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An Examination of Father/Son Relationships in Gaming

I was thinking about the new God of War game that’s coming out on PS4 next year and it got me wondering about games that have a Father and Son team and then realising how rare that is. Plenty of games today like The Last of Us, Bioshock 2 and Infinite or even Metroid Other M put a lot of emphasis on showing how a father and daughter (or father/daughter figure) can work together to overcome the trials ahead of them. The same does not appear to be true of Fathers and Sons.

Like Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons often have close relationships. I’m sure many boys have fond memories of playing games, virtual or outdoors with their dads. Obviously it doesn’t go for everyone but a strong father figure is an important aspect for many people growing up. It’s something we see a lot of in other media like TV, films and music. Songs like Cat In the Cradle, My Father’s Eyes, Like Father, Like Son or TV shows such as Frasier, Scrubs and even The Simpsons often explore the dynamic between a Father and Son or two people who are as close as Father and Son. This, I feel, is not represented in games very well. Let’s have a look at a few games and see how they take it on.

Ed. Note: There are some heavy story spoilers ahead, so avoid if you plan on picking up any of these games in the future.

God of War

The new GOW will focus on Kratos adventuring with his son. Not known is much of the game right now but the developers are making Atreus a focal point of the game. In an interview with US Gamer Cory Barlog, God of War’s director said “Kratos and his son work together… This whole game, it’s all about family, all about relationships. You can’t always do it alone. That’s the lesson Kratos has to learn.” This is great news. I look forward to seeing how they work and fight together.

In previously games Kratos was tricked into killing his wife and daughter and at the end of the trilogy it was revealed that Zeus was his dad. This doesn’t really add much to the story as Kratos was on a mad rampage to kill all the Gods anyway, blood ties or no. Honestly things would have ended the same way. Kratos just slaughters him like he did the rest of the Gods.

Gears of War 3

Marcus Fenix has been estranged from his scientist father ever since he disobeyed his orders one time and tried to save him from a disaster. Their mansion was attacked and his father Adam didn’t make it out. Marcus was then court marshalled for not following orders. This sets up the relationship between the two and up until the final act of the third game it stays that way. During the first two games his father isn’t mentioned much and doesn’t appear until the ending credits of Gears of War 2, even then he only has a line of dialogue.

Part way through Gears of War 3 it’s revealed that Adam has a way to kill all the Lambent and Locust and save the world but he’s holed up in some research facility. He isn’t heard from again until Marcus and his crew get there to rescue him. Once they get there and activate Adam’s death machine he reveals to Marcus that for the purpose of his research he infected himself with lambency, meaning the machine will kill him as well. What follows is a somewhat touching scene of Marcus not wanting to accept his dad’s imminent demise. It’s interesting to see the hyper masculine Marcus become so vulnerable after all he’s been through because he clearly missed his dad a lot and after finally getting back with him he’s about to lose him forever.

Fallout 3

 

For the purpose of this article and just because I generally play a guy when I can make my own character I’ll be viewing Fallout from the perspective of a male main character.
The player must find his father after having “grown up” with him. The game starts you off as a baby and over the course of a few minutes you play as your character at different points in their life growing up.

Your father is there to teach you along the way; how to walk, how to fire a gun. He’s presented as someone you should look up to. Once you become an adult you find that your father has been gone for quite a while and there’s no sign of him coming back. The dynamic here is of a son or daughter trying to survive without a father figure and eventually finding him to make things better.

This could have been very interesting but the open world aspect of Fallout 3 does not lend itself to such a story. Your character should be eager to find their father but the player will most likely just want to roam the open world and blow the hell out of Super Mutants.

Fallout 4

Fallout 4 represents a complete 180. This time the player is searching for their son. The game starts with the player and their husband or wife and son before the bombs drop. Luckily a man comes to the door offering you a place in a vault and immediately all hell breaks loose. The nukes are coming and you all run for the hill to get into the vault. Once you get there everyone is frozen in cryostasis tubes.

