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What Makes a Good Video Game Father

written by Jason Marcano June 19, 2016

It’s Father’s Day, and while I may not have any children, I have a father. We all do technically, and we all feel the way we do about them be it positive or negative. I’m not going to talk about the fathers IRL, instead, I wanted to use Father’s Day as a springboard to highlight some of gamings best dads.

***This list will be in no particular order and is very likely going to contain spoilers.***

Ethan Mars (Heavy Rain)

HeavyRain logo

Quantic Dream specializes in the cinematic video game. Precursors to Telltale series like The Walking Dead, Quantic Dream introduced a lot of gamers to heavily story driven, QTE based game play with Indigo Prophecy in 2002. The follow up to Indigo Prophecy was Heavy Rain.

Heavy rain, released in 2010, was the story of a serial killer known as The Origami Killer. It’s told through multiple characters’ view points. It was a dark story with a lot of twist and turns that, in some moments, reminded me of the early “Saw” movies. Heavy Rain also produced a clever meme that is still heavily referenced to this day.

HeavyRain meme

The father figure in this game was Ethan Mars. At the outset of the game Ethan loses one of his sons, “Jason!,” in a tragic accident at the mall. Ethan becomes very depressed and his wife leaves him, severing the ties with their other son, Shaun.

Soon, Ethan learns that the Origami Killer has taken Shaun as his next victim. Driven by the fear of losing another son, Ethan follows a series of cryptic clues left by the Origami Killer in a race against time to save his son. This is where the “Saw” comparison comes into play.

Ethan is driven to increasingly desperate acts in order to prove he can save Shaun. Ethan Mars is a father who will do whatever it takes to keep from losing his son. Even permanently dismember and disfigure himself:

Sure, Ethan Mars may have some flaws. But don’t we all? I’d say after what he goes through, and if  he manages to save Shaun, Ethan is certainly a contender for the world’s most dedicated father.

Chuck Green (Dead Rising 2)

Before appeasing fans with Dead Rising 2: Off the Record—a remix of Dead Rising 2 that reintroduced picture taking and popular photojournalist Frank West—Capcom published  Dead Rising 2. The sequel to Dead Rising left a sour taste in some mouths, despite having one of the most inventive weapon customization systems at the time, because of Chuck’s daughter’s, Katey, constant need of the drug Zombrex.

Every couple hours, while in the middle of  literally mowing down a crowd of zombies with a Servbot head/lawn mower hat,

DeadRising2 Slicer

Little Katey would need a dose of Zombrex, lest she turn into an undead herself. The catch was that Chuck was THE ONLY ONE who could administer the shot. Should you miss it, Katey would become a zombie and this would happen:

It may have been a tedious task, but making it so Chuck is the only person to be able to give Katey the shot coupled with the strict time limit imposed on him, puts the weight of the responsibility of being a father on the players shoulders.  The weight of having someone rely on you, and you being the only one who can bring them comfort. Taking care of Katey shows dedication and putting ones desires above their own, both hallmarks of a father. Despite the overall comedic flourishes in Dead Rising 2, there were some pretty serious themes.

Joel (The Last of Us)

LastofUs

Naughty Dog raised the bar in video game story telling with The Last of Us. The post apocalyptic game swiched up the tried and true zombie threat formula by making them fungus based. The mutated Cordyceps fungus infected humans giving them heightened senses and turning them into deranged cannibals.

The game opens with Joel, a father living with his daughter Sarah in Texas, witnessing the outbreak from its onset in 2013. During the ensuing chaos Sarah is shot, and Joel has little time to mourn. He escapes with his brother Tommy, and the game jumps ahead 20 years to catch up with Joel and a group called “The Fireflies.” The Fireflies are a resistance group pushing back against the government who has the people locked away in quarantine zones under the thumb of martial law.

Through circumstance, a girl named Ellie is thrust into Joel’s life. Ellie is immune from the fungus, and may be humanities’ only hope for a cure. Joel reluctantly agrees to the task of escorting Ellie to Boston, where the Fireflies lie in wait to extract a cure from Ellie.

Throughout their harrowing journey across America, Joel and Ellie form a very strong bond. Joel becomes a sort of surrogate father to Ellie. Teaching her how to survive, how to craft tools and weapons, guiding her through the world he learned how to navigate the hard way, Joel is every bit as much a father to Ellie as the real thing.

LastofUs JoelandEllie

He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, but Naughty Dog excelled at bring Joel to life as a conflicted, grieving father who was never allowed to properly mourn for the loss of his daughter. When Joel and Ellie interact you can almost hear Joel’s heart mending itself, you can certainly read the emotion on their incredibly detailed faces.

By the end of The Last of Us, Joel has more or less adopted Ellie and loves her as if she were his own, true daughter. Joel makes it onto this list, because with his final decision and one hell of a gut punch of and ending, he epitomizes the strength of a father’s love. A love so powerful that a man would do anything to hold onto it. Including potentially dooming the rest of humanity.

Honorable Mentions:

No, these are not all the great fathers in video games, but the ones that really stood out. They also happened to be part of some really great games. There are so many others, and a full spread could be done of them all. But then we’d be here all day. So, below are a few more for our consideration.

WalkingDead Lee

  • Lee (The Walking Dead Season 1): Like Joel above, Lee was a surrogate father during a world ending event. His charge, Clementine. When we first meet Clementine she is a frightened child who just wants her mommy and daddy. Lee, a convicted criminal, finds her and vows to protect her while taking her to the last known location of her family. Through player agency Lee is forced to expose or shelter Clementine from the harsh realities of living in a zombie apocalypse. This shapes her into the young woman she becomes in the second and third seasons of the game. Lee is forced to make a noble sacrifice in the end, and depending on how the player has played up until this moment, emotional weight may vary.

SamFisher

  • Sam Fisher (The Splinter Cell Series): Sam’s daughter Sarah Fisher becomes a huge motivation for him. Most notably when news of his daughter’s death reaches him in Double Agent. This sends Sam on a mission for answers, and that path causes him to make some decisions that are more personal than beneficial to the bigger picture. When he finds out that Sarah’s death had been faked three years later in Conviction Sam embarks on a journey. A journey to find out the truth by snapping necks in the shadows to get answers about his daughter. Sam shows us, similar to Joel from TLoU, that a father’s love will make a father do some drastic things.

GodofWar Kratos

  • Kratos (God of War Series): True, Kratos does start out slaughtering his family, but his quest for redemption and revenge takes him literally to hell and back, and back again. Cursed with wearing his wife and child’s ashes Kratos hunts down Ares seeking vengeance. On the way to the Ares’ throne, Kratos smites countless mythological beast and endures hundreds of ancient trials. He pushes his body and mind to its limits letting no obstacle stand in his way. This steadfast tenacity, and the willingness to eviscerate one’s very soul for the love of their children, this is what makes Kratos more than worthy to be on this list. Plus in the forthcoming God of War sequel, Kratos does have a kidIt appears he is doing everything he can to quell his rage and make up for lost time, potentially turning him into a better man and redeeming his lost soul.

How many more good video game dads can you geeks think of? I certainly haven’t listed them all.

Also: Shout out to all the geek dads out there on this Father’s Day for raising their kids on a steady diet of Batman, the force, and all things geeky.


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