three women intend to observe Duke, destroyer of aliens, during one of his innumerable missions in his medial environment. Will the world be saved with Duke’s help?

1. "Duke Nukem - Reality is our Game"

Computer games are often condemned in other media: “Computer-Addiction: Drug of the 21st century”, “Blood and Games”, “Monsters Meet Mighty Murder Machines”. Students of media have only hesitantly begun to brave the threats of this strange new world. Yet three women boldly went forth into the realm of Duke Nukem 3D! Can they cope with the cruel world of this destroyer of aliens? Can they retain their ability to distinguish fiction from reality, or will reality turn into a game, as 3D Realms’ slogan “Reality is Our Game” seems to promise? In spite of the redundant plethora of shooters, the decision for Duke Nukem 3D was easy: At the time, its contents were more brutal than anything that had come before, its graphics were vastly superior to those of its precursor Doom, and its contents had been widely discussed throughout the media and kept being cited as the worst possible example in computer gaming. By now, we can present first results of our sleep-depriving self-experiment.

2. Duke Nukem – Start the Show!

Announcements in gaming magazines and shareware versions convince us to focus on aspects of content first as we experiment with Duke Nukem 3D. (How much blood is there? What new kinds of weapons can our hero choose from? and so forth.) We also want to take a look at the graphics. (Do they make good on their promise of three dimensions?)

Blood by the gallon, screaming monsters, their wide-opened gaping mouths lying in ambush behind trash containers, all trying to end our lives before our time. But that’s no problem for Duke! With his elaborate weaponry, he proves faster than any of their attacks. Our possibilities are boundless: First, we had a classic shotgun, which helps beginners by shooting its ammunition all over the place (you cannot miss!); a pump-gun tears crater-sized holes into the bodies of our enemies; and then there is the “nice” Freezethrower which shock-freezes monsters so that they can be shattered with a kick.

How does the game start? After we managed the obstacles of the installation process, the title announces the actual game in capital letters. Like in a movie, we next see the producers’ corporate logo. Then the radiation symbol (“Nukem” – “nuke em!”) increases the tension; it signifies the danger exuded by the weaponry and the situation at large. And now we see the first glimpse of the breathlessly expected protagonist: Duke! (“Il Duce!”) Our multi-muscled pixel brute is white, male and blond. He exudes determination, machine gun in hand, cartridge belt filled. “Duke is King” – we can see that as our gaze is forced to look upwards, a perspective we associate with various action movies. Most of all, this image of the protagonist reminds us of Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator”. Then short cut scenes from the game offer a first taste of what is to come and showcase the various weapon systems and game levels. No time lost reading the manual, then (our luck!).

While the game continues to load, we see the radiation symbol again (!) and are prompted to choose a game situation, such as “Hollywood Holocaust”, and one of several levels of difficulty. Although we were sourly tempted to give “Damn I’m good” a try, we decided to start with the puny beginners’ mode called “Piece of cake”. Once we have chosen our difficulty, the animated sequence stops and the game begins.

Our mission is rather simple: Aliens have conquered the whole world, and the hero that we embody must (once more!) save Earth and mankind. Duke has already saved the world from aliens once before, which is why he is now given the same assignment. This prompts Duke to parachute out of his plane. We’d have liked to choose from a third party of heroes: Why not add a heroine, so that women will enjoy the game just as much? Duke’s mission starts on the roof of a skyscraper in downtown L.A.. At first, he has only his pistol, very little ammunition and his 100% health to fall back on. In the course of the game, Duke will have to collect key cards in order to get to the next level and meet even more dangerous monsters – a pursuit apparently intended to divert attention from the blood galore of the game.

But – as in real life (?) – aliens get in his way and try – quite unfairly – to hinder him on his journey. Now we realize what makes Duke Nukem 3D so attractive: Once you’ve heard the realistic cries of pain and death that your enemies let out, you’ll most likely find yourself helplessly mesmerized by the game. As our hero is only “human”, his stand against the monsters requires ever new weapons, ammunitions and life energy, all of which is hidden in various rooms.

Always on the look-out for the constantly and miraculously reproducing monsters, we pass through empty cinemas and air ducts. It is even in toilet cabinets that we have to expect some gruesome beast. And now and again, we also meet unspeaking, female sex objects (pin-ups, night club dancers), which liven up the background.

The scenario “Hollywood Holocaust” appears apocalyptic. All houses are covered in grey. This makes a perfect background for the colour schemes created by red squirts of blood and the flamboyantly colourful pin-ups. The black and white depiction, and thus the basic distinction of good and evil, is continued through the monsters’ sad and dirty colour tones, while the hero wears bright colours. The apocalyptic atmosphere is reinforced by earthquakes, burning objects, large empty spaces and the monsters’ growls. The area is markedly American (take the “No Parking” signs, for instance).

The plot has but one motive, which is: Kill them! Conflicts are solved by violence. This is most evident with the women in the game: As they are hopelessly infected by aliens, our hero can only save these poor victims by violent means: By killing them. As opposed to the monsters, the women leave no corpses, but dissolve into thin air once dead – so practical!

As the game progresses, there are even more monsters, even more blood, even more dead women and a restless Duke ever searching for further heroic deeds. We should mention that in our case, the aliens prevailed in the end: A longer life as a hero was, alas, not for us!

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