At some point your character will wake up to see their baby boy being kidnapped and then you’ll be re-frozen. As far as gameplay goes it’s more or less the same but the dynamic is different. This set up presents an interesting idea that unfortunately isn’t touched on much in the game. The player’s character has been frozen for about 60 years after the kidnapping. It seems a waste not to have a story focus on coming to terms with the fact that their son isn’t their son any more. Biologically he is of course, but he’s had time to grow and become his own person without the need for his own parents.

Shaun is an elderly man by the time you find him. Missing out on the life of your child should be a heartbreaking experience. Having a child so you can raise him only to have him torn away and go on as if you never existed. If you had got to know your son before he gets kidnapped then perhaps the story could’ve been more effective. You even get the opportunity to betray Shaun and take down the Institute he’s running but as far as I was concerned Shaun was gone and I didn’t much mind since I’d only met him once.

Just like in Fallout 3 the gameplay does not complement the story. People who play Fallout usually do it to explore the post apocalyptic wasteland, killing raiders and levelling up and the like. Your son will be there waiting when you’re done with all that.

Who’s Your Daddy

 

This one is a strange case. It definitely showcases father/son dynamic but it an unconventional way. The aim of the game is to play as the father and keep your baby son away from hazards around the house. (Sharp objects, falling off things etc.)

If you play as the baby and it’s your job to kill yourself pretty much. While this game perhaps does a good job of showing the pressures of fatherhood, being overly protective of your baby who you don’t trust to stay alive for longer than 5 minutes you unfortunately don’t get the other side of the picture.

Yes, children that young do tend to be very curious and interact with things they really shouldn’t but you as the player are playing with the intent to hurt yourself, unlike the baby who just wants to look at and touch things because everything’s new to them. This game is clearly meant to be funny rather than taking family themes seriously.

Metal Gear Solid V

It’s the 1980s and Big Boss is tasked with kidnapping a feral child that turns out to be Liquid Snake. Along with Solid Snake, Liquid was cloned from Big Boss’ DNA in order to create a super soldier but he escaped from the facility to become the leader of a group of orphans whose families were killed as a result of the war. He basically turns them into a little army seeking revenge on the world.

For most of his time in the game there isn’t much made of the fact he’s a clone/son of Big Boss. They get into a few fist fights and at the end he steals a giant mech and says “goodbye father, I’m not like you. I don’t need you any more.”

If their relationship had more time to develop over the course of the story this could’ve been a much stronger emotional moment. No father wants to lose their son. Losing a beloved son to death would be bad enough but at least you could say he loved you. Having your own son turn his back on you and leave you without a care in the world would be heartbreaking. It should be. It isn’t in MGS V though, mostly because of the fact the story was cut and rushed so it didn’t reach its full potential.

Metal Gear Solid

We’re into the future now and Liquid and Snake are all grown up. Liquid hates and idolises Big Boss. Prior to the events of Metal Gear Solid Big Boss chose Liquid as his protegé and sent Snake on a fake mission with the intention of him dying at the end. It sounds like Big Boss and Liquid would’ve had a good relationship and Solid Snake even thinks Liquid is “obsessed” and it’s “some sick kind of love.” However Liquid refutes that, saying BB always called him inferior and he only wants his revenge, which he can’t get because Snake killed him.

Snake however, had no idea that Big Boss was his genetic father. This is not only interesting from the father / son perspective but from a family perspective. Liquid spent his life coming to terms with the fact he’s the runt of the family; a failure compared to his brother Snake. So he tries harder than he ever would’ve otherwise to be better than Snake and Big Boss and show everyone they were wrong!

Think about that. Liquid gathers together a group of super villains and infiltrates Snake’s covert elite spy team to take down his brother just because his dad liked him better. Despite Big Boss not being in the game at all and having been dead for quite some time I think this is a great example of the father/son dynamic. It shows the influence that a father can have on his sons just by picking one as a favorite over the other. It emphasises just how important Big Boss’s affection was to Liquid and how a lack of it led to him becoming a super powered psychopath. If not for Snake stopping him, Liquid could’ve caused major chaos on a global scale.

