Thursday, July 18, 2013

Exploring Fatherhood in Games

My latest PopMatters article is now live: Exploring Fatherhood in Games.

I don't know how it happened, but I completely missed out on Sebastien Wuepper's Gameranx article on nearly the exact same subject. I highly recommend you check it out if the subject of father figures in recent games interests you. In addition to touching on The Last of Us, he also brings up all the BioShock games and Dishonored as well - all great examples.

I was very tempted to discuss BioShock Infinite in my piece as well, but cut it for a couple reasons. First, it actually explores many of the same themes that The Last of Us addresses better. Booker, for the majority of the game, is simply not a father figure. Only the final revelation reveals him as a tragic figure, someone who failed to protect his child and came to regret the decision. But most interesting, when he does reclaim his father status, he also inseparably ties himself to Comstock, who takes on the role of the father for Columbia itself. There's a fascinating message there about fatherly domination and patriarchy, but unfortunately its undermine by a massive amount of brutal gunplay (and yes, so are the messages in The Last of Us, albeit less so).

I also want to use this space to specifically differentiate fatherhood versus motherhood or even the gender-neutral parenthood. As a concept, fatherhood carries with is all sorts of cultural baggage. There are loads of gender assumptions pertaining to leadership, protection, aggressiveness, aloofness, etc., that we commonly associate with fatherhood in ways we do not with motherhood. It's one of the reasons that discourse around female leaders, from Thatcher to Ghandi, often address their perceived masculine traits. The games I compare in my article specifically deal with fatherhood as a concept, both how they adhere to normative associations and how they redefine notions of fatherhood.

That being said, I barely make a dent in this subject. There are oh so many games that confront general parental issues, including motherhood. I would jump at the chance to read (or contribute to I suppose) a more thorough explanation for the way games create, perpetuate, and undermine ideas of parenthood.


  1. Nicely done, as usual.

    Just to add to your list of games: BioShock 2 was interesting in how you shape your daughter's personality through your own decisions, without really realizing that that's what you're doing.

  2. I think it's interesting that you mention the difference in perceived traits between fatherhood and motherhood as it reminds of

    Christophe Gans' reason for changing the main characters gender in silent hill. To paraphrase he essential said he looked at harry behaviors and motivations and realized he's a mother.

  3. BioShock 2 is ranked so highly on my great games list precisely because it addresses themes of fatherhood so well, certainly much better than the first film. There are a couple scenes when I played it, when I knew I wanted to kill someone, that I held back because I was concerned how it might affect the child - something only The Walking Dead has really done for me.

    I also love the scene at the end when you fight along side the Big Sister. Tt's like a moment of pride, but also concern. So good.

  4. Yea, that's interesting. I don't meant to say I think gender traits are necessarily biological or anything, but the social pressures on each are unique and interesting. I can't imagine a Silent Hill alternative.