Metal Gear Solid 4

Remember when I said Snake killed Big Boss? Well he didn’t. He was still alive but he kills him for good in MGS 4. Except he doesn’t. Through various plot contrivances Big Boss is alive and well. He appears at the very end of the game. An elderly Solid Snake is in a graveyard holding a pistol, thinking of ending it all at last. Big Boss comes in out of nowhere with a huge gun. They face each other. BB drops his gun and grabs Snake for some good old CQC and just as he has Snake right where he wants him he goes in for the hug! A nice warm hug. “Let it go my son. I’m not here to fight” he says. “Or should I call you brother? It’s over. Time for you to put aside the gun and live.”

Big Boss then takes Snake over to Zero, Big Boss’ former mentor. “Now we’ve come face to face the hatred is gone. All I feel is a sense of longing… Did he hate me or did he fear me?” Big Boss says about Zero. This reflects what Snake may be thinking about Big Boss. He goes on to lecture Snake about Zero, basically just tying up the loose ends of the plot. He explains to Snake that they both will die soon and gives him advice: “Don’t waste the life you have left fighting.”

Even though BB says he never thought of Snake as a son but only respected him as a soldier and a man, he is still treating him like a son. He created him, trained him, brought him up and at the very end he sees fit to not only save his life but to give him advice on how to keep living it. This is unlike the relationship Big Boss and Liquid had. Liquid was brought up by Big Boss and ended up resenting him for his harsh ways. Snake never knew him like that and Big Boss didn’t think much of Snake in terms of family, only as a warrior. Liquid and Snake both came from the same man with the same intended path in life but because of their different treatment they ended up on completely opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil. This further shows how much influence he had on them as a paternal figure in their lives.

In Conclusion

After having looked at various games and the way they portray relationships it’s clear that most game writers or developers are more comfortable with a father/daughter relationship than father and son. Gears of War and the Fallout games emphasise the distance in a father and son relationship. Both examples have the father or son being taken away or estranged and the player must go and find them. Even Metal Gear Solid, which I believe tackles the issue very well, keeps the father distant from his sons right up until the very end. Even in God of War 3, in which Kratos’ dad is the God of Gods, the father and son don’t come together until the big finale and it’s only so they can kill each other.

There seems to be a stark contrast between father/son relationships and father/daughter relationships in mainstream games. When there is a father and a son they’re rarely together. If they’re not trying to get back together because one disappeared they’re trying to track each other down to make sure only one of them makes it out alive.

In the Last of Us Joel and Ellie go on an adventure, working together, bonding. We see their relationship grow as they experience traumatic events together and save each other from certain doom time and time again. Bioshock Infinite has Elizabeth feeding Booker items and ammo to help him survive while also unlocking doors for him along the way. At the same time Booker protects her as she can’t fight at all. Eventually though she has to kill him to fix the timeline. This is an emotional story beat because you’ve seen them bond over the course of their journey.

Is it because stereotypically male relationships are seen as less emotional and intimate?

On the flip side Metroid Other M has you playing as the daughter figure, taking orders from an authoritarian father figure. In this instance he is working to protect you while you fight for his affection. An outlier in this field is LISA the painful RPG, in which Brad must search for his baby girl, the last female alive, to protect her from the rapists and murderers who’ve kidnapped her. Lisa is a focal point of the story and by the time Brad finds her she has taken matters into her own hands and become a competent fighter who doesn’t need saving. Unlike Fallout 4 this growth happens while Brad is out looking for her rather than Brad having been in stasis the entire time.

So there we have it. It seems most of the time, when a game story wants to focus on a father and son it involves one going away and the other one having to find him, either so they can reconcile or they can kill each other, or reconcile and die anyway. It happens in Gears 3, Fallout 3 & 4 and even Metal Gear Solid. When there’s a girl involved they get to stay together, the girl is a main character rather than something to be found or reached. The main characters coexist and it makes them feel real.

Why do you think this is the case in games? Is it because stereotypically male relationships are seen as less emotional and intimate? Is it simply because having a girl in the game adds variety and makes it more marketable? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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